College Students: Finding A Job and Success

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Copyright 2016 by
Peter G. Raeth  Contact

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"Everybody had one before they lost - a chance"

This is your chance. Make the most of it. It might be the best one you ever get.

It's often been said that those who do not plan for their future won't have one. You will have one of course, but maybe not the type you were hoping for. The best way to have a good future is not to become the victim of circumstances, but to do what needs to be done to be successful. This is not the time to procrastinate or to do less than you're capable of. Your future starts now. What you do today creates your tomorrows.


Success is not what others say it is, it's what you say it is. Ask yourself what's important to you as you go through life and design a plan to achieve your goals. This type of planning is no different than what organizations do. It's called "organizational planning" when it's for a business or not for profit entity. In either case, it involves people working to accomplish worthwhile objectives. For businesses, the primary goal is to generate profit for its owners, and for not for profit organizations, the goal is to work toward some higher purpose.

Managing yourself is what I call "Personal Management". You need to be able to develop your own goals and to do what is necessary to achieve them. It is difficult to be a good manager of others if you can't properly manage your own affairs.

Elemental Steps To Success

Education is one of the most important keys to success. At a minimum, work to obtain your four year bachelor's degree, and obtain higher education beyond that if it's beneficial to you, in whatever career you choose. Now that you have begun your college education, don't stop until you obtain your four year degree or obtain training in a field that is in demand. Colleges have many career programs in dental hygiene, laser technology, paralegal education and others. If you do not prepare yourself in either of these ways, your life is likely to be far more difficult financially than it has to be.

Application To Purpose
It's not a matter of just doing what you feel like doing, it's a matter of doing what needs to be done. If you are already a good student, keep up your good work. It will all pay off in the end. If you haven't been a good student, how long are you going to wait until you start turning things around and become the person you're capable of becoming?

I've taught over ten thousand college students since 1973, plus over five thousand real estate students in my former real estate school. I have seen only a small handful of students "who couldn't". Unfortunately, I've seen many who "just wouldn't": laziness, lack of goals, lack of focus, immaturity and just general screwing off. It takes courage and application to purpose to become successful. The late actor John Wayne said that "Courage is being afraid, but doing it anyway". Successful people are ones who do what needs to be done, not those who waste time and just drag themselves through purposeless lives.

At many community colleges throughout the country, students just come and go without accomplishing anything worthwhile. A semester or two and they're gone. But after they go out and work for a number of years, and see that they aren't going to really get anywhere without proper education, training and skills, some come back to school when they're in their late twenties. Do you need to set yourself behind by ten years? And in that time make near to minimum wage money struggling at lower end and dead end jobs? Someone who does that also costs themselves thousands of dollars. Making $20,000 a year for ten years instead of $45,000, would cost a quarter of a million dollars in income, to say nothing about starting at the bottom of the career ladder ten years later.

Of course, some students drop out and never learn and don't come back at all, or can't come back because of job or financial obligations. What I'm telling you is that for you, the time is now. There might not be a later.

Finding Your Place
You are capable of being great at something. Your goal is to find out what that is. Some of you already have fine goals. If you do, just keep moving toward achieving them. Realize that life is not always a straight run down the field. You might have to zig and zag a bit, but every step you take in the correct direction will get you closer to where you are going faster. That's far better than just sitting still and getting nowhere.

Develop a goal and work toward it. That will lead you to the next step. For example, someone might start off in a nursing program and later realize that that isn't for them, but it may lead to another career in health care. One of the most important truisms I've learned in my years of teaching is that a good student is a focused student, so set a goal and work toward it.

How do you find a goal if you don't have one yet? There is no shame in not knowing what you want to do with yourself yet. The shame is in not knowing and doing nothing about it. So what should you do?

1.Take An Interest Test
Make an appointment to see a counselor at your College Counseling Office and ask if you can take an interest test. The counselor will review your results with you to see what career areas it suggests. Some results will confirm what you already may have been thinking. Other times, new areas might be suggested.

