First Person: Preparing College Students for Success at Work

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Getting my first job after I finished college was a challenge, and, if anything, I suspect it is even more difficult for today's graduates. While landing that first position isn't easy, I believe that there are a number of steps that college students can take while in school to give themselves an edge in the workplace. Many of these are fairly obvious, such as networking and using summer jobs or internships to build a resume, develop work skills, and make valuable contacts in the business work. Here are four less conventional recommendations to prepare college students for success at work.

Become a Proficient Writer

I believe that the importance of good writing skills to career advancement is underrated and often overlooked. Whether writing a cover letter and resume when applying for a job, emails to potential employers, memos to colleagues, reports detailing results of a major project at work, or a business plan for new business startup, communicating effectively in writing is an essential skill for many of today's employees. I know from experience that receiving emails or memos with grammatical errors, sloppy logic, or unclear messages is not just frustrating, but can reflect poorly on the image and reputation of the sender. As a result, I believe that learning to write clearly, to present opinions and conclusions succinctly and directly, and to proofread thoroughly so as to avoid grammatical and spelling errors not only will pay off at college but at work as well.

Master Marketing

If I were a college student today, whether I aspired to a career with an established company or as the owner of my own business, I would learn the basics of marketing. Most of us think of marketing as it relates to selling consumer products, but here I'm thinking of marketing more broadly. Even a college student who will never market a product or service to a consumer probably will have to market herself to employers, to market her opinions and conclusions to colleagues and customers, or, if she becomes an entrepreneur, to market her business plan to investors, lenders, employees and vendors, so mastering fundamental marketing and sales techniques can be essential.

Take a Few Business Courses

Having a basic understanding of how the economy works and of finance and marketing (see above) can be surprisingly valuable both on a personal and professional level, so, if possible, I believe that college students, no matter what their majors, should try to fit an introductory business course or two into their schedules.

Embrace Change

In today's workplace, change is a given, so wise college students will prepare for and even embrace a future that is likely to be characterized by change. Even those who work for only one employer are likely to have to learn new skills, obtain additional credentials, possibly earn an advanced degree, and probably take on many new and different responsibilities in order to excel at work. What is even more likely is a career of multiple jobs and possibly self employment. Given this prospect, having strong communications and marketing skills and a willingness to embrace change can be a solid foundation for success.

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