The True Cost of College

I came across this old article from Businessweek about student loan debt, and started to think through a few things as a result. According to the article, the average college grad is 33 before their net earnings catch up to counterparts who never went to college. And get this: this data is for public university grads –– meaning the age is older for those of us “lucky” enough to go to private institutions.

Without going off on too much of a rant, this is all the more reason to understand what you want to do with your life while you’re still in college. If the statistics hold true, the average student changes their major nearly three times before they graduate college. In some cases, this results in more time than the standard 4 years at school…which means more money being spent staying IN school. Which basically means you’re likely be nearly 40 by the time you pay off all your debt. And this doesn’t even include graduate schools for professions like law or medicine (speaking of which, over 50% of general medical practitioners say they wouldn’t be doctors if they had to do it all over again).

Consider this: Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, dropped out of Washington State College after only two years. Michael Dell, founder of Dell Computers, never finished at the University of Texas. Barry Diller, CEO of IAC Interactive, dropped out of UCLA after only 3 weeks. And the list goes on and on with the likes of Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Bill Gates (Microsoft), and Steve Jobs (Apple).

…It strikes me that a lot of people who drop out of college early and go on to have wildly successful careers seem to be the ones that knew what they wanted to do and just went after it. So aside from saving a bunch of money, they saved a bunch of time and were able to hone in on what they were interested in much earlier than most of us.

Maybe all those dropouts were onto something…

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Looking for a part-time job? Create one.

Here’s a funny (although not intended to be) article on part-time jobs one can do to make ends meet in this economy. I guess I found the slide show to be funny because it “assumes” people can just go out and become a fashion designer. Yes…a fashion designer. Isaac Mizrahi, watch your back.

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Be sharp, not desperate for a job

Part of what we do at Hobnob is help students identify internship positions that are the best fits for them. As a result, we’re exposed to the challenges and frustrations that students deal with through our campus chapters.

And you know what? I’ve noticed something.

With the state of the economy not exactly rosy at the moment, it’s sending students into a flurry of activity…which is not exactly good in this case. Why? The flurry of activity is students applying to every internship opportunity that seems remotely viable, irrespective of their qualifications, interests, or talents.

Now, I can’t exactly blame the students –– after all, the prospect of landing a job are extremely hard in this environment. But this is precisely why I’d argue for the case that students, more than ever, must figure out ways to become “sharp.”

Sharp is understanding your strengths and how to leverage them. Sharp is knowing your weaknesses, and finding ways to minimize them without pretending they don’t exist. Sharp is articulating what makes you different than anyone else. Sharp is the opposite of being well-rounded. At the end of the day, being sharp means knowing what you are looking for and seeking opportunities that align best with what you bring to the table.

If you’re a student trying to find an opportunity, I have just two words for you: Be Sharp. You’ll gain better traction with the focus that comes from knowing what you want. It’s not to say you don’t have to apply to a lot of positions –– I’m not disputing the fact that this environment is challenging and you might have to be more patient than ever in this job market. What I AM saying is that you will have a greater chance of being noticed through the noise if you find a way of differentiating yourself. And that usually means figuring out what makes you unique…and what makes you different.

In this climate where there is an “abundance” of talent looking to get plugged into careers, it’s easier to be remembered for being unique in a sea of sameness.

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Process is unsexy, but necessary

How often do we go to events that energize and motivate us to change? I think all of us do that on a regular basis. Think of that corporate leadership conference your company sent you to. Or that science camp your parents paid for during the summer. Or church on Sundays. Yes…church.

These things are great catalysts to encourage and motivate us to get off our butts. They inspire us with great speakers, leaders we look up to, and the buzz of excitement that fills the halls as scores of others just like you mingle and chat at these events.

But all of that doesn’t come back home with you. Those great speakers don’t push you during those mornings you wake up tired and defeated. That air of excitement doesn’t fill the halls of your school or workplace on a daily basis. In other words, events are great catalysts during a single moment of your life. But that’s it.

What happens during the other 364 days of your year?

The only thing that ever creates true life change is what you do during those times you’re not at events. In other words, it’s the process you go through to apply the lessons learned into what you actually do. Otherwise, all the great stuff you heard at that last event is just knowledge…knowledge that goes unused.

So why am I talking about this? One of the biggest things I see time and again are people who are unwilling to go through the process in order to find something they truly love for a career. They’d rather experience events –– that networking event for engineers, or a case competition at the business school, or an internship –– during a single moment of their lives and hope that it translates to some progress towards finding their dream career.

Unfortunately, it isn’t as easy as just showing up for events. Don’t get me wrong, they do help.

But after nearly a decade of working within the HR/recruiting space and working with people through Hobnob, I’ve become convinced that the BIGGEST thing that separates those who find their dream careers and those who don’t are the ones who understand the process that’s required to get there. (when’s the last time you saw a professional athlete go from nobody to superstar with no training, elite competition to play with, and strong support structure?)

Yes, the day-to-day grind is unsexy at times. No one ever really likes to wait patiently while doing things that on the surface seem mundane and routine. But you know what? It’s what matters most if you’re serious about finding work you love.

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Why Blackberry Needs Android

I came across an interesting post the other day about how loyal Blackberry users are to their platform relative to iPhone and Android users. The underlying subtext to the loyalty issue for Blackberry is that users are getting restless with the platform as a whole.

While I always take these research studies with a grain of salt, I do find myself relating to the general consensus of what’s being said here. I went from a Blackberry device to an Android device recently, and have no intention of turning back anytime soon. While Blackberry has some great features (keyboard, email), it’s beginning to look sorely outdated compared to the newer crop of smartphones on the market.

