Most of the career advice young people receive today is staggeringly bad. We’re told to take out large amounts of student debt (an average of 35k) to get a degree, apply for jobs at tons of different companies, and spend all our time making sure our resume has the right format. (For more, see "Killer Career Advice for College Graduates.")
We’ve spent the last 4 years in school usually accumulating nothing but theory and developing few skills that make us competitive in the job market.
I was lucky enough to avoid most of this. I left college early and never had anyone fill my head with stale career advice. Over the last few years, I’ve figured out a few simple things that will help you land more opportunities than you know what to do with.
Once you know them, your life will change forever. Not only will your standard job be easier to get, you’ll also have more control over the kind of work you do and when, and where you do it.
1. You need a value proposition, not a resume.
Most applicants make the job application process all about them. It’s all about their skills, their interests, their achievements, and their goals. They never ask themselves the only question that matters which is “how can I create value for this employer? What does this employer need to justify hiring me?”
Consider two people who apply to a job. Person A has a resume that lists off his academic achievements, his internships, and some random professional “skills.”
Person B has something different. He spend a few hours thinking through what he wanted to do for the company in question and how he could create value. He put together a one page document outlining a list of deliverables for him to work on during his first 30 days on the job and why he thinks they’ll justify the salary the company is offering.
Who do you think gets the job?
Here’s a simple value proposition template that you can adapt for your own purposes.
2. You should consider working for free.
Most young people are so obsessed with getting a good salary right after they graduate that they price themselves out of the market early. When you’re young and inexperienced though, one of the only things you have to offer competitively in the hiring process is your pay rate.
When I dropped out of college, I figured out that I could get tons of opportunities that would otherwise be closed to me by simply offering to do the job in question for free for the first month or two until I could prove that I was worth paying.
If you’re scared about being exploited, here’s the thing: employers are scared too. They’re terrified of hiring the wrong person because it can cost them tens of thousands of dollars in lost time and expenses and it may be really hard to fire you.
Free work is an easy way to get your foot in the door. Just set a fixed amount of time where you’ll let them get to know and trust you. Once you’ve proven your value, you’ll get paid.
This can pretty much guarantee you an opportunity over other college graduates.
3. You should look outside of college career fairs.
Oftentimes the best opportunities, and incidentally the easiest ones to get, come from businesses that you’d never see doing any traditional recruiting.
The truth is that most companies can’t afford the time and money it costs to recruit on campus. College students get funneled to the same opportunities and those opportunities thus become highly competitive.
You can sidestep all of this by applying to any one of the tens of thousands of small businesses and startups around the country.
The other reason to do this is that, at smaller companies, you’ll often have the chance to get to know the owner and executive team more closely. Interacting with them regularly and seeing how they do their jobs can have a huge payoff in terms of skill development and building a professional network.
4. Choose People, Not Companies
Instead of searching for the most prestigious brand names to apply to, consider instead who you’ll be working with. An opportunity to work with a founder or a CEO of a small unknown company will help you grow much faster than being a compartmentalized cog at a larger firm.
You learn from people, and it’s people who will push you into bigger and better opportunities. When I started my career I was fortunate to work with a number of successful entrepreneurs who played huge roles in my development as a professional. I simply could not have gotten this if I’d taken a standard career path.
5. You don’t need to know what you want to do in life now.
Lastly, don’t stress too much. In all likelihood, your first job will not limit your options later in life. Your goal should be to get real world work experience and to develop transferable skills. That’s it.
The best way to learn what you want to do is to get out and start doing things. Through that process you’ll slowly start to see what interests you and what doesn’t, what you’re good at and what you aren’t good at, and where those two things intersect.
More and more the world is rewarding, not those following a conveyor belt path, but those who jump around and tackle multiple, diverse fields and industries throughout their career.