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Accepted? Start Planning!

This is the time of year when all the college acceptances start pouring in. You may spend April doing some final visits to figure out which school is right for you now. You may not know what you want to major in, but you likely have a couple of alternatives in mind. It’s not too soon to take a look at the classes your possible schools have and start roughing out a plan. (If you know which one you’re going to go to, you can get more detailed from the start.) This will make college a more valuable, productive experience, and any opportunity to practice this kind of planning will be critical to success in your career. Planning your classes yourself and continuing to rough out the plan as new information becomes available will help you graduate on time and save you a ton of money in the process. (The money aspect may make it tempting for parents to take over this spreadsheet, but if you are a parent who really must, at least use it in stealth mode, to prompt your student to double-check their facts. Land the helicopter and walk away.) It may also save you some false starts. For example, some science majors at some schools are not easily compatible with a semester abroad—taking a look now will help you pick the right school and go in to a chosen school aware from the start about any potential trade-offs between your interests.

By way of example, I thought I’d use one my sons’ college experience. To help you drill down into as much of the detail as you like, without my writing too much into the weeds, I’m linking extensively to the University of Puget Sound website throughout. His journey may be very different from what you imagine for yourself, but the twists and turns of his college career are probably far less than the average experience. The point of adolescence, college, and those first few jobs out of college is to help you figure out who you want to be and what you want to do, so you should expect you’ll need to adjust the grand plan constantly. (BTW, the same thing will be true of your career—see the animation in my last post.)

Luckily, my son, Nick, was willing to send me the College Schedule spreadsheet he showed me over the holidays and said I could share it. By way of background, Nick’s a senior at the University of Puget Sound, graduating this May (2016). He was admitted as a freshman with a Humanities minor and as part of the Honors program. Right off, getting accepted to both programs meant he had to take both program-specific freshman writing seminars (on his sheet these are the HUM classes in freshman semester, although they now have different SSI-1 designations in the link above). Our family thought that was a good thing, because while he was a strong writer and coming out of a large, well-regarded public high school, his classes typically had 30–40 students.  Continue Reading

Rethink Career Planning Completely

Here’s a reality check for the intense planners out there. The hot jobs change over time and some of the things that look like a smart, steady career path when you’re in college can disappear entirely a decade or two longer. Or you can change and decide the things that fascinated you at 19 bore you silly when you are 28. Planning for an unknown future with too many variables to isolate is impossible to do and discouraging to contemplate. And we live in a time of increasingly fast change. Whole industries are being disrupted while new ones arise. So here’s a statement taken out of context that really wouldn’t sound like me: Give up.

I’m proposing an entirely different way to think about your career, starting right now, while you are still in school that future-proofs you, whatever comes. Think of every class and activity as building specific skills, you can begin to create a narrative that helps you decide where your evolving passions lie. You can also plan a few steps ahead, as things gradually become clearer to you. And even those first internships or career positions post-graduation that turn out to be a terrible fit can still yield big value if you think about them in terms of skills. If you’ve got strong skills in a few areas and continue to build on those, I think you’ll be relevant for even those professions that arise from what’s just a sparkle in an entrepreneur’s eye right now. And when you come to a choice between activities, internships, or jobs, you’ll be able to evaluate them by their long-term worth to you, not just a short-term pay difference.

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Job Hunt 101

The brutal truth is that while estimates vary, most jobs are never advertised at all. Openings pop up, internally and externally, and are filled through referrals. The easiest way to get a really great job is to have a rich, active network that thinks of you when they hear of new opportunities. Even jobs at places that are required to post openings and go through an open search process frequently go to someone with an inside track—all other things being equal the referred candidate offers a more certain outcome. The biggest mistake I see people make in their job hunts at any stage of their career is not building and maintaining their network long before they need it. Continue Reading

What Makes a Great Resume?

There are two kinds of resume audiences everyone needs to consider.

The first is the big business resume. That resume gets scanned by computers looking for keywords before a human in HR ever gets to it. I don’t deal with these, but there are tons of internet resources to tell you how to write this resume. The basics are about nor cluttering it with design elements like headers or illustrations, using the right keywords and using them in long form as well as in acronym form. You never know how the system is going to be looking, and it may not be a perfectly designed search. Use factual language, strip out tricky sentences, lean towards using bullets rather than sentences. Use simple fonts and consider submitting in a plain text format—avoiding software issues created even by the ubiquitous Word and PDF formats. While this is an older post, Lifehacker does a good job of covering this subject. And these resumes are ranked, so having some of the skills is enough to make it worth applying—you don’t have to have a perfect score on the requirements.