I've frequently heard students say that "I talked to a counselor and they weren't any help." What should you do? Just roll over and play dead? No, try another counselor, until you find one who is right for you. The problem isn't always with the counselor either. It can be with students, hearing truths they don't want to hear, and not taking proper action on the good advice they've received, so go in with an open mind.

2.Take A Variety of Courses
Taking different courses will let you know where your interests lie. You should develop a strong liberal arts background, as well as taking subject specific courses to help make yourself more marketable.

It is very important to develop writing, speaking and computer skills. You will need them to excel in any worthwhile field. Take courses that will increase your global knowledge such as world history, geography, languages, comparative religions, art appreciation, music, economics and similar courses. You want to work toward becoming a well-rounded and cultured person, so you will be able to hold up your end in a conversation with educated people in any country. That will help distinguish you from the slew of other job candidates you will be competing with.

It's also important to recognize that education isn't just about getting a job and making money. It's also about learning things that will help you get more out of your everyday life and enable you to bring more to the lives of others.

Learning to speak another language, not just "taking a language", is one of the best things you can do to help increase your competitiveness in the job market. I would highly recommend languages such as Spanish, French, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic or Russian. These languages are all important to anyone planning to have a strong future in business or any organization with a global orientation. Spanish is becoming increasingly important to employers in the US. The Hispanic population here continues to grow. Spanish speakers will continue to be in demand.

3.Learn Through Work Experience
In addition to having a strong grade point average, employers always value relevant work experience. Try to work only in jobs that will help you learn more about a field you think you have an interest in, particularly those that can lead to a full time position in a particular company or organization. One job is not as good as another. Working at a custard stand or gas station might provide income, but it does little to help your future. Typically, jobs like these lead nowhere.

On the other hand, working at organizations like Fed Ex, UPS, Nordstrom's, Wegman's, Wal-Mart, Target, hospital systems, insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies helps you build up a coterie of people who will speak in your behalf when you apply for a full time position. These are also the types of employers you should be seeking internships and cooperative work experience with. The idea is to put yourself in the way of a job, not just hope that your resume will be plucked from the pile.

Carefully examine the future prospects of any industry you're thinking about joining. I would step very carefully before going into banking, the automotive industry, low tech manufacturing, and the like. While these are fine industries in themselves, you should avoid any organizations where the industry has had a lot of consolidation or downsizing. Particularly avoid industries where the work can be digitized and outsourced because it can be done more cheaply in other countries. This can happen even in lucrative fields such as health care, engineering, programming and accounting. Speak to your professors in relevant subject areas, and to experienced professionals, to see which way you should move in a field and what you should avoid.

4.Develop Mentors
A mentor is an advisor. Some people can serve you well as general mentors in many areas, like your parents, relatives and experienced friends. Others can advise you in specific areas. Physicians, nurses and other health professionals can advise you in health care areas. Attorneys can advise you in matters of law and government, and teachers, educational administrators and counselors can advise you about teaching and opportunities in education. Remember though that you have to ask the questions to get helpful information. The same applies for getting counseling and financial aid. Don't expect those who can help you to seek you out. College is not high school. You have to take responsibility for yourself and do the asking.

Finding A Job
The best way to find a job today is to get your foot in the door though previous work experience, internships, part-time and summer work with a good employer who offers a solid benefits program. This needs to start right now. Waiting until you are ready to graduate to start looking, or just sending out resumes, is not going to work.

The economy is in a near record downturn. It is very difficult for even experienced people to find employment. 44% of those unemployed today (August 2011) have had to look seven months to find new employment. And they already have education, experience, job skills and maturity that most of you don't have. So unless you want to join the ranks of the unemployed, or the underemployed, you need to get deadly serious about excelling in college and only working in jobs that will lead somewhere.

