7 Ways a College Student Can Start Becoming a Professional Now

Photo Cred: Jasmin Cormier

Whether you’re about to graduate in a couple weeks or you have a few semesters ahead of you, there are lots of things you can do to get started on your career.

I know I know, you want to enjoy your days at school while you can without having to worry about the “real world” that lies ahead.

You don’t have to devote all of your free time to developing your career.  There are little things that you can get started on now, that will pay off dividends after you graduate.

Want to get your career off to a good start after you graduate?  Here are some tips.

  1. Plant your seeds. If you’re not sure where to get started networking, just look around you.  You’re surrounded by future professionals (classmates) and seasoned vets (professors).  You also have a huge network of active professionals (alumni).  Sign up for Linked In, and start connecting with EVERYONE that you know.  You never know when a simple Linked In connection could lead to a big opportunity.  Here, you can start by connecting with me.
  2. Participate in projects. There are tons of things you can do around campus that will look great to future employers and will give you some great experience.  Start writing for the college newspaper.  Or better yet, start your own as a blog!  Start communities for students in the same position as you.  Just start something.  If you fail, who cares…?  You’ll learn a ton and it will look a lot better on your resume than whatever other crap we tend to fill that POS paper with.
  3. Attend events. Have you met Patrick Johnson?  No?  Well there are a ton of PR professionals who do because the kid is at every conference he can make it too.  Think you can’t afford it? Guess again.  Most conferences have student discounts, and pretty much ALL conferences take volunteers.  I’ve had the opportunity to meet some amazingly prominent professionals by volunteering at conferences.  Usually how it works is you work for half the conference, and the other half you can do what you want.  Start shaking hands.
  4. Join communities. There are hundreds of communities online for professionals.  You can find them on Linkedin, twitter, facebook, and niche social networks.  I got started in my career by joining 20 Something Bloggers and Brazen Careerist.  Just join them and start asking questions.  Professionals respect a student that’s taking the initiative to get out there and learn.
  5. Start writing. Whether it’s for your blog, for someone else’s blog, in your own private notebook…whatever.  Writing will help you learn and grow as a professional.
  6. Establish mentorships. It’s not something you can just set up usually.  By participating in communities, attending events, and networking, you’ll start to build stronger relationships with professionals.  Email them.  Ask them for skype chats.  Ask questions.  When you dive off the college cliff into the rapids of the real world, a mentor can be your life vest.  (Take that home…chew on it).
  7. Ignore me and do whatever you want. These tips are what worked for me.  They may or may not work for you.  If you have the motivation to kick off your career right, just do.  The first and biggest thing I’ve learned since graduating is that the doers will flourish.  No matter what I, or anyone else tells you, you just have to do what you think will work for you.  Just do.

Do you have any more tips for college students?  If you’re a college student, do you have any questions?

Don’t Judge People By Their Generation

Photo cred: Ian Atwater

I read this the other day: “[Millennials] are relatively laid back—until they feel they have been wronged… and then may quickly apply pressure to make big changes fast. They expect transparency and accountability, just as it is expected of them in the marketplace.”

I read generalizations of Millennials like this one pretty much every day.  Millennials are lazy…inspired…entitled…tech savvy…etc etc…

I have yet to read a description of the Millennial generation that was based on any sort of reliable statistics.  EVERY one of these generalizations are based on a limited point of view based on biased research or on personal experience and fail to take into account a number of aspects, namely socioeconomic status.

When marketers talk about millenials with these unfounded generalizations, they’re contributing to a highly inaccurate conception of an entire generation.

Even wikipedia makes unfounded generalizations, and describes Millennials based on studies performed solely in colleges.

