Recently, I found myself at a conference table saying, “I majored in agricultural economics because I wanted to do international development and now I’m not doing anything related to it whatsoever.”
Everyone in the room chuckled, and most people could relate to jumping into career fields completely outside of their majors. In fact, only 27.3 percent of college grads land a job in the field they majored in, according to a study by the New York Federal Reserve.
I’m eight years out of college now and everything I did in while in school is becoming less and less relevant to my life and career. I hardly remember anything from any of my classes. I’ve also never been asked about my GPA, since the one time I lied about it in the interview to land my first job. I said I had a 3.0, but I only had a 2.934.
The merits of college courses are debatable, but people are going to go to college, anyway. So you might as well make the most of your time and develop some real world skills while you're there.
Here are seven things you can do while you’re in college and the valuable, real world skills you’ll learn in the process:
1. Recommend your favorite restaurant to someone who has never been.
When you mentioned it to your friend, you probably talked about the experience and what made it great. You were probably enthusiastic the entire time, too. I bet it felt natural and it was pretty easy.
Congrats, you just learned how to sell. I know selling gets a bad rap and many people even feel self-conscious in selling situations. In the real world, however, it’s the most important skill you can learn.
Thinking about becoming an entrepreneur? You need to be able to sell your product or service. Seeking to become an employee at a company? You need to be able to sell yourself and experiences during the interview.
So if you ever find yourself with the jitters in a selling situation, just think back to how you recommended your favorite restaurant to someone. It will feel so much easier.
2. Go to club meetings for things you have no interest in.
You probably only hang out with people who are just like you. You have the same hobbies, take the same classes or share some other common bond.
When you get into the real world, you’ll eventually have to work with people with different world views than you and it can be tough. Misunderstanding can cause so many problems.
In one of my jobs, I worked with sales teams and engineers and we generally hated each other because no one could understand why the other person didn’t have the same knowledge he or she did.
When you go to club meetings outside of your interests, you expose yourself to new views and ideas. Show up, be friendly and listen. It’ll be an interesting experience and prove to be valuable in the future.
3. Sort and read junk mail.
Gather up all the junk mail you get for a week or two, then stand over the recycling bin and sort through it. Most of it goes into the trash, but a few things will stand out. Study what made those pieces standout above all others; they probably offered you something useful or interesting. Notice how certain companies did it while competing with other junk mail pieces and in just a few seconds, nonetheless.
Email and other forms of correspondence will get overwhelming after college. You’ll be on the receiving and giving end of this. If you want to get the emails you send read, remember what made the junk mail stand out and write yours in a similar manner.
Offer a benefit to the person reading it, keep it concise and tell the other person what further action is needed.
4. Rise early.
Getting up before everyone else gives you sacred time with no distractions. It’s amazing how much you can get done in those hours. Try it a few times in college and see how much of a sense of accomplishment you have by the time others are just rolling out of bed.
When 10 am rolls around in the real world, you’ll be bombarded with emails, calls and people dropping by your desk to chat and ask questions. It can be madness and it’ll be hard to get anything done during the day. If you can get the most important stuff done before all of this, you’ll always be ahead of the game.
5. Ask someone older to lunch.
The phrase “find a mentor” has been said so many times that it’s become cliché, but having a mentor can be valuable to your personal and professional development. The worst way to get a mentor is to straight up ask, “Will you be my mentor?” This is always awkward for the person on the receiving end.
A better approach is to ask potential mentors if you can take them out to lunch to get his or her advice on something specific, like how they got to where they are and what mistakes they made along the way. In college you have access to professors and alumni who would love to give you advice. As a student, you are in an excellent position to approach them.
6. Handwrite notes to people.
Once you’ve done number five, go ahead and handwrite a thank you note on nice stationary to the person you met with. Say thank you, mention what you got out of it and outline how you plan to use the advice given to you.
In this day and age, thanking people via email is certainly acceptable, but handwritten notes standout because nobody does it anymore. I send handwritten cards to all my clients and other people I meet with, and I almost always get an email from the other person as soon as he or she receives it.
7. Organize and host an event.
Organizing and hosting an event -- even a small one -- develops many useful skills. First, it’s a very powerful networking and leadership tool; you’re bringing together a group of like-minded people and you’re at the center of it all. People start to recognize you and you become the leader by default.
Secondly, organizing and hosting something is a good, small step towards entrepreneurship. You’re basically starting something from scratch. The whole process of organizing and hosting your first event probably won’t be smooth and not everything will go according to plan, but with each thing that goes wrong, you can learn something.
Remember, the most important thing is that you made something happen. Anyone who can make things happen will be valuable no matter what he or she ends up doing.
Photo via We Heart It