Our Best Advice For College Students
I find myself wanting to stop, shake and shout life tips to every 18-22 year old I see. I made a lot of good and bad decisions that have led to my success (and perhaps were a hinderance at different times) and because of such I feel compelled to write a whole post for you. But why stop at just my experiences? I asked everyone who works for me to give their advice, too. These are practical skills, not just ‘Have fun!’ or ‘Take risks!’. Do those things but I think this advice will make a huge difference in starting your career after college and managing your 20’s in the most productive (but still fun!) way possible.
Learn as many computer skills possible.
I’m a Xennial which means I was computer savvy enough to start a blog, but ‘blogging’ is about where it ends. Unless you are going to be a doctor I’d say you should not leave college without at these skills: Excel, Photoshop, and basic HTML. Your first job post college will be likely be entry-level, and every single company in the world, regardless of what it actually does, needs admin, digital and social media help. You can’t get an admin job very well without excel, and knowing photoshop well enough to create flyers, manage a blog, send out newsletters, etc is super valuable. It’s the skills that many people in my generation don’t have, which make you super hirable. I have no doubt that you can handle a company’s instagram account, but if you know photoshop enough to do something really interesting with it (or even retouch photos), your value just increased and you became way less dispensable to them. If you have basic HTML skills you will rise faster and make more. I still get so many resumes from new students who just graduated with a journalism degree but don’t know photoshop and I can’t hire them. This goes for all the fine arts. If you are a voice major you need photoshop because you aren’t going to be paid to sing immediately but you can get a job at a music label in their marketing department, or work for a producer as an assistant if you have skills that can support that industry, even if they fall outside what you are studying. I never had these backup skills (hell, the internet was barely started when I was in college) and I would never hire me right now with my lack of skills. The world has gone digital, you better know those skills to compete. Your boss will most likely be my generation (or even younger) that expects these things, so just because you are studying history doesn’t mean you are going to be a historian – get yourself some computer and graphic design skills while your brain is ready to learn.
Document everything in an online portfolio.
Set up a basic wordpress or squarespace site and as you finish something you are proud of, upload it. This doesn’t have to represent your exact style or the most perfect work, don’t be precious about it because you can ALWAYS delete it. But a future employer might want to know if you know such-and-such a program and you want to be able to say ‘yes’ and show them an example, even if it isn’t perfect or isn’t your style anymore. Brady, Sara and Jess all regretted not documenting so many of their college projects, and the best way to do it is an easy to make website that you update at the end of every semester. They have their own sites now to document their work (see above) but they all wish they would have started them sooner to document more. If you are a writer then start a blog, not to become a blogger necessarily but to have it documented where someone could read it. You never know who may read it and discover you. Plus it’s a super fun journal. In addition to this you will want to continually update your resume as things happened. Brady and I were talking about this yesterday and all through college he wishes he would have updated it continually rather than trying to go back and remember all the projects, accolades or jobs he had. This can either be done on your website or on a LinkedIn profile, but it should all be somewhere and there should be an easy way to contact you, should someone stumble into it and want to learn more, or better yet, hire you. In case you missed our first post on a “good resume” click through HERE.
Create a professional AND a private instagram account.
If you are hoping to get a creative career then your ‘professional’ account should be work that inspires you – or your own work. I hired Sara because her instagram account was good. I didn’t even call her references. It’s a daily business card and marketing tool.
But let’s just chat about social media for a second. Never post anything on social media that you won’t want a future boss to see. I know you think it might be private, but just don’t do it. We will google you, we will see your FB profile pic and there are still many employers like myself who think an account full of selfies is weird and a turnoff, unless you are going into the modeling industry. A good friend was about to send the ‘we’d love to hire you’ email when she googled the person and she saw a side of her personality that was such a red flag that it was over before it started. Have two accounts, one for future employers or collaborators and one for your friends, but don’t trust that the internet will remain private. Make sure that you aren’t telling an inaccurate story about yourself online, no matter who is following.
Let yourself feel unattached.
Listen, I know you have been together since Sophmore year of high school and that you really love each other, but it doesn’t have to necessarily end to feel ‘unattached’. Brian and I met when we were 21 so I can’t accurately say that you can’t find your partner when you are 17 (or 15, like my parents). But if you and your boyfriend/girlfriend are doing the long distance thing in college, make sure that you aren’t so busy being obsessed with getting their text message that you are missing out on the most crucial part of being in college – becoming independent (of even him). Now is when you open up, mold new sides of your personality that didn’t exist pre-college. You can try things that your high school friends would have judged you for, you can start taking certain sides of your personality more or less seriously because nobody is there reminding you of ‘who you are’. One of the reasons I moved to New York after college was because I knew that I wanted to be in the art/design field and I felt weird exploring that side of me in front of my high school/college friends that watched me get my degree in English.
Brian and I had to break up in our early 20’s because we felt that we just needed our own growth – it was hard to become adults with someone who knew the ‘old you’ watching the messy process. If you are meant to be, like us, you’ll make it (read about our ups and downs here). I’m not saying to break up, just let yourself feel more unattached. Be independent, and don’t put all the energy that you should be putting into yourself, your classes and forming new friendship into a high school boyfriend 4 states away.
Work in the customer service industry.
