Lessons Learned About My College Self, 25 Years Later

I graduated 25 years ago. There…. I said it. I may feel like a much younger person in my mind but the age on my license cannot lie. Last weekend I traveled back to St. Louis for my 25th college reunion. This was my first time back to campus since the day I graduated in May 1992 … and it was surreal. Part of me was trying to recall the memories of certain places, smells and feelings of being 19 years old on campus. Another part was very clear on remembering the footsteps taken up the worn stairs to the library or the pit in my stomach when entering my Calculus classroom. The best part was many of my close friends, dispersed around the country, all came back to experience this together. Time did not affect our ability to instantly reconnect and we truly enjoy being together. On one of the many long walks we took together exploring the campus, a friend asked, “Do you feel that this was the right school for you or would you have done it differently? Any regrets?”

I had not really thought about the path I had set upon when starting college and if it was the path I intended on taking. I have learned many things since graduating that have given me insight. Here is what I would tell my “college self” about lessons learned:

  • Strive for Your Best Self – Not the Best Self of Others – I felt very much in the right place when I started college. I enjoyed being in the Midwest where the people were genuinely friendly and welcoming and I was in an academic environment that was challenging. However, I felt that I was on the lower end of the level of students that were at school. There were some very high achieving students who knew what they wanted from the moment they entered college: Pre-Med, Pre-Law, Architecture etc., with incredibly high aspirations that were intimidating. Although I was studying business, I did not have a clear direction for what I wanted to do or how to go about doing it. I learned that college is a bubble and you tend to compare yourself in that bubble…but that is not reality. When I started a new job after graduation, colleagues were not interested in my GPA or who I was competing against. It was more about my own experiences and opportunities taken rather than how I fared against the pack. The lesson is to not compare yourself to everyone else. You have talents that will bring you success in the right environment…it may not necessarily be gained in the college classroom.
  • The Path You Pick May Be Very Different to the Path You Take – The best part of the weekend was finding out what someone did for the last 25 years in a 10-minute conversation. One friend was a Spanish and Economics double major and landed a choice job on Wall Street and realized she hated it. When she then decided to pursue a medical degree, she re-entered school to take the required courses, applied to medical school and is now a Critical Care Physician at a Pennsylvania hospital, and loves it. Another friend who was in the business school aspired to be a gemologist. Soon after graduating she met someone who was in broadcasting and turned her on to the idea of being a news anchor. She pursued her Masters in Communications and became a reporter and then news anchor for major TV stations in Atlanta and Baltimore. The point is that you do not have to have your life perfectly figured out in college. You still need to work hard and expose yourself to a lot of people, classes and interests. The lesson is that your path may take different turns until you figure out what is right for you…and it may not happen in college. Look on LinkedIn and see what people studied and then see what their occupation is…it is usually very different.
  • Build Your Networks Using All the Resources Around You – A common theme throughout conversations with friends was the lack of direction and the perceived lack of support from professors and the university to guide us. We all had notion of “they should have done more to help us”. It was a selfish point of view in that we expected things to be done for us without investing the time ourselves. We laughed that we did not even know where the Career Services office existed on campus. During my visit, I had the opportunity to meet with the head of Career Services on campus to learn about how they guide students today and what has changed in the time since I left. The University has made significant strides to provide layers of support to students with multiple advisers and professors to guide them from day one. They even relocated the Career Services office to the Student Center and has made it an integral part of everyday life which has been quite beneficial to students. The biggest regret I have is that I did not network well or make use of the resources on campus. Keep in mind that there were no cell phones, internet and the first MAC computers were just released. However, I could have done a better job to meet with professors, join a few more clubs or just keep in touch better with classmates to maintain a strong network. The same holds true for students now. Leverage all of the resources around you, regardless of whether you think the school is doing enough for you. The onus is on you, not the school.

If I had to do it all over, I would not have changed the path I took. I got a great education, made fantastic friends, met my husband in college, and secured a job on my own before graduation. The thing I remember the most is that I really learned how to think—about solving problems, making decisions and analyzing how to move forward. I am trying to figure out what degree to get next so I can find a reason to go back.

If you know a student who is trying figure out their path and leverage the networks around them to get an internship or job out of college, we can help. Please visit Next Great Step to learn how we help bridge the gap from college to the real world.

5 Secrets to Landing an Internship or Job Out of College

This is the time of year when Juniors and Seniors are focused on getting a summer internship or job after graduation. Campus recruiters may have come in the Fall to hand pick a few candidates but many students are still looking for work. Common questions asked of me are, “What does it take to get hired?” orWhat do other students have that I don’t?” Some students think their GPA is not high enough. Others are worried that they are not good enough or not graduating from a “top” school. After guiding students through this process here are five secrets that help a student to stand out and land the job:

  1. Be Focused. Students who know what type of opportunity they want and why they want it have more success. The head of campus recruiting for a top financial firm recently shared with me, “We don’t want a candidate who says I want to be in finance. We want them to be specific and express which department they want to work for…such as securities, investment banking or wealth management.” She stated that students don’t necessarily need to have extensive experience in a certain area but must explain why they want it and what they have done to show how they are competent in certain skills sets.
  2. Stand in the Employer’s Shoes. Although you are the one looking for work, it’s not just about you. Students that anticipate what the employer is worried about or focused on will better relate to them and have greater success. Students should be able to answer the question “What does a CEO/Department Head/Manager worry about?” The simple answer is money. However, there are many metrics that companies worry about…profit, number of units produced, time to market, customer service, etc. Students that demonstrate their understanding of what is important to an employer and then show ways how to make them more successful have greater impact.
  3. Connect with Everyone. Students have an incredible network all around them from fellow students, professors, parents and alumni. The students who network and form relationships with these contacts can leverage them to help find opportunities – much more easily than applying online. Also, a family member may make an introduction, but that does not guarantee the student gets the job. Too often students think that if Mom or Dad introduces them to a contact, “I’m in!”, not always. Students who establish a relationship on their own merit and make it clear to a person why you could add value to them puts them ahead. Those that connect with Alumni have the most success—they love talking to students. Use the LinkedIn Alumni tool.
  4. Be Prepared. Google can tell you so much about a person and company that you are interviewing with. Students who show they researched the latest press release and company initiatives will make a good impression. Look up the person on LinkedIn and take note of their experiences. This will help you establish a better rapport with the contact. You want to express that you have done your homework and know the basics of what the company does.
  5. Persist and Persevere. This one is hard. A single email, letter or phone call will often not be enough when trying to contact someone. Employers are dealing with many candidates, in addition to day to day business, and often do not respond on the first try. Many students get discouraged and think that if someone doesn’t reply after a single attempt that they have no chance…not so. The students who continually follow up to show interest and persist to get a meeting or conversation with a contact separates them from the others. See my “Why Are Our Graduates So Fragile?” blog for more on this.

So, does GPA matter? According to a study done by Miami University (printed in USA Today), “Your GPA can land you an interview but won’t likely get you the job. 91% of employers value interview performance more than GPA in their ultimate hiring decision.” And in terms of networking and relationships, the study states “Regardless of advances in technology and the recruiting process, in general, personal relationships appear to continue to be tremendously important in the process.  If you want to learn more about how we help students learn the secrets to get the job or internship, visit Next Great Step.