Advice for College Students

Two of my former student employees have reached out for recommendations recently. It has been about a year since we last worked together, so I was happy to oblige and excited to catch up with them about what they have going on now, how their studies are going and what they want to do after graduation. Listening to them talk about the uncertainty and excitement of graduation reminds me of when I was in that same position.

One of my personal requirements for writing a recommendation for students is that we talk on the phone for a little bit to catch up. I do this because I want to hear why they want a particular job, what their goals are, and where they want to live. I also know from experience that it is disrespectful if a reference goes out on a limb and then you decline or otherwise turn down the job they helped you get an offer for. I’ve been on both sides of that experience and I felt horrible – for different reasons of course. As long as we’re on the same page about why they are applying for a job, then I’m always happy to help them and encouraging them to pursue their interests.

Advice #1 – Do not ask for a recommendation unless you actually want the job.

I was listening to a podcast recently where one of the original Chick-Fil-A marketers was being interviewed. He sounded like a very charasmatic person with lots of energy and excitement. At one point the podcast host even stated that the audience should know that the person he was interviewing had a huge smile on his face the entire time they were talking. You can imagine this type of person I’m sure – humble, energized, engaged and super excited to be talking about his expertise.

Most of the interview was regarding the lessons he’d learned over his years at the company, starting out as an entry level employee and staying with the company until he was one of the top executives. This also tied into why he stayed working even though he had made more than enough money to retire years before he actually did. The origin of his employment story had two angles – he knew the person who hired him for that first role was a committed leader and someone he admired and aspired to be like. The other catch was that there was a coworker at the company with whom he had worked with at another job a few years prior. These two elements were key to this person’s success – find someone you want to work with and learn from and don’t take for granted the supervisors and coworkers you’ve had at previous jobs.

Advice #2 – For your first “real” job – don’t chase the salary, find a leader you admire, then work for and learn from them. You’re more likely to get advancement opportunities if you do a job well done and the money will take care of itself eventually. Or, you’ll get the needed experience necessary to find another opportunity with your boss’ support. (I know this is hard if you’re staring down student loan debt, but the dividends will eventually pay off.)

Life is a journey and the older I get, the more I continue to understand the importance of relationships. Fulfillment and happiness, both at work and at home, are directly correlated to the quality of your relationships. It is definitely possible to make tons of money and be completely alone or isolated. It’s also possible to barely make ends meet and be surrounded by people who care about you. I’d say most of us want both – financial security and loving relationships. Relationship building starts from the beginning of your career and life, but can be taught and relearned at any point – if you’re conscious and motivated enough to want to be better.

I have been fortunate to have worked for and with many great people. I still keep in touch with some of my old bosses and coworkers from almost every job I’ve ever had and these relationships have been very fulfilling for me (hopefully also for them too!). There’s been several occasions where I’ve needed advice or a recommendation or by some cool universal connection we end up working together again – this time as client and service provider or as managers working for opposing sports teams. It’s fun to work with people you know and it’s fun to run into old coworkers who have become friends in a different context then boss-employee.

Advise #3 – Don’t take for granted your former relationships. This is as true with past part-time jobs, as it it with former professors, former classmates and alumni connections.

As I write this it’s February and many college students are starting to feel the pressure to get a job or apply to grad school or…do something else other than go back to mom and dad’s house. If you’re in that position, I hope you take some time to reflect on your current relationships and nurture those connections while you’re still in college. Ask for help. There are many people I’m sure you’re connected to who want to help you succeed and find your path. Feel free to reach out to me if you want to connect.

Go Forth!

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