Distinguish Yourself From Other Job Seekers
It's not enough to imply to an employer, "Well here I am, Dan or Danielle - College Graduate. I've come to get my job." About 27% of the adult population holds a bachelor's degree, so while having one lets you into the game, it's not enough alone to get you picked from the bench of hundreds of other applicants. To do that you must create some "significant differential" - something that will make you stand out positively from all the other candidates:

-High grade point average
-Work experience relevant to the position you are seeking
-Previous experience in the company you are interviewing with
-Having people in an organization who will speak on your behalf
-Ability to speak a foreign language (Remember also to look for foreign employers doing business in the US where the language you have learned is their native language. Obviously, being conversant with that country's history and culture is a plus too.)
-Be a student who has traveled and studied abroad. Travel broadens your horizons as few other experiences can. (Either experience always produces questions. Interviewers get curious too. Anything that makes you something other than "vanilla" can help.)
-Go to career fairs at your college and elsewhere as soon as you can. Find out what degrees, courses, skills and experiences employers are looking for.
-Take as many practice interviews as you can.
-Learn as much as you can about any company you are interviewing. That will immediately set you apart from 90% of the applicants who typically know little about potential employers.
-Let an employer know how you may be able to help them, not that you "need a job". Employers don't care about that. Everyone who they interview does or they wouldn't be there. Don't ask about benefits either. What you have to highlight is your value to the employer. Once you are able to convince an employer that you are "the right fit" for the job, the company and your future co-workers, the rest of it will take care of itself.
-Review lists of typical interview questions available in your Career Planning Office and take as many practice interviews as possible

Suggested Career Fields
The best career for you to work in is the one that you will be happiest in, because that's the one you will probably be most successful in. Online articles frequently suggest promising career fields for the future. You should verify this with those who work in those fields in your area, or elsewhere in the country, if you are open to relocating. You obviously increase your prospects if you are willing to relocate. The greatest growth in the US is taking place in the South and the Mountain states. Here are some fields recently suggested to have good prospects:
-Nursing: Nurse Practitioner, Physician's Assistant, Nurse
-Health Care Occupations
-Physical Therapy
-Teaching - especially mathematics, sciences and special education
-Computer Technology and Information Systems
-Paralegal Studies
-"STEM" Occupations: science, technology,mathematics and sciences
-Law: In spite of what you hear about their being "too many lawyers", if you are planning to go to graduate school, I would consider obtaining a law degree (JD - Juris Doctor). It's certainly true that many law school grads are having difficulty finding jobs, but there is always room for more talented students. If you decide to go, it will help you greatly if you obtain a job in a law office, or volunteer in one, before you start law school. A law degree has more flexibility in my mind than an MBA (Master of Business Administration.) JD's can be used to work in private law practice, but also in corporate law, human resources, college teaching, educational administration, government, the court system, and the military.
-Military: While a military career may entail risks, it also offers educational benefits, training, the opportunity to see the world, good benefits and retirement income. It can also be an economical route to obtaining a professional degree. One of my best friends, who is now a judge, served four years in the Judge Advocate General's Corps, after obtaining his law degree. A relative of mine went to medical school, became a physician and served his four year obligation. Both of them got their advanced education and it didn't cost either of them a dime, while many of their fellow classmates finished school with tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of debt. Not every military occupation requires battlefield service. The military needs all kinds of specialists.

Think in terms of running counter to trends. There are more male engineers and female nurses. Employers are frequently interested in having a better balance in their workforce, so women interested in engineering and men interested in nursing may enjoy a slight edge in hiring. Similarly, men might wish to examine possibilities for elementary school teaching. Think outside the box. It can help.

Organizations are also always looking for qualified minority candidates too. If you meet that description, it's up to you to have highly competitive talents, so you are the one who gets hired, not someone else.

Speak with your counselor about other possibilities suggested by the US Dept. of Labor job projections.
Also speak with your parents and other mentors. Please show them what I've written here. Ask for their experienced advice. They know you far better than I ever will.