My high school featured a very diverse range of lifestyles and socioeconomic statuses. A majority of the Millennials that I grew up with, do not fall under any of the stereotypes that marketers constantly apply to them.  With that personal experience, I’ve seen first hand how inaccurate the typical millennial classification really is.  I won’t base my argument on personal experience though…

Here are some stats from 2008 pulled from the United States Department of Labor:

  • 68.6 percent of 2008 high school graduates were enrolled in colleges or universities
  • 56.8 percent of the nation’s 16- to 24-year-olds, or 21.3 million young people, were either enrolled in high school (9.7 million) or in college (11.7 million).
  • “…about 6 in 10 recent high school graduates who were enrolled in college attended 4-year institutions.”

My class year (2005) had some similar stats, with 68.6% of high school grads enrolling in college. Many high school graduates go right into the labor force.

The false generalizations we hear about all the time are based on the Millennials that get their college degree or are in the process of doing so.  The fact is, by basing your characterization of Millennials on this segment of the larger population, you’re making highly inaccurate assumptions.

Generations are too vast and diverse to justifiably apply characteristics to the entire population.

Tell a millennial that works 50-60 hour work weeks doing construction in the winter that he’s entitled.  Or maybe tell the millennial facing jail time for selling drugs that they were “pampered” by their parents.  I know a people in both situations.  Do they represent the millennial generation? No, but they’re certainly a part of it, and shouldn’t be neglected when discussing the traits of our generation.

Thanks to Lisa Grimm, Dave Folkens and Chuck Hemann for their help in refining this post.

NEW: The u30pro Digest

u30pro

#u30pro is a weekly twitter chat (Thursdays at 7pm est) started by Lauren Fernandez and David Spinks that covers topics and issues facing young professionals.

We started the chat at the end of August.  It’s been truly amazing so far and hearing how much everyone enjoys the chats really makes us love hosting them that much more.

We love the idea that young professionals can
have a place to discuss issues that they’re facing, and that we can bring in more experienced professionals to shed some light from the other end of the spectrum.

We’d like to continue to build out the chat and grow the community that is forming around it.  So we decided to launch the u30pro digest!

Once you subscribe, every week we’ll send out a digest of the best blog posts from young professionals in the #u30pro community.  We will also feature a U30 Pro.  You can sign up using the form below.

To subscribe CLICK here.


This is very much a work in progress as we are looking to make u30pro as valuable as possible.  We will continue to build out the chat, this weekly digest, and stay tuned for more updates!

If you’d like to submit blogs to be considered for inclusion in the weekly digest, you can comment here, email it to u30pro [at] gmail [dot] com or DM it on twitter to @u30pro.

Developing a Community On and Off Campus

Stuart Foster-207This is a guest post by Stuart Foster, a marketing consultant in the Boston area. He specializes in brand management, social media, and blog outreach. He authors a blog at Thelostjacket.com.
Photo cred: Alisa Ryan
Photo cred: Alisa Ryan

Colleges have a built in vibrant community on campus. They have varied interests, participate in multiple things and often are socially aware. Aren’t those some of the hallmarks of a great community?

Now what if you were to plug alumni into that community? The students would have access to jobs, resources, and lines of communication with alumni that would be difficult or near impossible to create through the Career Services center.

By building a more inclusive community (and doing it right) you could strengthen your alumni-student relations to an unprecedented degree. Need an internship? Where do you go look?

If you have a pre-existing relationship with a member of your college’s alumni you likely go to that person for recommendations. They have access to people and groups that you wouldn’t have known they existed otherwise.

The creation of this type of network would eliminate a lot the bureaucracy currently existing at many schools. I went to the career services office at my school and came away ill prepared with any idea of what I wanted to do or the people I needed to talk to too procure an internship. I’m sure I am not alone in this frustration.

When I want to develop a relationship with a person…I don’t want to go to another person first. I want to connect directly with the person I am interested in meeting and learning more about. Social networks could possibly bridge the current disconnect.

What are the benefits for alumni? The same as they are for the student only in reverse. They now have a wealth of talent from which to pool and can pre-screen candidates before even considering them for an internship. It would cut down on a lot of legwork on the part of both parties.

