The past month has brought me back to my alma mater to recruit for my company. It saddens me, because after having visited several universities, students everywhere are trying to fit a “perfect” mold that career centers are telling them to.
They all walk up to you in the same clothes, with a resume that’s formatted exactly like the last guy, and give you their 30 second pitch followed by generic questions about your company.
Finding a job after college or while you’re in college is tough. Unemployment/underemployment rates are as high as 10%-20%, but there is a better way than blindly blasting out resumes hoping that something sticks.
You must write your story, and then tell it.
Find What You’re Excited About
In any given field, there are endless ways to specialize. In your career, you’re not going to be “a finance person,” you’re going to manage retirement portfolios for clients. This line of thinking can be applied to any field.
So as you sit in your classes, ask yourself: “what interests and excites me?” Maybe, as a computer science student, you didn’t enjoy the class on databases, but you’re loving building applications – consider specializing in front-end development.
Finding what interests and excites you is going to help you hone in and become an expert on a tangible skill that a company will say “yes” to.
Invest Your Free Time
You may think College prepares you for the real world. Unfortunately, what you really spend 4 years practicing in college is how to show up, study, and regurgitate to get a good grade. Fortunately, this is not what you’ll spend your time in the real world doing.
But you need to practice doing, not just learning.
The barriers to entry for nearly any field are lower than they’ve ever been. If you’re excited about what you’re learning, your four years in college should consist of as little time as possible to get your diploma, and the rest of your time invested in showing the world you are absolutely thrilled about something and can’t wait to do it. At the end of college, you should be able to stand up and say to an employer, “I have something to say. I know how to do something. I’m doing it. If you want me to do it with you, raise your hand.”
Show the world you care, because caring is the first step to being more than just a mediocre clock puncher.
You don’t have to wait to be picked to do what you’re excited about. As Seth Godin put it:
Quit waiting to get picked; quit waiting for someone to give you permission; quit waiting for someone to say you are officially qualified and pick yourself.
Tell Your Story
As much as I hate the term “personal braaand” – the internet has demolished the barriers to spreading your story.
If you’ve followed this advice to here, you should be spending just enough time to get a good grade. Invest the rest of your time in building a portfolio of real work in your field. If you’re a computer science student, there’s no excuse not to have a Github account where you’re putting your code and contributing to other projects. Even if you’re in a major with a lot of theoretical work, let’s say Economics – do research, read about it, and write.
Start a blog, write about your experience. Write about what you’re learning. Dan Shipper had a great take on what to write about [cached] Sites like Tumblr, WordPress, and Squarespace have made it easier than ever to start blogging. And buy yourname.com to write on.
Once you’re writing, start publicizing and connecting with people in the field that you’re passionate about. Twitter has made it easier than ever to find interesting people and connect with them.
Put these accounts on your resume and LinkedIn. Tell employers they can go to your site to learn more about what you’re doing. The goal of all this is that you’ve crafted a story about yourself that’s much more than a list of grades and previous jobs.
You’re sharing a story to a potential employer that you’re already doing great work, and they should bring you on board to do it with them. I promise they will go look, curiosity will get the best of them.
Most of all, know that we want you to succeed. As an employer, we want to find the diamond in the rough. We want you to be great and we want to hire you, because there’s always more work for great people to do. Be confident, because if you’ve done these things well, you will be successful.