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5 Things College Students Must Do To Stay Ahead of the Competition

5 Things College Students Must Do To Stay Ahead of the Competition

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College students face a number of challenges as they near graduation. Exams, relationships, and debt may at times seem overwhelming. Then there’s the uncertainty of career for many. And, although the following tips are going to be framed primarily for individuals facing uncertain futures, they are solid tips to enhance your career success if you’re locked into a position after graduation.

Related: 6 Strategies To Kickstart Your Career As A College Sophomore

1. Career Success Is A Skill

For many the career management part of college is viewed as a task. It becomes time to sign up for interviews, prepare a resume and a LinkedIn profile, and continue (or start) actively networking. But just like you’ve learned in many classes, there are career success “skills.” If your school offers classes on creating your resume and interviewing preparation, take them. Do not assume you know how to do these things well. If you take a class for resume preparation, you’ll leap ahead of a large number of your colleagues who don’t think learning how matters.

2. Awareness Of Trends

According to leading futurists, the pace of change is accelerating. This may be hard to believe for some, but in many areas, technology is the obvious one, rate of change is no longer a simple growth pattern.  Technological growth is happening at an exponential rate in every part of our world, from energy to medicine, from healthcare to transportation. One clear example: seven years ago an electric car could travel less than 50 miles before needing a charge; now it’s possible to go 300 miles.

I’ve written about the importance of monitoring career trends. But here that advice extends to the specific of your major or the industry you want to work in. If you’re a human resource major, are you monitoring the rapidly changing legislative and regulatory environment that impacts every aspect of your potential job? If you’re in medicine, are watching for emerging trends in critical areas like cancer and Alzheimer’s – where new treatments are appearing regularly? If you want to stay ahead of your competition, stay ahead of the trends.

3. Face Realities

There’s a very old paradigm that still survives in the minds of many job seekers – and college students are not immune. You apply for a position, online or by sending in a resume, and you check every day for that welcoming response. You wonder why there’s no response, maybe nothing more than an automated acknowledge. There are lots of “reality checks” that you should pay attention to. But here’s a really big one:

According to one of the latest and largest studies, 13 million people applied for 112,000 job postings – so 112,000 people were hired. Over 85% of those hired came from direct recruiting by the company or referrals. That leaves only 15% of the individuals hired coming from direct applications by job seekers. If you want a heads up on your competition, understand this and make building and working a network your top priority. And remember, LinkedIn is a very valuable tool for networking!

4.  Evaluate Choices

As humans, we make hundreds of small decisions every day. Many of them are based on habit – it’s easy to choose our favorite drink at a restaurant or bar. And we also make many other decisions based on emotions – what we feel like having, what we like, and so on. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a person at a restaurant taking notes on nutrition facts, price, and yes, personal favorites, in choosing a meal.

I’ve worked with 1000’s of college students from freshmen through graduate students. One of the things I’ve introduced them to is a simple process for thinking about options. I often focus on evaluating options based on two things. To what extent does this option (a career choice, changing majors, or…) make it easier or harder to accomplish your personal career objectives? To what extent does that option make it easier or harder to maintain a characteristic about yourself that really matters, perhaps your concern about the environment or even your love of a fitness practice like running? Raising the objective evaluation of your decision-making can make a huge difference. Don’t ignore the intuitive “gut feelings” part of the decision but don’t let that me the only factor.

5. Think Beyond What’s Next

Again there is a very human tendency, that if you learn to think differently, will catapult you into greater success than much of your competition. As humans, we tend to be very good at thinking about “what’s next?” But we’re not as good at thinking about “what’s next after that?” and again “What’s next after that?” It’s considered by many high-level thinkers as the most serious problem of this second decade of the 21st Century – short-termism. There are exceptions.  Chess players are very good at “down board” thinking. Network administrators demonstrate an awareness of how one connection affects not just the one they’re currently making, but the next one, and the next one, and so on. Individuals trained in techniques for total quality learned how to think about that “what’s next?” question with techniques like the “5 Why’s.” I’ve personally worked with students coming from these experiences, and they’ve shown the ability to think about possible consequences beyond just “what’s next?” in a variety of situations. With practice, it’s a skill easy to develop.

This skill can be a critical difference maker for college students, one where a survey of students who practiced it reported over 95% satisfaction with learning a new way of thinking. In today’s world, it can be the frontline competitive advantage of minimizing those “unintended consequences.” If you can spot potential consequences, both good and bad, ahead of time, you have the competitive advantage of being able to prevent or minimize the damage from the bad. But more importantly, you have the chance to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the good.


Disclosure: This post is sponsored by a Work It Daily-approved expert. You can learn more about expert posts here.

Photo Credit: Bigstock


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Jim Schreier Jim Schreier is a management consultant with a focus on management, leadership, including performance-based hiring and interviewing skills. Visit his website at www.farcliffs.com.