During my undergrad I worked as an academic advisor for my faculty where I helped struggling students. After I graduated from my undergrad, continued through grad school and transitioned from an entry level to a senior management level position, I kept in touch with my faculty. One day my advisor asked me I could help a 4th year student on career advice. I was delighted! Then another student asked, and another and another…and the funny thing is everyone asked me the same questions! Quite often I would listen, and then give the same advice. So… here is my experience and how I overcame the obstacles of transitioning into the work force. By no means do I consider these things “rules” because I don’t think one set of rules can apply to everyone. These are things that worked for me, and many students/friends that I have mentored. I hope that you get some inspirations or ideas by listening to how I approached this task.
1 - Get Out There!
There is disconnect between the academic world and industry. There is good reason for this, you simply cannot learn everything in school. I found that in school you learn a little bit about everything in your particular field. For example, mine was civil engineering and sustainable design. However as you start to work, you may only deal with 1 very specific element or you may only deal with some key items you learned in school for 10% of your job. So when your in school, do your best to get yourself out of the academic environment and into the working force. This does not have to be limited to work! Conventions, Seminars, On-Campus (Don't Limit to your faculty) events are great. Connecting with past alumni’s are also a great way to network. With the power of social media and the internet, its so easy to find events related to your industry. Get yourself out there! Its so important to see how people in your industry interact, what buzz words are used, what are the "norms", etc. I found these to be extremely helpful when I applied for my first job as I was able to relate to the industry and show exactly how my skills can help grow the company.
2. Get Practical Experience.
The topic of unpaid internships is sensitive, so once again I am only talking about what I believe, and what has worked for me. When I was in school I was interested in sustainability/restoration of our built environment. The problem was my program focused on a high level about this topic (Studying social, economical, institutional, etc. impact) and not the technical details behind how to build sustainably. So I picked up the phone and phoned a few companies in Toronto that performed the work I was interested in. I wanted to learn about the industry, and not from a textbook perspective. I wanted to get on site, to see exactly what was done, I wanted to see how the company made money, this way, once I understood the entire process, I can take a step back, think about what I want to do. So I offered to shadow/volunteer for a few of the companies.
This worked very well for me because I knew exactly what I needed to learn, and how I could leverage that for future jobs/opportunities. I also knew that once I got my foot into the doors, opportunities will inevitably arise. It worked for me because despite volunteering for a few weeks without pay, I was very quickly offered a paid job with them part time within 1.5 month. Unfortunately, my boss got laid off right when I graduated, but that's a story for another topic. The important key here is that I got some work experience before graduating.
3. Develop the "Fighters" Mentality.
The fighters mentality can be explained in many ways. The best way to describe it is to have a relentless unforgiving work ethic, partnered with an immovable will to achieve your goals. This mindset can be applied into any aspect of your life, either its getting your dream job, a successful launch, getting fit, or becoming a champion.
"Greatness is not this god life feature that only the special among us will ever taste, its something that truly exist in all of us. Its very simple; this is what believe and I'm willing to die for it." - Will Smith
"I am gonna do it, the second I decide its done, its done. All thats left is for everyone else to see". - Will Smith
I can tell you that I am not the most athletic person in the world, nor the smartest. My grade 12 physics teacher write on my report card "Mike Should reconsider his future in science and engineering". My grade 11 accounting teacher refused to recommend me for the young entrepreneurship ward (which I did get). I failed 3 out of 4 classes in grade 11. I was the skinniest, wimpiest guy in high school. I got beat up by a bully once in the change room. However, if you believe in what you are doing, your goals, never settle for anything less. I never let those minor obstacles affect my life, and now I have my masters degree, I am a champion with 20+ fights, I launch and invested in numerous companies.
Your passion and your drive will show and you will get whatever job you want. You need to work your ass off, and follow the rules I have laid out here. The thing is, in order to achieve anything great you need to work hard. So if you want to reach your goals and your dreams, expect to put in extra work.
4. Be humble.
When you just finish school, you should be very proud of yourself, its been 4 (sometimes 5) years and its a big accomplishment. However, this is just the beginning. You need to recognize that you do not know much.
“I know that I am intelligent, because I know that I know nothing” - Socrates
Its a fine balance between not being a push-over, and being too conceited that you are no longer a team player. There may be a time, where you are right, and everyone else is wrong, but it is still critical that you use good people skills to communicate. Sometimes, even if i know I am right and another person refuses to listen, I will very casually state my point but not push it too hard. I always speak confidently and carry myself in a strong presence however, I am always asking other people what their thoughts are, I always say I am not 100% sure, I always try to encourage team work and a discussion. During my first job, another junior and I got along so well that even senior management complimented us on our ability to work together. How did we do this? I always made him feel good, I always valued his opinions as he did mine. This way we really worked as a team. Remember when people hire you, often the technical training can be learned very quickly IF you have the right mindset.
“The best way to handle an argument is to avoid it” - Dale Carnegie.
These soft “skills” are critical to your development as a employee, or employer (for all my entrepreneurs out there). Which brings me to my next point…
5 - Develop your “soft” communication skills.
Communication skills are so important.
Let me say that again, communication skills are SO important. When you work with a person, you don't work well with them because they know everything, you work well with them…because they are easy to work with, or they are easy to communicate with. It is so important that you develop confidence in how you present yourself. I used to go to networking or conferences and I would set myself an objective to talk to at least 5 new people and exchange information. You have to be able to communicate clearly, and walk up to a complete stranger and carry yourself in a positive and strong manner where people feel good talking to you. No one wants to hire someone who can’t communicate properly. Understand how to behave in a professional environment, and how to carry the conversation so that you don't talk about yourself too much.
Michael Zhang is a key contributor at Driven Fighters. He is passionate about the fighters mentality and motivating other people. He has associated walking into the boxing gym as the day his life changed. His story shows that with hard work anything is possible. Having taken himself from being labeled by his high school teachers as a failure and almost dropping out to opening numerous businesses and graduating with his Master Degree in Engineering (University of Toronto). At just 18 years old, he was featured on CH News, and awarded the Young Entrepreneur Award. His passion and desire to help others made him a perfect example of what a driven fighter is. He has 20+ fights including a national amateur tournament belt.