Note from Jimmy Hua:
This post is shared through my Google Reader from another source. All credit of the post belongs to them which you can access by going to 5 Tips for Transitioning From College to Startup Life
Elliott Spelman is an intern at WePay which allows you to collect payments online without the hassle. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Four years and three internships later, I’m a graduate of USC. Like a lot of people my age, I’ve become pretty comfortable with the fact that I don’t really know what I want to do in life. Every graduation speaker I’ve ever listened to, from Steve Ballmer to Mr. Gowen, my elementary school gym teacher, has urged the same advice: Do what you’re passionate about.
For people in my position, though, there seems to be a choice between doing a job you love and doing a job that’s available to you. We’re left with the question: If doing something rewarding is the ultimate goal, what if it takes some time to figure it out?
Just because I’m not on a prescribed career path doesn’t mean I’m not interested in anything. On the contrary, actually. My college resume is a veritable potpourri of potential professions. All three of my college internships were tied to personal interests (non-profits, travel, music). I majored in economics and creative writing. I pledged a fraternity and worked for the geography department one summer. And now I’m feeding my interests again, picking a summer internship at a tech startup in Silicon Valley over other full-time job offers.
People ask me all the time, with genuine concern in their faces: “Aren’t you worried about what happens at the end of the summer?” The honest answer is no. If I have to sacrifice my interests for the sake of long-term financial security at the age of 21, then in the words of professor Hubert J. Farnsworth: “I don’t want to live on this planet anymore.” Plus, if for some reason the job isn’t right, or if something else pops up, it’s only a three-month commitment.
Along the winding path toward a more permanent career, I’ve picked up a few pieces of wisdom for my fellow interns out there.
1. Understand How People See Your Generation
There’s a Youtube clip out there of a few anchors on Fox News talking about how Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood has ruined a generation of young people who now feel special. Entitlement, I’m afraid, is the knock on our generation.
How do you objectively measure something like that? I’ve been fired for it (“Your generation needs to learn that you do not give ultimatums to a superior”), and I’ve heard it muttered (“F*****g kids these days”), but basically, your job is to prove these people wrong. It doesn’t take much. Show that you are genuinely interested and engaged by the people around you. Learn how to be competent. Make your coworkers trust you, and make them look good.
2. Take Advantage of Your Generation’s Gifts
We are the first wave of people raised on the Internet. We stay connected. We rely on other people. We understand our constant access to infinite information and we adjust ourselves accordingly. Compared to those for whom the Internet is a struggle, we have the opportunity to be exponentially more productive in a fraction of the time.
My advice is to use the applications that best organize your mind — the ones that help you develop methods and routines that feel comfortable. When it comes to documents, I’m a Google Apps kind of guy. Some people prefer Dropbox or MobileMe.
Everyone our age should be able to find the answer to any basic question within a minute. Google and Wikipedia should be second nature. After all, part of the reason we’re seen as entitled is because we have access to a whole array of shortcuts that have never existed before. Use them to your advantage.
3. There’s a Reason for Professionalism
I’ve worked at an internship where everybody in the office ironed their pants every morning, and I’ve worked with people in flip-flops. Neither one is intrinsically better than the other. You have to understand that each place you work has its own corporate culture and in order to do well you have to adjust yourself to fit it.
If people are going to spend nine hours each day cramped together, they have to find ways to stay sane. Some bosses hand out beers at five, and some require their employees to wear a certain color tie. If you want peoples’ respect, you have to give in to it.
That’s basically what professionalism is: A code of behavior that greases the wheels and keeps everyone out of each other’s way. You shouldn’t feel like the code is a burden. If it starts to feel like you’re wearing a mask to work every day, don’t be afraid to question if the job is a good fit for you.
4. Enjoy the People You Work With
This is the single most underrated aspect of career decisions. Granted, it’s very difficult to know what the person hiring you will turn out to be like, but that’s where internships come in. Internships give you a taste of what kind of people get drawn to what kind of careers.
The fact is, even with the mask of professionalism, your coworkers rub off on you. You can’t avoid them. If you hate who you work with, it can be tough to convince yourself that what you are doing is worthwhile, even if you would normally enjoy it.
5. Use Your Education Wisely
Unless you studied accounting or architecture as an undergrad (and even if you did), there is a very small chance that your college education will come in particularly handy for your first job. There are, however, unexpected elements of your education that will be tremendously useful.
At my PR gig, I gave my boss an essay by Georg Simmel that I thought he might find interesting. Working at the tutoring center, I helped format databases of small donors with Excel formulas I’d learned in ECON317. And now, working for a tech company, I find myself blogging, pulling from all kinds of things I learned in creative writing workshops.
I guess my general piece of advice here would be to never assume it’s okay to stop learning. There is no direct correlation between your formal education and what you do after, so remember to always stay curious and flexible.
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