How One Student Prepared to Launch His Career

The following article is an excerpt from an upcoming new book called Come Out Swinging in which author Daif Said outlines the steps he took to help him land a great job out of college and a six figure salary by 24. 

Our small sales team was swamped with work. We were busy working on a few big projects with our biggest customers, that had major short and midterm implications on our department.

Naturally, other less important projects were pushed to the back burner. It is not to say they were not important. In fact, they were highly visible internally. We needed help on those smaller projects, even if only for a short term.

We told potential hires that our ideal candidates would show drive, initiative, and results on previous projects. They would have the skills needed to tackle our projects right away. Of course, we would help in their development but they needed to meet us halfway. Put simply, we were asking for a well-rounded college student to join our team.

Of the few dozen applicants we received, only a handful of them showed promise. Those who made the cut had experience as leaders in student organizations, local charities, and some even had past internship experience. Coupled with their good grades in the classroom, these candidates showed high potential and earned themselves an interview with our team.

Unfortunately, most of the other applicants were not as ready for the whole process. Some had outstanding grades, but that alone did not convince us that they would do well in the role. Even if we brought them in for an interview, we could not spend an hour talking about their grades. After interviewing candidates, I had to eventually convince our management team to allow us to hire the candidate we recommend.  If I were to recommend hiring less rounded candidates with high marks, what could I speak to on their resume?

It was as if those who stood out to us knew something the other students did not. They were executing a different gameplan. Unfortunately, no one handed that plan to the majority of the other applicants. There was a clear disconnect between what we were looking for in an applicant and what the majority of students believed we wanted.

To be fair, a lot of that is not their fault. They have been lead to believe if they do well in school, they would easily find a job when they graduate.

Visually, it is simple.

With that in mind, most students put their head down and plow through college, focused on a good grade point average.

Older generations tell us stories of taking that path with much success because graduating college in itself was a competitive edge. While it might have worked for them, the world is now very connected and a lot more competitive.

Every job opening is available to thousands of candidates around the world. Being a college graduate is not a differentiator any more. It does not sound so impressive when there are thousands of others who have taken a similar route and done just as well in college.

Unfortunately, the road to a successful and lucrative career takes more work now. You have to be well rounded and have to stand out from the crowd. Here is the journey that I took as a college student and the one we will be exploring in this book:

Begin Developing Your Skills

Preparations for the job market does not start during the second half of your senior year. Here is the most valuable lesson in this book: the money is in the preparation. When it comes to your career, you should start building the foundation as early as possible.

As you develop skills, you will take on bigger roles and responsibilities until you are fully prepared for graduation and the job market. In the “Keys to Victory” infographic, each step in the journey requires preparation starting with volunteer work. This is when you begin to develop your skills, becoming involved in student organizations, charities, and other projects that allow you to take on responsibilities.  You then translate that into real world experience in the form of internships in the Develop Skills & Results column. This progression helps you build a solid professional footing, giving you real life experience that translates well in helping you Land A Great Job.

Volunteer Work

Starting from scratch can be difficult, especially since most roles seem to have prerequisites. The best way to get started would be through volunteer work. Your local food banks and charities can always use your help. In turn, they provide you with an opportunity to lead a team of volunteers in helping the community. You will deal with the various parts of a project, from deadlines to time constraints. Interacting with others also helps you sharpen your interpersonal skills. Most importantly, you will be able to deliver results.

While these results and projects might not be related to your field, they provide an employer with ways to evaluate your effectiveness, creativity, and your leadership. It also paints the image of a college student who steps outside of his/her comfort zone to help out and become a leader in the community. Not many college students can say that. You are already differentiating yourself.

We teamed up with a local food bank on a project called “Let’s Can Hunger” during my sophomore year. Our goal was to collect as much money and canned foods as possible to help the community during the winter season. The team got creative and we approached the project in various ways. We held a raffle for tickets to a sporting event, collected food from a local school (pizza party for the winning class in each grade), and collected donations from the local community. In all, our team donated over three thousand meals to the less fortunate. When it came time to interview for an internship, I spoke of the different ways we approached the project, how I was able to lead my team, and how we were able to deliver big results.  

Student Organizations and Clubs

Most colleges will have opportunities for students to join various student organizations. If you can, join and become involved in a few organizations that relate to your field of study. Joining a club that relates to your career helps you meet people in the industry who are doing work that interests you. If these student orgs hold meetings, make sure to attend and contribute. Many of your fellow students will also join the workforce and will be great contacts for you down the line. The added benefit is that it allows you to interact with other, likeminded people. The support from my colleagues in these organizations helped me stay focused on the long term goal and kept me motivated to keep going when things looked bleak.

When the opportunity presents itself, make sure to take on more responsibilities and ownership. If there is a project you believe will help the community or other students, then raise your hand and propose it. Push yourself out of your comfort zone and force yourself to become a leader. These types of roles and skills translate well when it comes time to land an internship or a full time job.