For me, it basically boiled down to the combination of OS and hardware choices. Apple and Google (along with hardware partners such as HTC) have been updating their platforms at a furious pace, and the final products we see reflect how many smartphone users are evolving in their use of mobile devices. Blackberry…well, frankly their models haven’t really changed much except for the addition of an optical trackpad here, 3g capability there.

For me it’s simple –– RIM will never be able to keep up with the onslaught of software/hardware that Apple and Google have created with their own respective ecosystems. Apple and Google have attacked the market in two very different ways, and RIM finds itself caught right smack in the middle. That’s the worst place it can find itself. Just look at Palm and see how well that’s turned out for them.

My thought? If RIM wants any shot of staying relevant, they should figure out a way to adopt the Android platform for their devices. Yes, they enter a crowded market with other handset manufacturers like HTC and Motorola who support Android. But, like those other companies, the Android platform does not have to be the sole platform for all Blackberry devices –– it can merely be an alternative to Blackberry loyalists who are looking for a mobile platform that fits their everyday needs better.

If RIM were truly gutsy, they’d pair a few of their handsets (such as the Curve series) with the Android platform on various carriers and let the public vote with their wallets. I’d argue that RIM would see a resurgence of interest if that ever happened.

Just a random, business-related thought of the day. 😉

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Perception vs. Reality

It always interests me to hear what others think of certain professions or careers when trying to help them pinpoint a field of interest for themselves. There’s always a gap between their perceptions of a career vs. the true reality behind it. And what’s more interesting is to see that this is not limited to just high school students –– I see this with college seniors or adults too.

The gap that exists is through no fault of anyone’s, of course (at least not completely). You can’t expect anyone to truly understand the intricacies of every career out there simply because there’s only so much one can know without actually doing it themselves. But what IS interesting is to see just how many individuals –– regardless of whether they’re in high school or adults in their mid-40’s –– base their entire college or career decisions on incomplete information about a career without fully investigating it. A lot of times, decisions are based off of their own assumptions of what people do in certain career fields.

A popular one I always hear goes like this: “My parents told me that I should go into sales because I love to talk and interact with people.” While it could be true that the person would be ideal for sales, it could also be equally true that they’d be miserable in that role.

First, just because you love interacting and speaking with people, it doesn’t mean you like to push a product or service on them. In fact, you may not possess the mentality to close people on a sale because you just simply like talking with them and developing that relationship. Having to sell them on something would alter the nature of that interaction so much so that it’d make you miserable. In other words, you need to be a deal-closer who doesn’t take “no” in order to be an effective sales person. If you’re just a nice person who likes to speak to people, you’re actually the worst type of sales person…someone who talks to lots of people a day but never sells a thing.

Basically, there’s a behavioral style disconnect when a lot of people evaluate careers based on their initial perceptions. Even though you may be good with people, you may actually not possess the mentality to close lots of people on sales all day long. At Hobnob we use an assessment called DISC that measures people’s behavioral styles to this effect…but I digress. 😉

Aside from not possessing the right combination of behavioral styles, there’s a second big reason why there exists a gap between people’s perceptions of a career vs. the true realities behind it: lack of information from the people who actually do the jobs day in and day out.

It’s sounds pretty straight-forward and common sense, and it is. Unfortunately, it always strikes me to hear students (and adults) who base their perceptions of various fields off of very subjective “he said/she said” statements made by people who aren’t even in the field of interest to begin with. One of the best things you can do to fill the gap between your perception and reality is to intentionally seek others out who work in that career every day. Once you find them, talk to them. Learn as much as you can about the field.

Of course, getting insight into either of these is easier said than done. You have to be intentionally seeking out opportunities to discover more about your behavioral style (i.e. knowing whether you can excel in an role that requires you to sell to people vs. just interacting with them). You also have to spend the time to speak and learn from the professionals in the career you’re interested in.

These aren’t the only ways to close the gap between your perceptions and reality…but understanding these two things will go a long way towards helping you figure out some of the questions you’re trying to answer regarding a career. The question is whether you feel it’s worth the effort.

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The Point of Cover Letters

So if you wanted a good laugh today, here are some fun reads from the world of recruiting…ah, yes. The notorious cover letter. Done well, they can distinguish you from a stack of resumes in a recruiter’s inbox. Done poorly…well…you end up on blog postings like this. 😉

My personal favorite?

“My name is ____, and I kick ass. See resume for details.”

Ironically, it would still probably catch my attention because of its sheer absurdity. 😮 So I guess it would work. But that’s just me.

Personally, I was never a fan of cover letters while in the corporate space. Why? Because 9 out of 10 times, they were poorly written and really didn’t add much value beyond re-hashing the person’s resume (which is pointless).

So if you’re applying for a job at the moment and a cover letter is a must, here are a few pointers so you DON’T end up on a list of bad cover letters somewhere in the blog world:

  • Keep it relevant –– if all you do is copy and paste the same cover letter from job application to job application, you’ve got it all backwards. You need to customize and make your letter relevant for that specific position (yes, this can be a pain in the butt. But ask yourself: do you want the job?). Look through the job description for pointers on what that organization is looking for…then incorporate the top 1 or 2 things you feel they desire in a candidate in your letter.
  • Know why you’re unique –– what makes you stand out from the crowd for this position? Most recruiters read the same generic cover letters day in and day out. Figure out a way to stand out, and you’re one step closer to getting face-time with the organization.
  • Keep it concise –– one or two paragraphs max (3-4 sentences per paragraph). The challenge here is to write something relevant and unique…while trying to cram it into a space that you probably don’t feel does it justice. Yes, this makes the exercise of writing a cover letter hard. But no recruiter wants to read a five paragraph essay on why you’re a perfect fit.

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