Look for Leadership Opportunities

In the Fortune CEO Daily newsletter today Editor Alan Murray reports from Brainstorm Tech that disrupter companies, all being disrupted themselves, talked primarily about “changing cultures and the people skills needed to change them.” When you’re out there interviewing, keep in mind that companies have a short-term and a long-term need. They are interviewing to fill an entry- or low-level position, undoubtedly full of basic grunt work at a desk or computer or on the road. You’ve got to be able to tackle that with a great attitude. If you’re lucky, they’ll couple grunt work with some formal training. But they are also making an investment in their new hire, even with no formal training program. They need that to pay off and so, all things being equal, the candidate who shows a glimmer of longer-term potential wins every time.

We live in a time of unprecedented change and that pace keeps accelerating. If you’re a new college grad or quickly on the track to be a new college grad, a lot of your technical skills are going to be obsolete in a few years. What will last a lifetime, and a whole career, are your communication and managerial skills. That’s where you need to focus your energy to stand out. Technical skills and a college major in a given subject are table stakes. They get you in the game, so you’ve got a chance to play. You want to make sure you’re in a position to gain new responsibilities to facilitate the change.

Right now, sit down and look at how you spend your time in a given week. You’ve got to sleep, eat, and handle your academic course load. But what else are you spending time on? Is it adding value? Can you trade up to something else of greater value? Are there any resources on campus or in town that you can take advantage of? Even if you’re starting school as a freshman, this is worth a look. Read everything your college is sending you, and scour the website.

For example, Denison University has a whole section on campus leadership, including D.U. Lead, a program open only to incoming first-year students with an application that they say should take no more than 15 minutes to complete. The price? Free: you commit to giving up a weekend a month into school. But you’ve got to apply before you get to campus first year. Be sure you’re not missing opportunities like this on your campus. College is expensive but it’s also an amazing buffet of free opportunities, make sure you are getting your money’s worth. Even if you’re there on scholarship or your parents’ plentiful dimes, YOU are giving up four years of your life.

I’m not suggesting a diet of no fun at all, but I am suggesting you consider everything with a longer-term perspective. That’s always the best way to look at real life, so the practice will do you good, but it’s also the best way to end up with the skills you need to succeed after graduation.

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