Here’s the bad news right now: On top of everything else on your plate as another year of college kicks off, I’m suggesting you’ve got a little more to do. The good news is that I’ve made a four-year roadmap to save you a little time. While I was doing my summer homework and writing the book, Launch Like a Rocket: Build the soft skills you’ll need for your career by leveraging your entire college experience, I created a spreadsheet for you to save as a copy in your Google Drive or download to use in Excel. Since I’m still proofreading the final layout of the book, I’ll just do a quick post to cover the basics of the planning process to be sure you’re one of the few college graduates with the soft skills needed to succeed. For a quick briefing on soft skills, I like the Bloomberg Job Skills Report for 2016, even though they are talking about MBA recruiters’ wish lists for top candidates. (Master of the obvious: If MBA grads don’t have these skills, imagine how rare college grads with them are.)
If you open the link above to the spreadsheet, note that it’s got three tabs along the bottom. The first just does some advertising for Launch, and advises anyone new(ish) to Drive on how to make the spreadsheet your own so you can edit. The second tab gives you a vertical axis of the essential soft skills as I’ve broken them out in my book, while the horizontal axis breaks questions you should ask yourself before you take on a gig and those you should consider afterwards. The third tab guides you in making a four-year plan to be sure you maximize your effectiveness in pursuing opportunities. This tab’s vertical axis should be your extracurricular activities. I populated a few random ones to get you thinking. The horizontal axis breaks out the four years, with short questions about how things work out. Those evolve as the years progress, as will you and your skills. Because I know you’re still flying a little blind on the discussion of non-academic skill building, I’ve given you a fairly detailed row that explains the questions.
Before this all sounds overwhelming, I think it’s important to explain the big picture here. I think you should try anything that interests you, both in class and out of classes. I think some of those things, if you are really experimenting, will be a terrible fit. I think you might fail at some of them. And I think that’s perfect. Experimenting, failing, and adjusting course based on that new information and continuing to repeat this process is the only way anyone ever ends up happy and successful. I promise you, when you were a toddler you definitely tried to push round pegs into square holes, because you couldn’t be totally sure it wouldn’t work. The same principal is true right now as you move more firmly into becoming your own person. (What failing really looks like is only taking on things you know you can do perfectly—don’t start adult life playing it that safe.) Okay, so I’m suggesting you go try some fun, interesting, different things, even if you might fail. Not much work there.
Can it be that career planning for college students is that easy? Yes. I’m just suggesting that you start to refine your decision process as you choose what to keep, shed, or grow over the time you spend in college. Don’t always be the treasurer, don’t only take leadership roles in your sorority or the outdoor club, consider the budget implications of a choice. Keep refining and re-sorting the spreadsheet and, if you’re diligent about upkeep on the sheet, your résumé will pretty much write itself every time you need one. Too late for you because you’re a junior or senior? Nope, not at all. You’ve got to set aside a few hours to go back to freshman year and skim through the sheet, but I think you’ll get a feel for where the gaps are and you can quickly triage those in your remaining time in college. Worst case, you’ve actually got a totally killer answer for the classic “What’s your greatest weakness?” interview question. You’ll sound like an extraordinarily thoughtful job candidate when you admit you regret not taking more public-speaking roles in the projects you managed or running more budgets for the events you worked on, and are hoping that your first job will give you a chance to grow in that area.