When it comes to preparing for your career, what you do with your time in college is extremely important. As with anything else in life, with college, you get what you give:
Study, work hard, and dedicate yourself to learning, and you’ll graduate with a solid foundation for a successful career.
Fool around and party too much while neglecting your studies, and you’ll find yourself sticking around for another year (or maybe two), greater in debt, and less prepared for the challenges of the real world.
In other words: take your education seriously.
That said, there are things you’ll learn on the job that you never learned in college. Once you get out there and start getting your hands dirty, as they say, you’ll start to see that some skills are more important than others when it comes to excelling in your career.
I’ve had quite a few jobs since I graduated from college, and over that time I’ve found three common skills that are paramount: writing, communicating, and the ability to come up with new ideas. In just about every job I’ve ever had, the better I was at these three skills, the more success I had and the more my employer valued me.
Whether it’s crafting a professional email to a colleague, an effective cover letter to a potential employer, or a blog post for your company’s website, chances are you’re going to have to be able to write well at some point in your career. And just saying that you’re “not a writer” isn’t going to cut it with your boss or a future employer.
Some people are born writers; others, not so much. Maybe you’re one of the latter. If so, you’ll definitely want to dedicate some time to improving your written skills.
Writing isn’t as difficult as people make it out to be. Start by mimicking the way you talk and then adjust it to make it more professional as needed. Take a writing class at your local community college. If you’re still in school and writing isn’t a part of your major, you might want to take a class as an elective. The best way to become a better writer, however, is to read, read, read! So forget Facebook for a little while and pick up a book (or ebook) and start boning up on your written skills today.
Tip: Google “Writing skills” for a number of great writing resources. And check out Susan Adams’ piece on “8 Keys to Better Business Writing”.
What I’m talking about here is…well…talking. One of the first things about you is how you speak. It’s one of the first things they use to start building their impression of you. If you can speak well and keep eye contact, it will tell a potential employer that you have a level of professionalism and that you are able to communicate effectively with others. If you stumble, mumble, or say ‘like’ every other word, however, it can give off the impression that you are uneducated, that you lack confidence, or that you are immature. It may not be fair, but it’s the truth. Learn how to speak clearly and with confidence. Watch videos of great speakers on YouTube. Hire a speech coach. Don’t let someone get the wrong first impression of you because of the way you talk.
Tip: Check out this wonderful Lifehacker piece on the “Top 10 Ways to Improve Your Communication Skills.”
Employers like hard workers. They also like people who conduct themselves in a professional manner. But employers absolutely love idea people. They love employees who, for lack of a better term, can “think outside the box”. They love employees who can come up with fresh, innovative ideas that can help the company solve problems and reach new customers.
Of course, just like anything else, you have to practice if you want to become better at coming up with ideas. You have to exercise your “idea muscle”, as Claudia Altucher calls in her book Become An Idea Machine: Because Ideas Are The Currency Of The 21st Century, which has you come up with 10 new ideas a day based on a random prompt.
Tip: Try dedicating at least five or 10 minutes every single day to flexing your “idea muscle” so that you can become the kind of creative thinker that employers desire.