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College Career Advice
Hanging with college students makes Jim reflect on what really matters

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Back to School

In the same week I had the opportunity to do two cool things… go to an alumni event to answer grown-up, work-related questions from students, and host two students for the day in my college’s “shadow” program. As I joked on Facebook: On tap… a conference call for my biggest project, networking meetings with two other alums, and recording a podcast. My 4pm power nap is going to be awkward though.

In answering questions and thinking back to what I learned in school vs. what was useful in the real world, I came up with the following:

3 Things Your College Career Advisor Won’t Tell You

Your grades and your major don’t matter

OK sure… if you’re going on to Wharton Business School or Harvard Medical School or becoming a teacher or a few other professions, your grades will matter in the short term. But for the majority of college graduates, the second you get your first job, there’s a good chance that your future employers will never, ever, ask about your grades again.

Seems rather cruel, right? That you spend 4 years and countless hours trying to get that C+ in Marketing 201 up to a B-, only to realize that from age 21 through age 65… no one cares.

To a lesser degree, your major doesn’t matter either. While in some cases it pays to be specialized, the truth is that the vast majority of college students will not end up doing work related to their major a few years down the line.

What’s more important
As long as you’re not failing out, just as important than grades are the experiences you have in college. This includes joining groups such as greek organizations, student senate, sports teams, and groups around your major.

Why? Two reasons. First, since networking is the best way to get a job, having a larger number of connections across various fields might be the best path to that first big opportunity. Second, real life groups will give you better experience than the classroom. For example, sure I learned about budgets and was quizzed about budgets in my accounting class, but actually owning and balancing a budget for my fraternity is where the real-world learning came.

What really matters in an interview

I feel that the vast majority of time spent in any career center is focused on preparing a resume. Ditto the interview basics like wearing a nice suit, having a firm handshake, and knowing how to answer “what is your greatest weakness?”

While your resume needs to be good enough once it is in an employer’s hand, and a limp fish handshake won’t win you any points, the main goals should be being incredibly prepared with knowledge about the company, and being able to tell a story that differentiates you from the competition.

My favorite technique for this is to create a career portfolio – presented on an iPad – that can digitally wow a hiring manager and set you apart. Listen to the podcast to hear how one student’s interview with IBM went incredibly wrong.

Negotiate your salary

My shadow students had a few questions around this:
– Are there signs to know when it’s ok to negotiate salary on your first job?
– Are there key phrases and terminology to use when asking?
– Are there situations when it is NOT negotiable?

All great questions! I am currently developing a very cool interactive video series to answer these very topics, and can’t wait to share it with you. Until then, what I’ll say is that if you wait until you’re reasonably sure that they want you for the job, and you approach it the right way in a business-like manner, you should almost ALWAYS try and negotiate.

When asked about salary expectations, one response could be “I’ve done a lot of research and have a pretty good idea of what this position might pay, but since this is my first job right out of school, it’s tough for me to get too exact. What kind of range did you have budgeted for the position?”

When presented with an offer, a simple phrase could be, “Thanks so much for that great offer, do you have any flexibility with that number?”

Negotiation tough spots
While it never hurts to ask if done correctly, there are a few scenarios right out of college where starting salary might be more difficult:
– The amount is stated early on. If the starting salary is stated on the job posting and is told to you early in the interview process, then the company might have a specific amount budgeted that can’t be changed
– Competitive positions. If you find yourself in a waiting room with 10 other candidates all sweating in their new interview suits, then your chances of snagging an extra $5,000 on top of their offer is greatly reduced.
– Standardized training programs. Likewise, if you find yourself next to 10 other candidates and you all GOT the job, say, as part of a new class of entry-level management training, then most likely they’ll start everyone out at the same rate.

In summary, I’d like to thank my career services department for putting me on the path to a great career, and I really enjoyed mentoring the new students I met. Fortunately, I was able to do all of the above… get decent grades, have a good handshake, join groups that gave me life-long friendships, and negotiate a salary or two.

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I was impressed to hear that college students really paid attention in class (or at least that’s what they told me). I can’t even get friends to pay attention during dinner, or when sitting right next to them. They said that everyone still brings their phones to class, but they don’t even check them. I figured they’d be tweeting, texting, and chatting. Evidently not? What people should really pay attention to is their finances, and Freshbooks makes it easy.

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Images courtesy of David Castillo Dominici and Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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