Obstacles To Success
Part of being successful involves staying away from hazards that can cause real harm to your formulating goals and achieving them:
-Acting as if you're still in high school - Some students keep hanging out at the same places, with the same people, wasting time texting and doing things that aren't constructive, instead of studying. You should be working on your future, not goofing off. It's your job to build a future, not your parents'. They are entitled to have a life of their own. Find a job, be self-supporting and get out on your own.
-Drinking to excess - There is a direct proportional relationship to grade point average in college and the number of drinks students consume in a week. The more drinks, the lower the GPA. So if you don't want to get anywhere, just drink up and put things off until tomorrow. Obviously, any sensible person knows that that's not the way to go.
-Drug Usage - If life is so bad that someone has to use drugs instead of facing reality and creating a better life for themselves they can be proud of, it's time to wake up to where that kind of destructive course will take you. Time wasted and life wasted. It can also put you in a casket. No one ever thinks it will be them. Some of those people were wrong. I grew up in a funeral home. I know. I've seen it. No "high" is worth dying for. Get high on life, and your successes, instead. Believe me, that will result in a far better life you can be proud of. That's really the whole idea. Ask yourself daily: "Am I living the kind of life I can be proud of?" If you aren't, do something about it.
-Making Yourself Poor - Being poor can be an obstacle to success. Many times it happens though no fault of someone's own. But many have risen above it, including President Obama, and Texas governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry, who grew up poor on a farm in west Texas and had his mother sew his clothes until he went to college. So if you come from an economically disadvantaged background, know that you can rise above it too. Many others have.

What I'm talking about is not coming from a poor background, but doing things where you will be likely to become that way. I would recommend that every student, and those who care about their success, read "The Working Poor" by David Shipler. He conducted many interviews and identified a variety of circumstances as to why people fall into poverty, including dropping out of high school or college, unwanted pregnancies, and drug and alcohol abuse.

Mr. Shipler mentioned a mother in Ohio who said that her daughter was in college and decided to drop out. The daughter thought it was "no big deal" at the time. It was. Her leaving was the beginning of her slide into poverty. So think twice, and three times, before you drop out. You may never have the opportunity again and may wind up paying the consequences for the rest of your life.

Shipler also pointed out what a slippery slope poverty can be. Someone drops out of school and settles for low paying jobs that go nowhere. That usually means no benefits or very poor ones. That often results in health and dental problems developing not only for that person, but for their children too. They drive old cars, often that used to be "hot", and can't afford money for tires and repairs. They have no emergency fund or savings. It becomes mouth to mouth, week to week. Is that the kind of a life you want for yourself? Think about it. Don't let these things happen to you.

Follow The Money
This was Hal Holbrook's memorable line from the Watergate era movie "All The President's Men". Should you select a career solely based on which one is going to pay you the most money. Probably not, because if you don't find the work satisfying, you won't be likely to excel and may also have a long time to repent. That being said, you certainly need to make enough to meet your needs in a reasonable way.

The best correlation to how much money most people make is to the level of education they have. Certainly there are exceptions that people enjoy pointing too, like Bill Gates, one of the world's wealthiest people, who never finished college. But for every Bill Gates, there are millions who caused themselves real economic harm their whole lives because they did not obtain the education or training that they should have.

Statistics are always readily available showing that, on average, over a lifetime, college graduates earn more than high school graduates, holders of master's degrees earn more than holders of bachelor's degrees, doctoral degree holders earn more than master's holders, and those with professional degrees such as physicians, veterinarians, and attorneys make more than doctoral degree holders. Those with more education are also, on average far less likely to become unemployed. So before you decide to stop
going to school, just ask yourself how much money you want to give up.

Below are statistics from July 2011, reported by CNN anchor Christine Romans on "American Morning" - September 2, 2011:

Education versus Percent of Unemployment/Median Weekly Earnings
Doctoral Degree 1.9% /$1550
Professional Degree 2.4% / $1610
Master's Degree 4.0% /$1272
Bachelor's Degree 5.4% /$1038
Associate's Degree 7.0% /$ 767
Some College,No Degree 9.2% /$ 712
High School Diploma 10.3% /$ 626
Less Than High School 14.9% /$ 444

The national unemployment rate is currently 9.1%. The more education you have, the less likely you are to be unemployed.