Huge opportunity here…now they just need to actually do it. (In a real way, not the convoluted non-usable enterprise garbage that most have set up).

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How to Communicate with Professionals

Photo cred:  Tracy Byrnes
Photo cred: Tracy Byrnes

If you’re a college senior, you’re probably not the happiest person on campus right now.  Times are tough and that run of the mill job search strategy you were taught just won’t cut it anymore.  There are a couple values that are more relevant than ever though, and that is differentiation and “it’s not what you know…but who you know”.  You have to set yourself apart from the tide of college graduates that are gunning for the few jobs available.  That is why establishing relationships with professionals is more important than ever.

Today, the best way to set yourself apart from other students is no longer with a perfectly worded resume, or by wearing an expensive suit to a job fair. The best way is to establish relationships. If your school is like mine, this isn’t something that you were necessarily trained in.  You’re always told to keep to strict guidelines of what to write and say, but in reality that’s not what all professionals are looking for.  Here are three things to keep in mind when connecting with professionals…

  1. Show respect AND personality. This is very important when connecting with professionals.  The respect aspect is common sense, but many people mistake respect for very dry, boring conversation as to not offend anyone.  It’s important to be respectful, but professionals also want to get to know WHO you are.  Don’t be afraid to add some jokes and a little wit to your conversations.  Laughter is a powerful tool and if a professional finds that you make them smile even once a day, they’ll like you that much more.  Just make sure to remain respectful, and be careful not to offend anyone while expressing your personality. Know where the line is and don’t cross it.
  2. Create relationships by engaging in conversation. It’s important that you read what’s going on in your industry, and listen to what professionals are saying.  Even more important, is that you engage in those conversations.  Share your insights, show your passion and add value wherever possible.  If you have a question, ASK!  Most professionals love to give advice to students who are passionate and respectful.
    1. Use twitter. I don’t care if your friends talk about how “lame” twitter is (I hear it from my friends).  I can attest that it is the #1 way to connect with experienced professionals.  I’ve met some great professionals on twitter that I’m confident would recommend me for a job, solely based on a relationship that stemmed from a conversation on twitter.  You can use twitter to meet new professionals, and to stay connected to contacts new and old.
    2. Comment on professional’s blogs. Anyone who writes a blog can tell you that they love getting comments.  It shows that people are listening and that they care about what you have to say.  If you continue to post on professional’s blogs, they will appreciate it and be more willing to establish a relationship.
  3. Establish a relationship before you ask for anything. This is somewhat of a dilemma I’ve faced as I’ve heard some professionals say get to the point, and I’ve heard others say that it’s rude to come right out and ask for a job.  I’ve found that it’s always better to establish a relationship first.  A professional will be more willing to hire someone that they’ve gotten to know beyond a resume and head shot.  They’ll know who you are, that you have a passion in the field and will respect you for establishing a relationship.
    1. If you have to ask for a job right away…You should never come right out and say “I want a job!”  If you can’t establish a relationship first, send an email explaining that you’d like to connect further, possibly set up a coffee meeting, and make mention that you are looking for a job.  Make sure that it’s not the main focus of your initial message.

If you’re confused about what professionals look for in an email, check out Lauren Fernandez’s post on email etiquette.

Interview with Arik Hanson: Tips for Job Seeking Students

Arik Hanson, APR; ACH Communications
Arik Hanson, APR; ACH Communications

Arik Hanson, APR; ACH Communications, is a PR expert who has been a great mentor and friend to me since I’ve met him not too long ago.  Always looking to help others, he has now offered some advice for you, my readers, to help clear up some questions that college students looking for a job may have. Here we go!

1)  How should students approach their established connections to ask for job opportunities? When is the best time to start asking?