The second kind of resume, the one read by a person, is the one I see. Here’s what I think works and doesn’t work, based on about 30 years of screening resumes. First of all, the first, and most easily avoidable, mistake I see over and over again is people emailing me the wrong resume, the one for another job. Another fatal error is sending out a resume via a mass emailing to all the design firms in San Diego—that tells us all that you don’t care enough about doing a job right to send out 20 different custom emails, a tip-off to your shortcut-taking approach to life that isn’t what anyone is looking to hire. Continue Reading

Reading: Excellent Sheep

It’s hard for me to resist a book like Excellent Sheep with a subtitle reading “The Miseducation of the American Elite & the Way to a Meaningful Life” and William Deresiewicz delivers right out of the gate. Noting that “Questions of purpose and passion were not on the syllabus,” he drives home the point that students who excel early and consistently enough to even have a shot at the lottery ticket at the so-called elite American universities are fairly uniformly miserable, as with this horrifying quote:

“One young woman at Cornell summed up her life to me like this: ‘I hate all my activities, I hate all my classes, I hated everything I did in high school, I expect to hate my job, and this is just how it’s going to be for the rest of my life.’”

This isn’t an isolated quote of total misery in the book. I’m pretty sure most adults would say if something is that hateful about your life, it’s time to make a move to change things. While most of us well-ensconced in adulthood recognize you might briefly have to stick with a terrible job until you could replace it, I think we’d universally suggest that replacing it as quickly as possible was a good goal. Continue Reading

Reading: Aspiring Adults Adrift

Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa’s earlier book, Academically Adrift, keeps coming up in my reading, but this follow-up, Aspiring Adults Adrift, speaks more to Launch Like A Rocket’s mission. Subtitled “Tentative Transitions of College Graduates,” in this book they “illuminate other aspects of collegiate experience that students themselves value, and also examine the relationship between collegiate experience and transitions to adulthood after college.” They note that often the experience students are getting in “getting along with others” actually involves getting along with similar people—not something the modern workplace team is going to value or reward. Their surveys show that students value the extracurricular experience and that, in fact, their references in surveys and interviews to academic performance is mostly focused on meeting the minimum requirements for graduation, clearly not demonstrating a huge value on the learning itself.  They note that “Given students’ focus on social and extracurricular activities during college, we may have expected most respondents to emphasize soft-skill development above all else when discussing how college helped them perform their jobs.” And yet they find these skills are no more valued that any others by the students. They also quote more research showing 90% of employers highly value these skills and find “more than 90 percent of employers rating written communication, critical thinking, and problem solving as ‘very important‘ for the job success of new labor market entrants.”

I previously hadn’t considered civic engagement, nor seen statistics on that issue, but would have guessed young people today were far more engaged than in the past. Continue Reading

Reading: In Defense of a Liberal Education

I knew going in I was going to like this book. As disclosed elsewhere, I’m not a believer in college prices for a vocational education. When it was clear our younger son’s freshman year that his Philosophy class had him all fired up, I remember saying, “Aren’t you lucky? You have the last set of parents in America who want their student to major in Philosophy.” (He is a Philosophy and Economics major while our older son, a Bio major, is a Humanities minor with a concentration in Bioethics. Our dinner conversations will always be interesting!) Even when pre-professional education works, it’s potentially a series of early career successes with a surprising dead-end down the road, when you’re going to have a hard time going back and getting the missing soft skills.

Fareed Zakaria’s book is engaging and passionate. Sadly, when he breaks out the numbers “only about 1.8 percent of all undergraduates attend classic liberal arts colleges like Amherst, Swarthmore, and Pomona.” (Good news if you are one of them and can make the pitch to hiring managers.) He gives a clear, concise overview of the history and purpose of liberal education in America, “The essence of liberal education was ‘not to teach that which is particular to any one of the professions; but to lay the foundation which is common to them all.’” Given how much the world is changing and how little we can predict about the future jobs needed, that seems like the safest plan to me. (Yes, you’ll forgo the six-figure Google CompSci gig right out of college, but life and careers are long, plan accordingly.)

Mr. Zakaria quotes many influential and successful professional reflecting back on their liberal educations, including Norman Augustine, former CEO of Lockheed Martin, who says “I have concluded that one of the stronger correlations with advancement through the management ranks was the ability of an individual to express clearly his or her thoughts in writing.” As to the author’s own education and the emphasis on articulate communication, he concludes “In order to be successful in life, you often have to gain your peers’s attention and convince them of your cause, sometimes in a five-minute elevator pitch.” (The book jacket notes “Fareed Zakaria has been called ‘the most influential foreign policy advisor of his generation’” by Esquire Magazine, so I’m feeling confident he’s an ace at convincing people of his cause.) And, just so you don’t think we’re ganging up on you in pursuit of a different kind of “liberal agenda:”

“In 2013, the American Association of Colleges and Universities published a survey showing that 74 percent of employers would recommend a good liberal arts education to students as the best way to prepare for today’s global economy.”

