Unsolicited Advice From KJS Vol. 1: Networking and Skills

This marks the beginning of my “Unsolicited Advice From KJS” column. I’ll try to make this a semi-regular thing, to provide some food for thought for everyone out there in Internet land.

Many people, when faced with putting together a resume for the first time, find that they don’t have much to put on it in terms of skills and/or work experience. This can be a problem, as more and more internships, jobs and graduate schools are looking for more fleshed out resumes from applicants. With the number of new college graduates constantly increasing, the competition is bound to be fierce. So what do you do? Do you give up and play WoW all day in your parents’ basement, occasionally emerging from your dank hovel to obtain more Cheetos – or do you buckle down and become eager to acquire those skills that you need? I’m assuming that you are of the second school of thought if you bothered to read this. Ready? Continue reading below!

What The Heck Do I Need To Know (and more importantly, How Do I Find Out What I Need To Know)?

This can be a tough one – what experiences and skills do employers in my field want job candidates to have? What type of coursework do graduate schools in my field want? How can one solve this perplexing puzzle? One of the best ways to do so is to network!

I’m sure everyone is rolling their eyes, as that word gets tossed around more in the media than a football at a fraternity tailgate party. However, people are obsessing over that word for a reason – it can get results. Talking with people in your chosen field of study and/or industry allows you to make important connections that can tell you what is important in the industry – as well as getting your name (and your face) out there as someone who is serious about their career destiny. There is no magical Job Fairy that gives you a job while you sit on your rear-end all day – and unless you are the next Newton or Einstein, you probably aren’t going to be magically given a scholarship if you don’t do anything to get yourself noticed. This isn’t groundbreaking stuff here people, just how things work.

I’m sure you are all excited and eager to get out there and network – but you might not know where to find people to network with. Here are some suggestions –

    Sign up for newsletter(s) that pertain to your field of study: Try checking with your college or university. These e-mails often announce countless opportunities to learn more about your field and about job opportunities within them. While at these events, you can often do some schmoozing with fellow attendees and the speaker(s) – possibly adding a “node” to your network. A non-virtual way of doing this is to watch out for flyers around campus and town.
    Join an organization: Get out there, meet people, do fun stuff. Sitting around your dorm room all day sucks and sadly, partying isn’t a legitimate extra-curricular activity to most companies. Most colleges and universities have a ton of different student organizations – MSU has hundreds ranging from political organizations, professional organizations, academic organizations, sport clubs, religious organizations, ethnic organizations, fraternities, sororities – just about every kind of group you can think of. By getting out there and joining a group – any group really – you can develop leadership and teamwork skills that can be applied in the workforce. You also build up a network of peers that can come in handy down the road – who knows, your Fraternity Brother might know of a position at his (or her, in the case of my beloved Fraternity) company or your fellow member of Amnesty International might be able to give you some contacts in the social activist scene in a new town.

    Myself personally, I didn’t do squat first year – which I kind of regret. I decided to get out there and do stuff sophomore year. I rushed Phi Sigma Pi National Honor Fraternity, which pretty much defined the rest of college for me in a positive way. I was able to meet people from a variety of backgrounds, do fun stuff, and even gain tips about job hunting/the grad school process along the way. I also joined ASCOT (Associated Students with Career Orientation in Telecommunication), the Telecommunication, Information Studies and Media major group. I was able to meet a lot of cool people in the telecom industry and hone my business communication skills. I even received a job offer through my involvement near the end of my senior year.

Those are just two ways – there are countless other ways to do it – just Google it to find more.

Where/How Can I Gain The Skills You Talked About Earlier Kevin!?

Having a network is an important first step in building your credentials for the job or grad school search. However, it can’t give you all of the skills you may need to be a successful candidate. Here are a few ways in which one can develop skills in your area of study/desired industry – note that this is not an exhaustive list.

    Internship/Co-op/Volunteer Work: Many non-profits, political groups and companies are always looking for interns that are willing to work hard. In exchange for this hard work, you can get hands-on experience that can help you distinguish yourself and figure out exactly what you want to do. Some internships even pay you, which is pretty neat.

    Volunteer work can also be very valuable. You can gain and improve skills by helping others, meet people from different walks of life, and you can also feel good about yourself at the end of the day. This can often coincide with interning in the non-profit sector.

    Research/Work with a professor: Professors, contrary to popular belief, sometimes do interesting and relevant research outside of teaching (sometimes to the detriment of the course, but I digress) Due to the fact that their research budgets and time are finite, they often need help doing various things. That’s where you come in. Working with a prof on their research is a good way to do some in depth stuff in your field of study, beef up your portfolio for grad school, and even make new contacts in your professional network (see, it keeps coming up!) If you want to do a project that interests you, professors can often help you get independent study/research credit through the university and help you along the way.

    The key to scoring these is getting to know your professor and showing him/her that you are a serious student – serial class skippers need not apply.

    Study Abroad: This is becoming something that more and more people are deciding to do – and for good reason. International experience is imperative in our increasingly connected world. Study Abroad can allow you to experience a new culture, study your field from a new angle, do an internship in a different business environment as well as expand your horizons – all while earning credit towards your degree. Most colleges and universities are increasing their offerings and the cost can often be competitive with staying on campus.

    I studied abroad in Brussels, Belgium – Political Science/International Relations at Universite’ Libre de Bruxelles – for a month during July 2006 and it was awesome. I learned from some big names in EU and NATO policy, met students from across Europe, experienced a different culture, had some time for travel and fun – and earned college credit for it.

Well, I think you get the picture, so I’ll wrap up for now. Hopefully this gives you a base to work off of as you journey towards your goals, professional or academic (or both!). This isn’t meant to be a complete overview – talk to parents, professors, career advisors, friends, etc. and get multiple points of view. What I think may not be what you think – this is my opinion. However, it’s kind of a brain dump of what I wish I would have known coming into college.

Please feel free to add comments with your ideas too!


1 Comment

Filed under Advice, Job Hunt

One response to “Unsolicited Advice From KJS Vol. 1: Networking and Skills

  1. Ess

    Hey Kevin,

    You’ve raised a lot of valid points there. I wish these points were addressed by my University in the first year on joining.

    Look forward to more of your blogs!

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