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Today's post is written by Michael C. Born and raised in Lansing, MI, Michael C graduated with a degree in Supply Chain Management from his hometown school MIchigan State University in 2013 and has been working in Omaha, NE at ConAgra Foods ever since. At ConAgra, Mike spent his first 2 years in Transportation and this most recent year in Forecasting, a job that will ultimately relocate him to Chicago.
If you’re a coach for a sport at any level, you like to use practice time to simulate all types of scenarios for your players in order to make them comfortable in an actual game. If you’re a football coach with a new quarterback, you will put your quarterback in a variety of difficult situations in practice to make the transition from practices to games less difficult. If a basketball coach is worried about his team’s inability to shoot 3 pointers, then he/she may put their team through a variety of drills with the purpose of improving their 3 point shooting.
As a college student who hopes to make it into the real world sooner rather than later, you should adapt a similar mindset to the fact that your college years are essentially practice time; time that should be spent getting you prepared for the real world. By developing your class scheduling with specific goals in mind, you can take certain steps in college to make your transition into the real world simple and ensure you enter the business world more job-ready than your peers.
In the space below I offer a few tips on how I had, or wished I had, utilized my time in college to prepare me to hit the ground running in the real world. I will also provide a few relevant examples and stories from my personal experiences in college and the real world.
Take classes to improve your soft skills – I listed this first because these skills will follow you throughout your career and may also carry over into your personal life. The best class I took to improve my soft skills was a speech class.
Although public speaking may be daunting at first, you will notice your ability will improve daily, and your coworkers will notice. It is probable that you won’t be leading huge meetings your first few months on the job and when you do, you’re probably going to be talking to coworkers with 20 – 30 years of experience. In this situation it is important that you stand out, and confident public speaking is a great way to do that. Not only will you be surprised how many senior leaders are reduced to reading word for word off of dull PowerPoint slides during presentations, but you will notice your meetings run much smoother when you’re confidently leading them.
Other examples of soft skills to consider when considering classes include: teamwork, peer to peer communication, and leadership opportunities.
2. Take classes that teach you skills you know will be relevant in your line of work – It seems silly, but you wouldn’t trust a paramedic to save your life if they didn’t know CPR. Similarly, why should a company hire you if you don’t know the basics regarding how to use industry standard software? Although it is possible companies will invest time and resources to train you, you will have a leg up on your peers if you enter a business knowing the ins and outs of programs such as SAP, Oracle, Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Outlook, and IRI. Not every company runs the same software, so a good way to learn what softwares will be valuable to you is to look at job descriptions for the company and roles you desire and see what they recommend, as well as reaching out to current industry leaders. Even if you don’t have much practice on the exact system your future employer may be using, you will have an advantage because you know the thought process behind how that software works, and you will be able to maximize its’ capabilities much quicker.
On a more fun note, a handful of my friends and I took a 3 credit “Business Golf” class in college, which consisted of 50% driving range time and 50% classroom learning. Although I still lack the proper golf skills to make the PGA tour, I was invited to go golfing within my first weekend at my company with some coworkers. On the course, I used the skills I learned in the classroom to not only keep up with golf terms and banter, but also show off all of the rules I knew, including: where to stand on the green, how to drive the cart properly, how to react when I hit three shots in a row into the water, etc. Needless to say, the outing was a success and helped me make a great first impression on my coworkers.
3. Take classes that will challenge you – Once you begin talking to recruiters you will notice that they are much more concerned with applicable skills than they are with a high GPA. I like to recall the story of a computer science class I took my junior year of college – where the students were given the choice between learning about Microsoft Excel or Microsoft Access. Although Excel was touted as the “easier course” I opted for Microsoft Access because a lot of companies use the query building logic available in Access to run their databases, and as a means of extracting information for use in data mining. When I was mentioned this to the interviewer, he stopped me mid-sentence to state that the project they had in mind for an intern was to design a Microsoft Access database, and suddenly I was the leading candidate and ultimately hired. So, although a harder class may take your GPA down a point or two, the skills you gain in those classes will pay off in the long run.
4. Take classes that improve your time management – Pretty soon you will learn that if you want to avoid working more than 40 hours a week or handing in bad work, you had better learn to manage your time. One way I suggest getting used to this reality is to schedule classes for Monday and Tuesday mornings. This will force you to get your work done in advance in order to enjoy your weekend, which will prepare you to get your work done in advance in the work place as well, in order to avoid spending extra hours at the office. Not only that, but it will begin to train your body’s biological clock to wake up early when it doesn’t want to. Although you have the luxury of hitting the snooze button in college, that is not an acceptable practice in the real world. On this note, everyone does time management (including the prioritization of tasks) differently, and there is no right or wrong way. Use this time to develop habits that you know will work for you in your job when you may be balancing five or six tasks at once. Some people make lists on paper and some people use apps. College is the time to experiment and learn what methods work best for you.
5. Take classes to help you succeed in the real world, outside of the office – The best example that comes to mind here is a class I took in the field of personal finance. Although you may consider yourself “good with money”, that all changes once you start having a five-figure salary and the expenses of a real adult. This type of class will teach you how to budget your money so that you don’t live outside your means, and you are able to afford fun things while also saving money. It is important to remember that in your 20’s there are few decisions you could make that would ruin you financially for the rest of your life, but it is still important to have some knowledge in your corner when you think about spending money on a day to day and on a long term basis.