Recommendation? Essential if you or your student is still in the process of choosing a college. If in college, I still recommend as I think you can supplement a pre-professional set of academic requirements with electives to round out some of the missing pieces. If you’ve already graduated, it will make you aware of some weaknesses you may have. That’s not a bad thing to know with all the great online and local extension classes available at a free or inexpensive price point to get you to fill the holes before you start to wonder why your fast-moving career has stalled out.

Everyone is an Entrepreneur (or at Least a Small Business Owner)

At the end of September I was back at Denison University for parent and homecoming weekend. As part of the fall weekend, the Career Exploration department always organizes a series of roundtables for particular careers. Last year I covered communications, but this year I figured that the Arts roundtable was bound to have students I could help advise. I always enjoy these discussions with students because it sparks so many new ideas for me. While I didn’t think Reid Hoffman’s book quite hit the mark since his focus was more on managing your career, making the “Start-up of You” a metaphor, my takeaway from my roundtable experience is that everyone literally should be thinking about their business(es). (And as I read more about Mr. Hoffman’s thinking, I think we might be in agreement, after all.)

For arts students it’s perhaps more obvious that this is required. While one student I met seemed more interested in a career as a recording artist, for which I have little advice, it was clear that he also had the skills to compose music, so my follow up email was about the various royalty-free sites where we buy music for many of our films. Essentially an Etsy-like business model, I don’t know why any music student wouldn‘t put some tracks up and start learning what sells and what doesn’t. Although this may not be enough to earn a living and it may not be their ideal career path, what if it could ultimately generate $300/month in income? (With a limited consumption of time, and all that time consumed when most convenient to them.) Add in one wedding-type performance event a month (always a weekend) with perhaps four people splitting $1,000. Again, very little time given up in exchange for part of a monthly income stream. Build up a following via the royalty-free music and maybe once a month you can sell a custom composition for a corporate film for $1,000. You see where I’m going, right? Something has to happen before you’re an overnight success with millions coming in. Continue Reading

Reading: How College Works

Dan Chambliss and Christopher Takacs followed over 100 students over eight years at Hamilton College to see what works and what doesn’t. They show the reader how college works and see beyond the four years, with frequent commentary from alumni looking back at their college years and with insight into what choices paid off and what opportunities they missed. While they are researchers writing for an academic audience, and the book is a little dry, with more information about background methods than the lay reader wants, the core is a very reliable, persuasive guide to what needs to happen for a successful college experience (and if college isn’t successful, you’re unlikely to have a successful post-college launch, right?)

Interestingly, students don’t need to find a large group of great people—they need just a few—and those can come from nearly anywhere on campus. But those friends are crucial to success on all levels. And, although probably true all through life, it’s interesting to consider that friendships within one group may preclude  friendships with other groups—whether due to time constraints or clannishness.

Continue Reading

How (and When) to send a LinkedIn Invitation

This week I received yet another completely generic, one-line  “I’d like to connect with you on LinkedIn” invitation from someone I didn’t know, whose job title is “student at XYZ University.” I admit, I am sometimes uncertain about the invites I get. Not because I am old and forgetful, but because I’ve been working since I was 16—I’ve met a lot of people in my life, from many different circles, and sometimes it’s hard to place them out of context. (And I started my career long before LI was invented, so there are people who suddenly join who knew me quite well years ago.) Giving everyone the benefit of the doubt, when I’m not sure I go check out the profiles of the unknown message senders on LinkedIn. This week’s uninitiated user profile has no photo, and relatively little info, given they are young and with little experience. They aren’t in a field that relates to what I do nor is their school one I have any strong personal connection to (there are two business school scholarships there in my dad’s name, but my last name is different, so I’m dismissing that as the reason.) I’m not accepting the invite and I’ll nicely mark the invite reason as “I don’t know Person X” (the other option is to mark it as spam). If you get too many declines for this reason LinkedIn can restrict or even terminate your account. This is not a happy outcome for this student (who by the way sealed their amateur status by having only 20 connections).

First of all, have a real profile, including a photo, when you are connecting with anyone. Start off by connecting to your classmates, professors, parents, friends’ parents. Try getting to 50 connections. Send invites after you’ve had a successful meeting or email exchange with someone new. If you’ve had only a brief conversation at a large gathering, follow up with an email or coffee invite, not a LI invite. Once you’ve actually met, then follow up with an invite. Give yourself time to get back to your office or the equivalent—at least an hour. Invites sent on your phone from the car five minutes after the meeting are a exclusive hallmark of overly enthusiastic teenagers. Cute, possibly accepted, but not as a peer.  Continue Reading