…even if it’s just for a summer. I’m talking restaurants, bars, cafes, hotels. Having a low-level job working with people. Here’s why:
- Your parents may have tried to teach you how to treat people, but it’s not until you are a waitress at a diner, being harassed, blamed for the food, ordered around, denigrated and generally sh*t upon as you are just trying to be nice and feed people, that you really learn the importance of manners, smiles and respect. You can personally feel the importance of those three things and you will learn to do the same to everyone else, regardless of how high or low their position is.
- Learning how to ‘serve’ all people in a friendly way will be good for your career. People want to work with nice people. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like friendliness and good manners. I would NEVER hire someone who was rude to a waitress, it shows that they don’t know enough about how to behave in this world. Because listen, we are all in the customer service industry and the earlier you learn that the better off you are. Besides …
- After college you may need to ‘find yourself’ a bit and having even one restaurant, cafe or bar job on your resume can help you get that filler job until you figure it out. I moved to New York and took classes during the day and worked retail with Jonathan Adler which as you can imagine didn’t pay my rent, so having that bartending job at night helped my career progress and stay afloat . It pays way better than minimum wage and you make new friends in new cities in a snap.
- Servers and bartenders are generally good at hustling and have a good multi-tasking brain. They tend to be good ‘managers’ because they have had to please so many people with different, albeit similar, needs at the same time.
Get an internship in your field.
Future employers love interesting internships. It shows that you used your time wisely, were willing to work hard for very little and have been at the bottom of the totem pole. Two of my best friends packed their summers with business/marketing internships fields and now one of them is in charge of marketing for Nike basketball (as a 37 year old woman – unheard of). I had one internship for a gallery, but I wish I had known even what I wanted to do then, as I would have reached out and packed that resume full of interns (speaking of, how do we find interns who are in college in LA studying design?).
They say that millenials don’t feel satisfied unless they have a job AND a side hustle. This is that thing you are doing on the weekends that you love, that feeds your soul and honestly makes you a more creative person. Start learning the art of the side hustle in college. Sure you are getting your degree in marketing (GREAT CHOICE) but that doesn’t mean that on the weekends you aren’t shooting fashion, or creating a you-tube channel where you do fake interviews of old TV characters. Could be anything that gets you excited to be productive and creative – this will set you up for success and you will look more interesting to a potential employer, meanwhile kickstarting your freelance career.
Attend the discourses or talks in your industry.
Those optional Friday 9am guest lectures can be super valuable in both information and connections. Professionals (in any field) have valuable wisdom that you don’t have. Listen, take notes and let their experience influence yours. And if you find that they really resonate with you, reach out, tell them why and offer to assist them in any way. You or your parents are probably paying a pretty penny for this education, so reap the benefits of a higher education by getting an even higher education from the professionals already in your industry.
Get on top of your finances.
I wouldn’t know anything about how to do this – I paid for school and lived month to month, penny to penny, but Sara, Jess and Brady all had GREAT advice.
- Set up and use program like Mint that keeps track of all your purchases. I asked Sara why she did this and she said that a. she had to for a class (PARENTS!! MAKE YOUR KIDS DO THIS IN ORDER FOR YOU TO GIVE THEM MONEY!). And then once it was set up she felt empowered by knowing how she was spending money and could adjust once she knew that she was spending $80 a week on coffee.
- Start building your credit by getting one very low-limit card. Purchase one thing a month and pay it off. Brady set one up in college just to pay for his car’s gas and then paid it off in full every time to help him build his credit slowly. Don’t do what I did and get a $1500 card that I forgot about, then move and not forward your mail and then have that card go to collections only to ruin your credit for 10 years and even have it effect it to this very day. That is what NOT to do. But also entering the real world without any credit will make getting an apartment or a car really hard (even with a co-signer).
- Get everything on auto-pay. I know a lot of college students don’t have “bills”, but hopefully some of you do and if so making them manageable will reduce the possibility of defaulting, meanwhile reduces the stress of ‘gah, have I paid my…. bill this month??’. Most banks now have programs that allow you to setup autopay all from your account and manage it all in one place.
- Start a savings account for both traveling, special splurges and emergencies with apps like Digit. It takes a nominal amount out of your account each week, based on how much is in. Some weeks it might be $20 and some only $2 – with the point being that it’s small enough that you won’t notice, but meanwhile you are saving.
This is a major regret of mine, see more of my thoughts on traveling HERE. I thought I couldn’t afford it but I should have gotten an extra student loan. The opportunity to actually live in another country doesn’t come up very often post college. In college you have no attachments, jobs or probably kids so this is your chance to really dive into another culture for 3 months or longer, and you may not get this chance again. Nobody in the history of time has ever said “I wish I hadn’t lived in Italy when I was 20”.
Explore your hobbies and commit to figuring out how to turn one into a career.
I always tell people – ask yourself what your favorite thing to do on a Saturday is, because that is what you should be doing all week, 9-5. The earlier you figure what that thing is and how it could be a career, the happier you’ll be for the rest of your life.
Now hit the books (and call home and say hi to your parents :))
Now we’ll open it up to you guys – what is your best advice for kids heading into (or back) to college? What do you wish someone would have told you? And in case you missed “Dissecting the Good and Bad Resume” or “Travel A Lot, and Do It On The Cheap” be sure to click through to read more.