It might appear that the median earnings difference between having an associate's degree and a bachelor's degree isn't that much, but over a ten year period, based on the chart above, and discounting any salary increases, a bachelor's degree holder would earn $539,760 compared to an associate degree holder who would make $398,840, a difference of almost $141,000. Similarly, a master's degree holder would earn $661,440 during the same period, a difference of $121,680 over a bachelor's degree holder.

Make Certain You Graduate

Another critical factor is making sure you graduate. I've run into students who have told me that they are six or twelve credits short of getting their bachelor's degree, and haven't finished, even though it's years later. 95% of a degree is not 95% as good as having one. It's like pregnancy. Either you're pregnant or you aren't. Did you ever hear anyone saying they're "part pregnant"? Likewise, either you have a degree or you don't. I don't care how low your grade point average is, or what major you have, just finish and get your degree and move on from there. In many organizations, your upward mobility toward promotion or career enhancement will be completely blocked if you don't have a four year degree. So don't create obstacles for yourself. You'll run into enough of them without creating your own.

Get The Most Out of Your Credits
Always move toward getting a higher degree. Don't spend a lot of time getting extra credits on top of a bachelor's degree, or getting two bachelor's degrees. Use the time to get a master's degree. That can be facilitated by finding joint degree programs where you can make credits do double duty toward a bachelor's and master's degree at the same time.

Check The Market
As a student, you should take the time to check the market for the type of position you are seeking by looking at, and other job sites. Look to see how many positions are available and what qualifications are called for. Such websites also contain useful information about resume development, interviewing and other similar topics that can be helpful to you.

Spend time in your college's Career Planning Office reviewing available materials and also checking with the staff to find out what the demand is in your area. Take as many interviews as you can. Practice helps. It is light years easier getting interviews through your Career Planning Office than trying to get them on your own once you have graduated.

Self-Help Reading
Education is learning to become your own teacher - and also your own motivator. Everyone's batteries run low sometimes. We can also use new perspectives and injections of self-confidence to help us along the way. I recommend that you become a lifelong self-help reader. Once you get started, one book will lead to another. Several books I would recommend to get started:

"Authentic Happiness" - Martin Seligman
Dr. Seligman's book tells how to identify your "signature strengths". Your success comes from trying to incorporate them into your life as much as possible. You are always better spending your time trying to maximize your strengths than taking an inordinate amount of time to deal with weaknesses. Naturally, you need to keep yourself in the ballpark in those areas too.

"The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People"- Stephen Covey
Dr. Covey provides a guide to how to incorporate these critical habits into a plan for accomplishing your personal and professional goals.

"Flow" - Mihail Cziksentmihalyi (chicks-sent-me- hi)
Dr. Cziksentmihalyi explains the concept of flow and how bringing more of it into your life can provide for increased happiness. Flow is the state of "losing yourself", and track of time, in worthwhile and challenging pursuits. "Flow states" are frequently found in successful and constructive people, much less so in those who aren't.

Biographies of Successful People - Look for the keys to their successes and emulate them in your own life.

Anyone should feel free to copy and distribute this article to anyone they feel might benefit from it. You should also seek a variety of opinions and advice in order to develop the plan that is best for you.

Your future is in your hands. The longer it takes you to get on the road to success, the more it's going to cost you professionally and financially. Get serious about your education and about setting your goals. Don't quit your education until you have something worthwhile to show for it, which will help you over the long term.

Have faith in yourself. Act like the winner you know you can be in every course you take, and in every job you have, from now on. You'll see the difference in a better, and more fulfilling life.

Lawrence J. Danks is an Assistant Professor of Business at Camden County College in Blackwood,NJ where he teaches Management and Business Law ( He holds an MBA from the University of Missouri and a BS from Seton Hall University. He is the author of seven books on life satisfaction, kindness, real estate, and real estate advertising.

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