If the student organization you are looking for does not exist, create it. Approach the right faculty member and see if you can open a chapter.

Preparing for the Real World

After talking to Mike about what is required to land a full time job out of college, I learned that I needed to have some real corporate experience before graduating. The best way to do this was through an internship. But I was not quite ready for that yet.

To prepare for an internship opportunity, I joined Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE, which has since changed its name to Enactus), working on projects that connected entrepreneurship with community service.  I became involved in a variety of projects. A few were focused on helping students connect with professionals, others aimed to help small businesses save money, and my favorite, those that connected students with local food banks to help feed the hungry. We were able to collect enough meals and monetary donations to give back through various initiatives. Those types of contributions showed drive and commitment. More importantly, I was able to show results, which I discussed in my interviews for both internships and fulltime positions.

At first, joining student organizations seemed like a chore since I worked and went to school full time. But as I became more involved and started to see the value, it became more enjoyable and I looked forward to our meetings. SIFE gave me an opportunity to interact with other students who had similar goals and ambitions. I am still friends with many of the students today and consider them valuable contacts.

Internships

It seems like internships are the worst kept secret for early career success. Even when they know about it, students still skip out on this step way too often, almost as if it is a burden to them.  Nothing makes you more relevant to an employer than real world experience: numbers, figures, and success stories in a professional role make the decision easier for employers.

Here are a few benefits of internships:

  • Trying out different industries and/or different disciplines before graduation to better choose your field and profession

  • Gaining valuable experience. This also helps build your resume and gives you more content to speak to during interviews

  • Growing your network and industry connections

  • Providing a door into the company. Hiring managers inside a company will talk to each other. Your team can help you land a job within the company before your stint is up

Internships are the perfect marriage for employer and candidate. The company gets cheap support to take care of less stressful tasks without a full commitment to the employee. In turn, it allows college students to immerse themselves in the corporate world, become involved in the day to day business of company, and provides them with an opportunity to earn their mettle. This is the cheat that allows you to have professional experience ready for early career success.

Internships tend to be short term, often available for 3 months during the summer, but remain very valuable for students and employers alike.

Long term internships are even better in my opinion because the employer retains students until they graduate or choose to move on. In this setting, interns continue to go to school all while maintaining their support role within the company. The longer they stay with a company, the better they understand the organization and its business. Many run with the opportunity and quickly develop into valuable talent for the employer, taking on new challenges and delivering big results.  

From the perspective of the intern, the opportunity allowed them to develop a ton of skills and a whole lot of leverage. Once graduation nears, they are no longer newbies, hoping to just land any job. Instead, they emerge as talented employees who are able to speak and negotiate well for themselves. They can demand market value for their level of skill and talent.

As was my case, the time spent as an intern constituted real professional experience. I was able to negotiate as such, skipping the entry level job and entry level pay. While I was fortunate for landing the internship, it was the steps I took afterwards that helped jumpstart my career. Here are some of the things I did that contributed to my success:

First, I worked as hard as I can. With little to no real world experience, the only thing I had to offer at this stage was my hard work. I completed every project ahead of schedule only to turn around and ask for more. I was in no position to enjoy a free ride.

Second, I set out to close the gap in my skillset. I was not ready for graduation or the job market so I set out to correct that. From clearing accounts receivable to meeting and negotiating prices with the customers, I wanted to develop as many skills as I can to make myself marketable.

Third, I had no professional experience and no results to show on my resume when I first started my internship. To fix that, I took on bigger projects that gave me more exposure in the company and opportunities to prove myself. With early success, these projects steadily got bigger for me. Because these types of projects took time however, I was not in a hurry to graduate. I stayed in college almost a year longer than I needed to just so I can fully develop a track record for graduation. It all paid off in the end because I was able to land a full time job within the company that included a great starting pay as well.

Fourth, I developed strong relationships with my team members who, in turn, helped mentor me in various ways. They were able to help me take on bigger projects, negotiate a salary, and overcome many of my fears.

These steps helped push me from being just another intern to a valuable asset to the company. They helped me become much more marketable by the time I graduated, empowering me to take control of my career.

Preparation tips:

  1. Make sure to build rapport with those you meet during your internships so that you are not simply another intern. This includes both colleagues in the same company you intern at or customers and suppliers. Add them on LinkedIn (more on that later).

  2. College at its core is an investment for your future. It can be tempting to skip out on student organizations and involvement in non-profits, since you will be busy with school work as it is. I have seen others do this and they all will tell you they regret it.

  3. Find others in your school who are on a similar mission and work with them. Every student org has a few such people.

Author: Daif Said helps college students prepare for the job market. Soon after graduating college, he realized that many students just aren't prepared for a competitive job market. He wrote Come Out Swinging to outline the steps he took to help him land a great job out of college and a six figure salary by 24. 

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