It’s your responsibility to get the most out of your college experience as possible. If you sit around and think that your school is going to just pass you and trade you a degree for a job, you will be very disappointed. The good news is, there’s never been a better time to take charge of your education, be a continuous learner and position yourself for jobs that you’re genuinely passionate about. You have more information, and people, at your fingertips than older generations. Being the entrepreneur of your own career is important to your self-worth too. A study by the University of Phoenix School of Business shows that almost half of working adults in America gain equal or greater feelings of self-worth from their careers as they do from their personal lives. I recommend that you engage in virtual learning, build a portfolio of work and network constantly.
As an entrepreneur, you have to first identify what the market demands. You need to ask yourself two questions: What types of positions are companies hiring for? What types of skills do those positions require? Then assess your capabilities to see if you’re in a major where there are good job prospects and if you have the right skills to fulfill the demands of the job. Companies are also looking for specialists, not generalists, when they hire. From your perspective, this means you need to become a subject matter expert in your field if you want to compete in the marketplace.
Taking college into your own hands is empowering, exciting, and allows you to carve your own path instead of mimicking what others have done in the past. Aside from taking in-person classes, there are a host of other ways to accumulate experience and skills that can help you differentiate yourself in the job market so you’re prepared for graduation. Here are some tips:
1. Engage in virtual learning. There are unlimited free and low-cost websites that you can use to improve your knowledge. For instance, if you want to learn directly from the experts, you can go to several eLearning websites. Some of these courses are free and others have a fee associated with them. These video courses are led by instructors who are entrepreneurs, professors, celebrities or authors.
2. Build a portfolio of work from internships and freelancing. The more work experience you have when you graduate, the easier it will be to compete for jobs and to excel on day one of your job. Use various websites for finding freelancing projects that align with your skills and go to websites where you can apply or bid for freelance opportunities. Make sure you measure the results of your projects so that you can demand more money and bigger opportunities moving forward.
3. Network as much as you possibly can. A study by OfficeTeam found that the number one mistake professionals make when networking is not asking others for help. It’s acceptable to be wrong, and to admit that you don’t always know what you’re doing. You need to meet people in your profession, ask for help and also find ways to support them. Networking is a two-way street, so you always have to ensure that both parties benefit from the connection. You can meet people at your school, in online meet-up groups, at conferences and through your current network of friends.
Disclosure: This post was written as part of the University Of Phoenix Versus Program. I’m a compensated contributor, but the thoughts and ideas are my own.
Dan Schawbel is the New York Times bestselling author of Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Career Success, now in an expanded paperback edition.