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8 things I know now I wish I knew in college


Last night, I was part of a Pro-Am Day-type event at my alma mater, Winona State University. Dubbed, The Real World, it’s become an annual event of sorts for me thanks to my friends at WSU–and a day I really look forward to each spring.

As I talked to students during the event and shared advice and insights, it occurred to me that I am now nearly 20 years older than some of these students. At 38, I’m not exactly “old”, but I’m now much closer to 50 than I am to 21.

That forced me to reflect on a few things–namely, those things I wish I would have known when I was in college on the brink of graduating and finding that first job.

The following is a list of items I’ve learned over the years–sometimes on my own, sometimes through direct observation and other times from mentors. They’re also all topic I discussed with the students Thursday night–thought I’d share them with you today. Here are 8 things I know now that I wish I knew when I was in college:

* The importance of relationships. Relationships drive business. Plain and simple. When you’re young, you don’t see that. You don’t understand that relationships can and will lead to jobs. To work. To business. You can’t see that a simple coffee. A few questions here and there. An act of kindness. All can lead to furthering a relationship. And, landing that first job.

* How much writing matters. The academic world does its best to prepare you for this fact, but it’s different on the business side. For one, it’s faster. If you work for an agency, you know what I’m talking about. I need that proposal today at 3 p.m. Where that’s copywriting project I asked for by EOD? Speed is huge when it comes to writing for a living. And, practice makes perfect. I just didn’t know how much those tow things mattered in the business world.

* Why I need “soft skills.” The one thing you really don’t learn in the classroom is the softer side of the PR/marketing world. What’s appropriate in the workplace? How do you handle social situations? How do you “manage up”? What is “managing up?” And, how do you handle face-to-face interactions with clients? All these “softer skills” make up a hefty portion of your day once you get a full-time job–and it’s all on-the-job training at that point.

* The skills I learned outside the classroom were more important than the ones I learned inside it. The question was posed last night: What’s the most important skill you learned in school? My answer: The most important skills I learned were those I didn’t learn in a classroom. One in particular: Time management. When I was in school, I had a couple jobs, a full course load, I played on the golf team and I wanted to have a semblance of a social life. That’s a lot for any kid. And it forced me to learn how to manage my time–and my day. Those are skills I put into practice every day–and skills that are particularly important when you’re a solo consultant with no office and no full-time team.

* The email address of every VP at Fleishman Hillard. 15 years ago, when I graduated from Winona State, there was no LinkedIn. No Facebook. Blogs were virtually non-existent. Heck, email was just getting off the ground when I graduated (yes, I know, I’m old). So, in order to research a potential employer, I had to do things the old-fashioned way. Today, young people have access to a wealth of information about their employers. I mean, if I was looking for a job at Fleishman when I was graduating, the only way to figure out who the VPs and managing supervisors were in the Minneapolis office was to ask around–literally. Today, a few simple searches and I not only know their names, I know their last 4 jobs, their educational background and a host of other personal information.

* My resume really doesn’t matter. Not everyone will agree with me here, and this may apply more to the specific field I work in (digital PR/marketing), but I might argue your “resume” doesn’t matter anymore. Now, I would probably agree that it did matter 15 years ago when I graduated, but the concept remains the same. That is, in the job search process, your resume isn’t the golden ticket–relationships are. Sure, you need a resume. HR departments will always need a tangible product to “qualify” you. But, your resume will rarely get you a job–it’s merely a ticket. Relationships get jobs. Referrals get jobs. Great work gets jobs. A resume is just a piece of paper.

* Money doesn’t matter as much as you think. I can tell you without pause that money is not one of the top three reasons I’ve selected the last three jobs I’ve had. Truth be told, money hasn’t mattered for quite some time for me. I don’t say that to sound all high and mighty–I just say it from the standpoint that it’s just not a key criteria in how I select jobs anymore. My life goals don’t entail making more money than Mark Zuckerberg–I just want enough to pay the mortgage, give my kids a good life and do a little traveling on the side. That’s it. So, I have a certain amount of money I need to make each year to do those things (and it’s a pretty conservative number)–anything more is pure gravy. What’s much more important to me is: Flexibility;working with people I like and respect; getting the opportunity to do engaging and invigorating work; and having opportunities to work with smart, talented people. So, I guess money is fifth on my list.

* That I should apply for jobs I’m not completely qualified for. Early in my career, I remember seeing a lot of jobs I really thought I’d be good at. But, invariably, after perusing the job description, I would think, “That’s a cool gig, but I’m just not qualified.” Well, turns out, employers hire people who aren’t completely qualified all the time. One candidate is a great culture fit, so she’s hired. Another candidate’s mother knows the VP of branding, so she got the job. Another candidate just interviewed really well, so he got the job. The bigger point? You don’t have to have all the skills the employer lists on the job description. In fact, sometimes the employer realizes this going in and is just looking for the best possible candidate. Don’t let the job description completely determine if you apply for the job or not.

What about you? What do you know now that YOU wish you would have known when you were in college?




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