Don’t start asking about full-time opportunities until you’re ready and able to take a job. However, that shouldn’t stop you from discussing opportunities and exploring possibilities with your “real world” colleagues. As far as approaches, I’d suggest as much face-to-face interaction as possible. Invite a professional out to lunch. Take them out for coffee. You’ll be surprised how open folks are open to this approach. Most want to give back, just like someone did for them once upon a time.

2)  What are the best methods students can use to create connections with professionals?

The tried-and-true approaches still work today. You know why? Because so many students still aren’t using them! Attend PRSA or IABC events and start introducing yourself to professionals. Then, follow up with a call and ask to take them out to coffee sometime so you can learn more about what they do. Participate in existing programs.

In Minnesota, we have a program for students called Pro-Am Day. Students have the opportunity to shadow a pro and learn more about a day-in-the-life of a PR professional. Great opportunity, but so many students miss the bigger picture. Yes, we get great participation from students in the actual event. But, what’s missing is the follow-up. Most of us pros participate in this program because they want to help and mentor the next generation of PR pros. But, it can’t be a one-sided situation. I’ve participated in Pro-Am Day now for six years–I have yet to have a student call me afterward and ask if I’d like to grab a coffee and talk about career advice and PR. Students are simply missing out on a fantastic opportunity to build relationships with folks in the industry. Remember, most jobs don’t come from online channels or job boards–they come from word-of-mouth and references.

To that end, social medial channels can also be a great way to start the conversation. Just like what you’re doing David–very smart. Connect with folks in the industry–keep your name top of mind. When they have an opening, and you send them a note, they will remember your name and the work you’re capable of doing.

3)  To what extent are students expected to censor their online profiles? How can they do this while keeping to the values of transparency in social media?

Organizations are facing this exact same issue right now, which is why you’re seeing more social media policies popping up. The learning for students: There are no black and while rules, but there are guidelines. Be yourself online, but just be aware that nearly everything you post can be accessed by a recruiter or manager. If it’s me, and I’m searching for that first job, I’m pretty darn aware of the photos I’m posting to my Facebook page. I’m not saying you need to censor yourself completely–but, your online persona is a direct reflection of your real self. Organizations in the PR industry want to hire folks who are responsible, mature and creative thinkers. They don’t want to hire folks they think may embarrass the organization. That’s not a new thing. My advice: Expect every potential employers to search every online asset (photos, blog posts, etc) you produce. If you wouldn’t want a potential employer to see it/read it, don’t post it..

4)  What was one thing that you wish you did differently, or that you wish you were aware of when searching for your first full time job?

For me, I really wish I would have taken the more personal approach. Like many students, I search job boards, scoured listings in our career resource center and browsed the newspaper listings (back when those mattered–remember, I’m old). But, I realize now, the way to stand out among the crowd is to establish those personal, more human connections. And it’s not that hard. Again, not many students are doing it, so for the ones that are, they stand out like rock stars. I also would have looked and accepted an agency job right out of school. Great way to learn about a variety of different PR disciplines to figure out what you want to pursue further. Plus, you usually have the chance to travel–both across the U.S. and the world. What a great opportunity to experience different areas of the country and parts of the world–even if you are usually working 18-hour days during those business trips!

5)  What are some things that students can do to stand out from the crowd, differentiating themselves from other job candidates? What are specific things that you look for?

Well, you could walk around NYC with a bunch of resumes attached to your body. If I remember correctly, that’s what Peter Shankman did–seemed to work for him. For me, it comes down for three areas:

  1. Writing. Huge. A must have. And employers need to see samples–lots of them. From internships, pro-bono work, even blog posts. We need to get a feel for how well you can write.
  2. Initiative. This is surprisingly big–for me. In PR, you can’t be a wallflower. You need to be able to speak up in a meeting with senior executives. You need to be able to take a project with minimal direction and make it happen and produce quality results. And you need to be able to start and facilitate engaging and productive conversations with clients, colleagues and partners. Again, wallflowers need not apply.
  3. Social media skills. This is where students can really shine right now. There’s a whole sector of professionals that are uncomfortable using these new tools. But most recognize the need to at least explore the possibilities they hold for their organizations. And they need help. Students have been living and breathing many of these new technologies for years. Today’s students grew up on Facebook, MySpace and text messaging. I’m only 36, but I grew up with a land-line phone (with a cord), a word processor and bulletin boards. Big difference. Students can add tremendous value in this area by helping “coach up” senior-level professionals on the ins and outs of social media.

