The Career Prep Conundrum: 3 Tips for College Students Entering the Great Unknown
When I went to college back in the day, people didn’t have these nifty cell phones I see all over the place now. We weren’t texting each other images that cleverly represented our current emotional state, and a “selfie” only occurred if you accidentally wasted a shot on a disposable camera. Back then, it was still a novel concept to simply BE online without dialing up via a phone line first.
Believe it or not, while I sound like I’m 85 years old, I’m not. Sure, I used to walk uphill both ways to get to class. And at the moment, I have a sudden hankering for a Werther’s Original…but in truth, I’m (only) twice the age of today’s incoming college freshmen.
While it’s easy to point the finger at the rapid shift in technology for making me sound and feel old, it’s also amazing to reflect on how much it has changed the world and impacted things for the better. And it continues to do so at what feels like the speed of light. So much so that an ever-present challenge for colleges and universities today is to somehow find a way to prepare students for jobs that don’t even exist yet.
I can only imagine how daunting this must feel for you, the up-and-coming generation of college students, too. While as digital natives you are equipped to adapt and respond to whatever tech throws your way, you face the uncertainty of the future in a way that generations of the past could have hardly imagined.
So how should you tackle this great unknown? Here are three tips for approaching your college experience with a keen eye toward the future while you navigate a constantly shifting, ever-digital world:
Define yourself by purpose, not work
If there’s one plus about today’s fast-changing world of work, it’s that it has rendered the question of “what do you want to be when you grow up?” essentially obsolete. Even more so, it has helped emphasize that perhaps the question was flawed in the first place. We should encourage students to aspire for things greater than just “work.”
While you may be anxious at the thought of not exactly knowing what your job of the future might look like, focusing your efforts on pursuing a trajectory that is truly meaningful to you will help you stay grounded. Explore experiential learning opportunities, from research and internships to service-learning and study abroad, to connect deeper with your area of study and those around you.
After all, those personal connections still very much matter. While spending time mastering the evolving technology around you may help you land a job, taking the time to build and cultivate relationships could help put meaning behind a career. So, get involved with extracurricular activities. Engage in on-campus research opportunities. Get to know your fellow students, faculty and campus staff. They could help open doors to meaningful new interests and new personal and professional paths.
Embrace new skills (and keep your eyes peeled for them)
I once worked with a colleague who was a data scientist. For years as a student, he committed himself to studying and understanding the science of analytics…only to discover that when he became a professional, he needed to harness a rather opposing skill—the art of storytelling—in order to convey the impact of his data.
It may seem logical to view your path to a college degree as linear, but it’s far from it. As you begin to narrow your focus on an academic major, it’s important to balance that desire to become a subject-matter expert with an open mind to cultivating a diverse skill set. Employers are constantly emphasizing the need for candidates that possess strong skills in critical thinking, critical problem-solving, creativity, teamwork and people management. Actively seek out opportunities to strengthen these skills rather than assume they’ll be delivered to you by default of pursuing a college education.
Possessing a keen adeptness with technology can especially pay dividends in your skill development. Jump at the chance to play around with innovative tools and platforms made available to you in makerspace labs on campus. Participate in boot camps or extracurricular programs aimed at strengthening your digital literacy and collaborative skills. Create and contribute digital content as part of your college’s social media campaigns or student-specific microsites.
Such activities complemented by your academic coursework will add up to a stronger preparation for wherever your life and career will take you.
Desire to become a lifelong learner
As technology evolves, so must we. This means, to keep up with the constant demands new technology places upon us, we must maintain a relentless learning mindset and push ourselves to continue to question and understand.
This may feel intimidating to incoming college students ready to embark on some of the most educationally intensive years of their lives. Yet, at the same time, no generation is more agile and equipped to adapt to change so seamlessly—to the point where it’s essentially second nature.
Combining this quality with a strong liberal arts and sciences foundation sets you up with a well-rounded knowledge base. One that will help you feel more comfortable in the unknown and help you question constantly along the path toward answers.
It will serve you well. After all, as technology aids the change of industries and existing processes, organizations, in turn, will need employees willing to roll up their sleeves and work the problem to find new solutions.