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?

The Forgotten Art of Research

Photo cred: Troy Holden

Research.

It’s an art.  One that we practice for many years, but forcefully forget.

It’s something that was drilled into us since the first day of school.  If we wanted to learn something, we had to read about it in a boring, overpriced textbook.  We would then have to take a test, write a paper, or do something to prove that we actually did the research.

It sucked.

It sucked so much that the second that diploma is handed to you, you feel a huge sigh of relief knowing that you’ll never be forced to study again.  You can now spend the rest of your days reading what you want, and learn by doing.

Research is still valuable long after you graduate but you avoid it because it feels like homework.

The professionals and entrepreneurs that really go far are the ones taking in as much information as possible related to their topic.  If you want to be great at your job, you have to research the crap out of it.  Read books, blog posts, case studies…do anything you can to make yourself more savvy and get an edge.

BUT…relying on blogs or twitter to learn everything won’t cut it.

Bloggers don’t dig deep enough…and twitter lacks any depth whatsoever.  Google the term “research”.  The number 1 result is Wikipedia.  Wikipedia is the cliff notes for the cliff notes.  They can all be great research tools but will only teach you so much.

Don’t forget about research.  It takes time and commitment.  It’s not easy to find the right information.  In the end though, it will pay off.

When was the last time you really researched something?  Has the art of research been forgotten?

If you have any good research tools or practices, share them in the comments.

The Blur

This is a guest post from Carlos Miceli.

Photo cred: Ségozyme

There are two reasons why anyone would want their business life to meddle in their personal life: more money or more freedom.

If your job or projects are going to get in the way of your leisure time, they better make you some cash, or help you enjoy life more. The problem is most people are working harder and the money or freedom never comes.

Take social media for example. There’s an air of business-like responsibility once you get involved in it. Business concepts like deadlines and networks get together with more philosophical terms like authenticity and transparency, and the result is a set of rules that you can’t ignore even if you are there “just for fun.” The reason this happens is because in social media there are no fences. People doing business and people being social are in the same room.

This is positive for those that work with social media. But for those that don’t, they see their social life getting tainted by these professional impositions like personal branding that force them to be more professional in their social life. I’m not even sure there’s any way to avoid this, but I’m sure many people didn’t choose it. And the worst part? All these people are not even getting richer; they are just getting busier.

These rules brought more responsibilities and fewer payoffs.

The real opportunity of this blur is to get more freedom, but it’s not what capitalism wants you to do (despite its claims of the contrary). People that have let their business and personal life unite in a positive way, have improved either the amount, location, or schedule of their work. Sadly, very few people have made this possible. To pull it off you need either a very valuable set of skills that let you negotiate effectively your professional life, or you need to be very good at critical thinking to develop a customized professional life of your own.

In the end, this fusion of rules may be disguised as a positive change, but I doubt that most people are enjoying its perks. It seems to me that we are only complicating our lives with it.

What do you think? Is this change good? Did we want this to happen?  Would you go back if you had the choice?

Carlos is an Argentinian philosophy lover, who surfs through life smiling, debating and reading. He blogs at OwlSparks, and is also co-founder of Untemplater, the guide to shatter the template lifestyle!  Follow him on Twitter @carlosmic.

Stop! Don’t Break Silos Down Just Yet

Photo cred: Manky Maxblack
Photo cred: Manky Maxblack

The social media professional is currently a jack of all trades.

Mix together some marketing, technology, html, a spoonful search engine optimization, a splash of public relations, a hint of advertising, 2 cups writing, and top it off with some digital media, cook it on twitter for a few months and you have yourself a warm delicious social media professional.

Calm down, that highly inaccurate recipe is meant to be funny, but also to display a point.  This space is a mess of practices all mashed together. A while ago, Beth Harte wrote about how “Communication silos don’t work“.  I couldn’t agree more. But now, it’s as if we’ve completely broke down the silos so that their contents are spilling everywhere and messing together.

Is this a good thing?  Should people trying to become “social media professionals” be jacks of all trades? Or should they focus on one area?  Seems most job offers require this wide array of expertise, and if one were to focus on one area, they wouldn’t be qualified for most positions.  Will this just make us practice more things not as efficiently?

A community manager is not a marketer is not a public relations pro is not an SEO expert etc…

It’s great that we’re breaking down silos to integrate multiple practices and open communication but there’s a reason that silos exist in the first place…focus, and that’s a good thing.

We shouldn’t be breaking down silos, but rather connecting them to create a network. I’d rather take one person that focuses on PR, one for marketing, one for digital media, and one for community building and put them to work as a team, than four people who do a little bit of each of those things.

Maybe the “social media professional” is the middle man for the other areas.  Maybe they’re the 5th member of the team team that can bridge the gap between the silos.

Help me out here.  Are we losing focus by mixing everything together in the social media space? Or is social media the answer to integrating the focus of other areas?

Should We Hide Our Age?

Photo cred: Andrea
Photo cred: Andrea

What started as a little conversation between Lauren Fernandez and I, ended up being used as our first #u30pro topic…and both sides provided some great reasons why you should or shouldn’t hide your age.

So Here Are Some Reasons to Hide:

  1. Responsibility: You will be given less responsibility if you’re young and relatively inexperienced
  2. Opportunity: You may miss out on job opportunities because of your age, when in reality, you’re very qualified.
  3. Respect: Your ideas and contributions will not be respected as highly as that of older, experienced peers.

Notice, all of the reasons for hiding your age are a direct result of stereotypes.  The fear of showing your age isn’t because you probably lack experience and haven’t earned others’ respect yet, but rather because you are automatically assumed to lack the skills because of these possible misplaced assumptions.

Reasons to show your age:

  1. Ambition: Show that you’re better than others that are the same age.  You can differentiate yourself from others in your age group.  If you can face a stereotype, and overcome, you’ll gain that much more respect.
  2. Pride: If someone wants to discriminate against you because you’re young, they can go screw themselves.  You don’t need to hide who you are to succeed.
  3. Advantages: Being younger sometimes has positive stereotypes.  You’re a fresh mind, with tech savvy and lots of energy.  Use it to your advantage.

So should you hide your age?  Chances are, people will find it out eventually.  Still, you may gain access to more opportunities if people don’t realize how young you are right away.

I’d love to hear from more experienced professionals as well as I’m sure you’ll have some great advice.  What do you think?

Come join Lauren and me at the next #u30pro chat tonight (and every Thursday) at 7:00pm est where we drive the discussion to bridge the generational gap, demolish stereotypes and break down differences in the professional workplace.

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 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!