Congratulations, class of 2017, you’re entering the home stretch of your college education. For many of you, this will be the last year before you enter into the professional world. Enjoy that college bubble while it lasts. You’re all in for a rude awaking once graduation is over.
First off, let me be clear about something: A college degree can play a huge part in your future career success. But don’t for a second think it will be enough. As you’ll soon find out when you begin applying for jobs, most employers don’t care about your GPA or what your minor was. They’re looking for specific skills and qualities, many of which aren’t taught in a classroom. And to be honest, when it comes to entry-level positions, most employers don’t care about what you’ve accomplished while in school. They want to know how you can impact the organization now and in the future.
If you don’t believe me, just continue on your merry way to graduation. Maybe you’ll prove me wrong. But if you really want to increase your chances of getting a great first job, it’s time to start thinking about what you can really offer professionally.
Over the course of your last collegiate year, take some time to consider the following:
1. A degree guarantees nothing
I don’t know where the idea came from, but many young graduates believe earning a degree is the same as earning a job. They mistakenly think that since they’ve made it through four years of jumping through professors’ hoops, they deserve a great job. That’s just not true.
A college degree shows that you can learn. To get an entry-level job, you need to show that you know how to apply things you learn, whether that’s theories you learned in college or the latest on-the-job training. Being able to demonstrate that you can think outside the box, solve problems, and positively impact a company is what will land you a great job.
To be honest, I have no idea which employees at my company have degrees or not. For jobs like engineering, it often does show, as computer science fundamentals are key. But for most others in the fast-paced startup world, degrees hold little weight. Instead, I look for whether or not someone can get the job done with passion, and if they have experience. They need to want the company to succeed more than their career. Remember that, when you begin looking for a job, the process is about what you can do for the organization, not what the organization can do for you.
2. Experience matters
What do you consider the extent of your work experience? A summer internship? Joining a professional club? Participating in a work-study program?
Now think about the job you’d like after college. How many of those skills do you really think will translate?
Sure, you’ve learned the basics, like showing up to work on time and working cordially with others–at least I hope you’ve learned those things. But those aren’t going to make you stand out. Real work experience comes from producing results in your industry.
Consider expanding your skill set by taking on freelance work or contracted jobs during your last year of college. This will not only give you the chance to learn and grow, it will also give you concrete examples of your work to show employers. That will give you a leg up when applying for a job.
3. You can’t teach passion
I’ve received countless emails over the years from job seekers who are just looking for a job. Any job. They don’t really have an interest or professional investment in my field or company. They just want a paycheck or another bullet point on their résumé. But know that employers can always see through this job search tactic.
Passion will get you hired, simply because all the skills in the world mean nothing unless you’ve got a drive for the work. Expressing passion, however, can be difficult for young adults. They worry about coming off as cocky or insincere. Get over this by practicing how to talk about your chosen industry or career. Think about what gets you excited about a job or what possibilities are drawing you to a specific company. Then discuss that with your family, friends, or mentor. After some practice, put the words to paper in your cover letter and résumé. If you’re honest about your passion, you’ll find an employer who appreciates that.
4. Prove you’re worth the investment
Each hire a company makes costs them a lot, from the money that goes into the new employee’s salary and benefits to the time and energy that goes into training them. That’s why employers want to be extremely confident that investing in you will benefit the company in the long run.
Ask yourself: What can I do for this company? How can I help it move forward? What do I have that they need? Knowing the answer to these questions will help you–and employers–see if you’re a good fit for a particular position. And, more importantly, if you’re worth the investment.
5. Go above and beyond
There’s no exact path to success. There are no rules that if you put in a certain amount of effort for a certain amount of years you’ll achieve your career goals. You need to make things happen for yourself. That means going the extra mile and seizing whichever opportunity crosses your path. That’s how you truly learn–and prove–your professional worth.
What other advice do wish you’d heard before graduating college? Share in the comments below!
Ilya Pozin is a serial entrepreneur, writer, and investor. He is the founder of Pluto TV,Coplex, and Open Me (acquired by Rowl). Named one of Inc.’s “30 Under 30” entrepreneurs, Ilya also has columns appearing on Forbes and LinkedIn. You can keep up with Ilya on Twitter.