Sunday, April 29, 2012

Career advice to kids graduating High School

We have some major shortages of people to fill high-tech positions in science and engineering these days.  Engineers here in the Midwest are in such demand right now that we struggle to fill the positions.  Estimates put unemployment in Engineering below 1%.  Normal unemployment is usually considered optimum around 4% from normal attrition, people not fitting well with the job, etc.  At the same time I hear about these crazy new degrees some schools are offering that have no chance of ever landing a decent job and many graduates with them.  Schools keep raising tuition yet they are filthy rich already.  The greed from schools is very disgusting.  Getting a 4 year Bachelors degree can now run about $50k/year for a $200k total.  Often kids pay that for a degree that will not earn them even $40k a year.  They can never pay it back for that.

I think the root cause starts early in life when we tell our kids to get a job they enjoy.  While the statement is true, it is very misinterpreted.  Yes, you should get a job you enjoy but don't confuse that with a job that actually pays and has a great future.  When finding a career you would enjoy start by looking at the best paying jobs with the lowest unemployment.  As you look down that list find one that sounds interesting to you.  In other words, first find a job with low unemployment and great pay and benefits.  Then from that list, find one that interests you.  Don't confuse your hobbies with a career.  Sure there are a few people that become football stars, race car drivers, and actors.  That vast majority trying for these things do not succeed.  It is fine to aspire to those jobs.  It is even good to try to attain it but you need a backup plan.  Go ahead and play football in college and be the best you can be.  However, at the same time work towards a degree that pays and has low unemployment.  If you get to your senior year and you are the top football player, then you might have a chance.  However, you always have the degree to fall back on in case it does not work out for you.

Should you go to college at all?   If you really have no idea what you want to do, maybe not.  Maybe it is best for you to just go out and get a job.  See what the world is all about.  Eventually you will decide a career is in order.  Once you are serious, then you can really apply yourself in school.

Where should to attend college?  Not the place with the best parties!  Actually the school you choose is less important than the effort you put into learning and getting good grades.  As long as the school is accredited, and they give real grades, all are pretty close in my book.  Ivy league schools are a rip off.  Not even worth the extra money.  While they are often very good schools, they overcharge.  Instead choose a good college where you can learn and not brake the bank doing it.  There is nothing wrong with starting at a community college and transferring to a university and this can save money.  I did that myself.  Just make sure you line up the community college and university to make sure the credits all transfer.  Also, most counselors are pretty much worthless.  Instead of following their advice, go directly to the person leading the department at the university where you plan to get your degree.  Some of the professors in your major as also good.  You want someone who is an expert in the field you plan to get the degree in to help guide you through college. 

I have interviewed many people.  Interviewees are often surprised when I am as interested in the job they had while in college as I am with their school work.  Many people will not put these jobs on a resume thinking it will detract from their resume.  Some people believe this will somehow reflect negatively on them.  When I start asking question about jobs they have had, they finally start telling me about some of their experiences.  What we are looking for as employers is a person with good work ethic and discipline.  The only place to demonstrate many of these attributes is in a job.  Interviewing a recent graduate with no work experience is hard and hiring that person is a gamble.  It really does not matter what the job was.  Working as a McDonald's cook, or a janitor, or changing oil at a Jiffy Lube is nothing to be ashamed of.  Not working at all generally is. I have heard from other people who interview say the same things.  In fact, I have heard from several that won't even look at a candidate that has no work experience.  Again, any job is better than no job.

One way to get both work experience and some experience in the field of study at the same time is through internships.  I can't stress enough how important this is and what a great opportunity it is for both employer and potential employee.  Find an internship at an employer in your field of study and interest.  This gives you an inside view to what this job really is.  You may find that it was not what you thought and you might change majors.  More likely, you will find it is not the grind you thought and in fact it can be very fun.  After working there you and the employer know each other much better and, assuming things went well, you could have more internships and finally a job by graduation. 

When you finally get to the interview, be open, energetic, and honest.  What we want to see as employers is that you are actually interested in working here to provide benefit for the company.  Engagement is the key.  We want to see your interest in what we are doing.  An ideal candidate would ask questions about the work we do and what their role will be in it.  I want to see them thinking about actually working here and building a career.  Energy and enthusiasm.  The people who move up the fastest in a good company are the ones who provide the most value and those are always the most engaged employees.  What I mean by engagement is that you understand what makes the company successful and you truly enjoy working hard to make it even more successful.  That success comes from providing real value to your customers.  Seeing your customers also succeed is itself engaging.  Real top performers is non labor careers are driven by purpose, autonomy, and mastery.  Here is a video that explains it: