The other day I met with my school’s director of student engagement in engineering/academic affairs, Brain Koehler, to pick his brain about engineering and professionalism in general. One of my questions was “what problems do you see recent/undergrads facing today, both academically and in the professional world?” His answer really got me thinking. I think this is such an important topic that today I want to share and expand on the three main points I got from his response!
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1. Teamwork, Teamwork, Teamwork
Teamwork skills are critical, especially if you’re in a STEM field. You need to know how to communicate, collaborate, and compromise. You won’t get very far in life on your own, no matter how smart or talented you are. Honestly, if you don’t know how to work with other people, you’re in trouble.
Companies are pretty much all teamwork-oriented. This allows them to shorten their project timelines and ensure higher quality work since more eyes are checking it at any given time. Working as a team often boosts morale and motivation; it keeps you accountable since the rest of the group can’t finish on time and at a consistent quality without you. I’ve also heard that it can be hard to make friends after you graduate from college and move to a new city, so the team climate will definitely help you meet new people!
I’m not going to go on a long rant about teamwork; it’s probably already been drilled into your heads. Just know, teamwork is so much more than just a buzzword!
2. Get your name out there!
As cliche as it sounds, the saying “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is completely true. I’ve been provided with so many opportunities because I’ve focused on building my network and reaching out to experienced professionals. I’ve participated in campus organizations and signed up for networking events and reached out to potential mentors- you just have to put yourself out there!
For example: Because I signed up for an engineering mentorship program, stayed in touch with my mentor, and attended a program networking dinner, I have a lunch meeting next week with a group of professionals from an engineering and design firm.
Another example: Because I completed a survey put on by doctorate level researchers, I received a surprise invitation to an all-expenses-paid weekend workshop in South Carolina. I can’t wait to network with girls from surrounding colleges as well as local scientists to develop our leadership skills and learn about careers with an impact in environmental science.
My point is that nothing in life is going to be handed to you on a silver platter. The quote on my phone’s lock screen right now is coincidentally
“You get in life what you have the courage to ask for” -Oprah Winfrey
Ask for an industry connection. Reach out to your superiors to set up an informational interview. Research leadership retreats and pursue scholarships/grants to attend them. If people know you are interested in something, they will pass your name along to others with that same interest or career path.
If you act as the cause, the effect will soon follow.
For example: At my first meeting with my mentor I talked a lot about my goal to work for Disney. That same week he put me in contact with a woman down in Orlando who both completed the Disney College Program and currently works at a design firm that does a lot projects for Disney World. A month or two later, she remembered my interest and sent me an invitation to a Disney Recruiting Roundtable event online.
From a similar conversation, Mr. Koehler gave me the name of a fellow NC State student who finished a professional internship with Disney. I’m getting coffee with her later this afternoon.
Networking works. Because it’s not usually high on students’ list of priorities, professionals pay attention when you take the initiative to connect with them. Don’t know where to start? Look up professors in your department at school and ask to meet with them. Play around with LinkedIn and send a connection request (but with a personal message. Never send a default request). Talk to your classmates and see what internships or programs they’ve participated in. You could be sitting next to your future business partner!
Remember, no one is going to help you if they don’t know who you are and where you want your career to go. Help the world remember your name!
3. Be a 360° Leader
After speaking with Mr. Koehler, I immediately added this book to my Amazon wish list (I’ll review it as soon as I have time to read it! Currently working on Mark Manson’s new book, which you should definitely check out). In it, John Maxwell dispels 7 myths, addresses 7 challenges, outlines lead-up, lead-across, and lead-down principles, and goes over 5 values of 360° leaders.
You don’t have to be a CEO to be a powerful leader. Being 360° means you
- lead those below you
- lead your peers
- lead your superiors
As a college student, lead those in graduating classes a year or two below you. Guide high school students through the college application process. Volunteer at elementary schools and do outreach for something you’re passionate about. Be that mentor figure you wish you could’ve had when you were younger.
Teach your colleagues about a specific topic you know a lot about. Discuss current events. Tutor your classmates if they’re struggling. Don’t take everything as a personal challenge- everything in life is not a competition. Focus on building others up and you will, in turn, build yourself up. Empower others because that’s what leaders do!
Don’t think that just because someone is your superior, you don’t have an opportunity to be a leader too. Don’t just lead down, lead up! Be organized, efficient, and take initiative. If you have an idea, voice it! Being a passive follower does nothing to make the company the best it can be.
It’s important in upwards leadership, however, to know where the line is. Don’t try to out-boss your boss. Don’t act superior to them. You are still their employee and should know your place as such. Be respectful, but don’t be a doormat or a mindless zombie. The idea is to work and communicate effectively to meet their needs.
“leading up is an ‘affirmative calling’ to help a boss accomplish what everyone and the organization wants or needs to accomplished” -Michael Useem via
Employers are looking for well-rounded people. This means well-rounded in experiences, interests, responsibility, and capabilities. College is your time to try anything and everything! Now is your chance to find what you love to do and how you can make a career out of it. By communicating, networking, and leading effectively, you can go wherever and do whatever you want in the professional world!
~What do you think undergrads should know before starting their career?
This is the second installment in the Professional Development Series. Check out the first installment on how to succeed at a career fair!