It would be great if we could always get the job, career, or compensation that we wanted, for doing something we love to do every day. Or even work at something that we deeply believe in, for a cause that lives in our hearts. When I see the words “Do what you love and the money will follow you” I cringe just a little, because I’d like to believe that. But it isn’t completely true.
You have to work at marketable skills. You can make the best product or provide the best service on the market, but if your sales and organizational skills aren’t up to par, or if your labor market tanks, or if your personal stamina, strength, or conviction falters at a critical moment, you won’t get far.
Most people don’t like entry-level jobs. There is a reason; they are not at all like the exciting, uplifting, challenging academic life we just left. Entry level jobs are worse than being a freshman again, but without the decent faculty, social opportunities, and sense of freedom that accompanies leaving home to go to college. This is more like leaving college to go home, and sometimes that is actually what it is. And it’s made worse if you have to endure unpleasant living conditions, hand over your clothing budget and walking around money to pay off your education debt, and watch some of your friends do something with their education that you think is more desirable.
Look at it differently and you will see the error of your thinking. To an employer, you are a net liability for a while. You have to be taught to do whatever it is that has to be done. The smarter and more clever and rational you are, the less sense the work will make—to you. After all, you didn’t go to school to do mind-numbing paper filing when you know perfectly well that OCR-ing and maintaining an electronic filing system would work so much better and then you could use that education of yours while showing everyone your stuff. Of course, you don’t yet know what you don’t know. There is a good reason for everything in an organization, and eventually it will become clear. One very marketable skill is restraint.
There are others:
- Patience. With yourself, your employer, your supervisor, your co-workers, your parents, and the newbies who showed up after you did. The one thing that gets noticed in workplaces around the world is the willing, smart, helpful one who somehow gets things done because he or she is just like that. Another thing is the identity of those who aren’t happy and make it known.
- Organization. One thing you learned in school is how to organize your stuff, whatever it is. Make a budget, make a list, make a schedule. Teach yourself to seek the higher ground and organize the world around you every day. That will not only give you less time to complain, but will effectively teach you management skills for life. Organization shows through everything you do.
- Optimism. You think you are on the road to hell, don’t you? This is the worst. You will never get out of this pit. These are all affirmations, and they aren’t good ones. I hear them from everyone every day—there are no jobs, it’s a jungle out there. . . .blah blah. Be the one who sees—and self-reports—the value in everything. You want to be the optimistic one.
- Strategy. Choose your strategy and stay with it. No one gets the exact thing that they want right away. It’s a long life, if you are fortunate, and both good and bad things will come your way. You don’t have to follow a traditional path, and there will be lots of times that you have to change course to accommodate luck or disaster. Just be prepared and alert to opportunities.
- Agility. Once you are up to your ears in debt and lifestyle, you can’t be quick or travel light, so you lose opportunities to those who have less baggage. Go basic.
- Resource management. Resources are: time, money, information, relationships, physical assets and materials, and above all yourself. If you cannot do this, you will lose opportunity to those who can.
- Sales: Listening for Need. You think Sales is about the listing of attributes of a product or service. But really, it’s about starting a conversation that leads you to understand how you can meet the needs of another. Maybe not today, but someday. Learn to listen between the lines.
- Leadership. It means being the first one in and the last one out, being punctual to meetings and respectful of the people who give you the paycheck. It means not playing Plants v. Zombies where anyone can see you, and not trying to use the office computer to send your resume. IT knows when you do that by the way. And HR sees your material out there on the job board. And everyone sees your Facebook posts.
You can learn and practice these skills anywhere, and they are worth working on. You only get so much time in a lifetime, and your education on campus is only one aspect of your professional career. That said, while you are on campus, it is in your best interest to maximize every minute of every day, and to establish a plan for your next steps as soon as you can. If you are on the “just getting by” plan, if you are not getting your money’s worth from every single minute of every day, that is your own choice.
It is true that the value of your education will fluctuate throughout your life, and for the first few years you may not use anything you learned on campus. Or you might, it depends on what you learned. If you learn to be a great resource, helpful to others, leaderly in your approach to whatever task you are given, and accountable for the decisions you make, you will always have choices.