You can find a Lauren Fernandez’s answers to these questions here.  Thanks so much for your time Arik!

Interview with Lauren Fernandez: Tips for Job Seeking Students

Lauren Fernandez, American Mensa
Lauren Fernandez, American Mensa

Lauren Fernandez, American Mensa, is an enthusiastic PR Professional, who is always willing to help out students looking to become PR professionals.  Lauren was kind enough to provide some great advice for you through my blog, enjoy!

1) How should students approach their established connections to ask for job opportunities? When is the best time to start asking?

Once you start interning and gaining PR experience, you should treat every opportunity as a future job. You never know, because 5 years down the road that contact could be your next boss. When I was just beginning to intern, I would collect cards, and if I felt that I could learn from the person as a mentor, I would constantly email them with questions, advice and meet with them for coffee and/or lunch. I would also write a hand written thank you card every once in awhile. I don’t think it’s valuable to come right out and ask for a job – but by building a relationship and showing interest, you are saying “Hey, look at me – I am valuable and could be in the future.”

2) What are the best methods students can use to create connections with professionals?

I am a big fan of Twitter – this is an easy way to get a hold of me, and also to start establishing a contact. Once we have that, we can move to email, phone and networking. I love meeting students at events, and coming home and already having an email thanking me for my time. The email that contains questions about the field and about what I do, how I got into PR, etc. will always gain a lot of mileage when creating a connection. Also, make sure to keep up the connection – don’t drop off the face of the planet. PR pros talk daily, and we share stories. The PR world is very small, even in big cities such as the DFW area where I work.

3) To what extent are students expected to censor their online profiles? How can they do this while keeping to the values of transparency in social media?

Frankly, I don’t want to see parts of your body you wouldn’t show at work, or you chugging beer in the conga line. That is all fun in college, but this is the professional world, and you have to think of it from the standpoint of: What would your co-worker say if they were standing next to you in these pictures? Would your boss like to know that your interests include whiskey and chasing the opposite sex? Probably not. Your social media profiles and presence should only add to your character and exemplify it, not take away from it. There are privacy settings if you need to keep that one picture on there, but once you graduate, it really is time to grow up.

4) What was one thing that you wish you did differently, or that you wish you were aware of when searching for your first full time job?

I wish I knew the value of patience, and the fact that you don’t have to accept the first job that is offered to you. I know in this economy it can be a tough pill to swallow, but my dad gave me great advice when that first job I took went really sour and I quit: “Lauren, was that a job that you would be happy with if for the next 5 years you weren’t paid for it?” I didn’t have passion for that job, and that is something you should always have. You are a rockstar, and you have to believe in it. The job will come – and one that you love.

5) What are some things that students can do to stand out from the crowd, differentiating themselves from other job candidates? What are specific things that you look for?

I look for dedication, hard work, and response time. I am a very busy professional, but I can always stop to help someone if they are dedicated to this field. I only want those that can accelerate and benefit the field I love to enter it – and those are the ones I help. I don’t like arrogance (trust me, you aren’t a PR God come to save the field), and I love simple thank yous. If a student can respond to me in 24 hours or less, or at least tell me they received my message, then that will gain a lot of respect for me. If a student asks me to lunch, they stand out, because they aren’t afraid to be in a setting that is outside the professional workplace. If a student sends a hand-written note, that gets a lot of bonus points as well.


You can find Arik Hanson’s answers to these questions here.  Thanks for your time and thoughts Lauren!