I had breakfast today with a friend, Brent Stickels, who is a partner in YYES, an agency with offices in Minneapolis and Los Angeles. During our conversation, he mentioned another ambitious, smart friend who’s currently in a great new job at a company, unfortunately with a very disengaged culture. He’d advised her to get out “before you lose your edge.” I thought that was great advice, and worthy of a post.
When we talk about a group’s culture, there are a lot of ways it can go bad. There are toxic cultures, where there’s actively, aggressively unkind (or illegal) stuff going on and it’s unremarkable. There’s bullying and hazing. People stealing ideas, sabotaging other people’s efforts, or blind to the larger picture. If you’re in a group like this, you need to exit, as soon as possible, with some grace. (I’m not going to touch the recent amazon.com blowup—I don’t have any direct intel—but I’ve been working long enough to tell you that in we’re-working-to-change-the-world conversations we universally love to romanticize an extreme work ethic.)
You don’t have to enter the workforce to encounter a bad culture within a group, it’s on even the most idyllic campus. Hazing isn’t just for the Greek system—other groups can be just as nasty in their rituals, nor are all fraternities guilty of this. Part of college is figuring out who you are and what you stand for. (There is more to these four years than getting a job—a really great school is going to help you learn how to make a life.) You’re going to get a lot to think about in the discussion of big ideas in the classroom and during office hours, but you should also be getting it in your non-academic engagements.
In this world no one rules by love; if you are but amiable, you are no hero;
to be powerful, you must be strong, and to have dominion
you must have a genius for organizing.
Bringing order to chaos (aka herding cats) is something you’ve been working on all through high school. If you hadn’t been good at it, likely you wouldn’t be in college right now. And if you’re working your way through school, you already know even more about this one. It’s hard to get control of all the variables in your life. In the working world you’ll need to get your variables and a lot of other people’s to synchronize in order to get things done.
College shelters you a bit from creating time management from scratch—you don’t have to propose meeting times for your classes, locate the various required books and materials from multiple sources,* or find a place to meet and a way to pay the professor. But you’re picking classes that combine into a set of major/minor and general graduation requirements as well as addressing your intellectual curiosity for new subjects. Each semester’s picks fit into the reality that you can only be in one place at one time, prerequisites completion, and physical constraints (you need a enough time to make it from one end of campus to another—even in snow or 105-degree heat) and trying to wrap it all up on the desired four-year schedule. This isn’t something that specifically goes on a resume (although I do see “graduated in three years” noted from time to time and I get the subtext, although perhaps only because I graduated early, too.). Be aware of the skills you’re building—and make sure you are working on these. As college progresses shove your parents out of the process, involve your advisors for advice and as sounding boards, but don’t look to them to move in as replacement helicopter parents. Parents: Start pushing your student to take control. By senior year you shouldn’t be managing anything. Even if you’re underwriting college, you shouldn’t even be making plane reservations. No one in the office will be doing this for your student—they have to learn now, even if they are “too busy.” Move them in freshman year, but unless you’re close and they have no other options don”t move them out or back in. they need to navigate these basic things on their own. Time management, both in the sort- and long-term, is a skill you’ve got to get down.
Build on those time skills, and start organizing other people.
Half the world is composed of people who have something to say and can’t,
and the other half who have nothing to say and keep on saying it.
Let’s assume you’re in the half that has something to say. You’re used to just saying it, but you’ve experienced a fairly forgiving audience—your peers, professors, and parents. (You are already used to competing with the electronics in the audience’s hands–that’s a good skill.) Out here in the real world it’s a whole new game. Everyone is strapped for time, so you’ve got to be concise. Everyone is juggling a lot of different roles and responsibilities: You’ve got to hit the audience at the right time. There can be a lot of different audiences so the words and venues you use may well be different for peers, upper management, and outside audiences. You need to practice to be good at these things. Work with similar groups on campus and get experience with a less safe audience or start asking a friendly group for feedback. (Ask your parents a serious question where they get to help with your future—they’ll be thrilled. Unless you have recovering helicopter parents—more on that in a future post.) In the interest of cutting to the chase: I’ve created a short list of the things you need to consider in communicating with other people and I’ve added context with the kinds of opportunities I think you can find on your campus.
Back in 2012, The Chronicle of Higher Education published this study on employer perceptions of college graduates. And one-third of folks from my very popular segment, Media/Communications said that colleges were doing a fair or poor job of producing graduates who were going to be successful employees. Another third of employers across all industries said “recent graduates are unprepared or very unprepared for their job search” while “over half of the employers indicated difficulty in finding qualified candidates for job openings.”
Sure, this survey is three years old and the job market is much improved. Some students are now reneging on offers because better ones come along. The thing is, while the offers are being made, and the jobs and internships filled, that doesn’t mean that you’ll be well-regarded. And failing at your first job without being told why is pretty disastrous. You may not end up fired, just shunted off to the side or conveniently laid off.