Professional Habits: Foster Them in Academia

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Your time in college will serve a greater purpose than the explicit knowledge gained in the classroom. While the “hard skills” are certainly critical (and, after all, why you need that very expensive piece of paper lovingly referred to as a diploma,) you’re not getting the highest return on your investment if you neglect the more tacit knowledge obtainable in college. Some of these more subtle and less nuanced areas can truly set you up for a higher level of professional success.

Publish your work. Whether your “work” is defined as research directly related to your academic efforts or something you’re simply passionate about (looking at you, Instagram foodies and pet lovers,) start creating a personal brand and portfolio now. Using something as seemingly trivial and loosely related as social media as a professional booster is actually quite underestimated, and it is surprisingly common to see prospective employers snoop on your social media profiles. Whether these prospective employers discover a social media profile chock full of drunken idiocy or impressive work fueled with passion is entirely up to you.

Build your network. College is arguably the most critical phase of your career to begin establishing your professional network, and this goes beyond checking the block of simply having an account on LinkedIn. Many argue that networking skills should be taught in classes, as networking serves many useful purposes: most relevant to you, finding a job. Most relevant to you in the future? Collaboration on projects, finding best practices, and ultimately not just keeping that job, but getting promoted through high performance. While in college, you often have these networking tools, whether resources, events, or numerous other avenues of approach, within walking distance.

Establish a workflow. The stereotypical college student complains about high levels of stress and having to jam-pack studying during exam weeks. The stereotypical college student also has a reputation for exclaiming “college is the best years of their lives.” This contradiction isn’t lost on many prospective employers. Obtain a solid work-life balance now, triaging to obtain a happy medium. We promise you can have both, and it’s likely a lot less difficult than your peers make it out to be: start utilizing a web-based calendar and allocating sufficient time for both work and play, as it’s what professionals do.

Follow the rules. There is also a fairly negative stereotype of college students regarding their opinions on authority and rules. It is often said that “rules are meant to be broken,” or that “they didn’t break the rules, they just bent them a little.” There are many areas in life where rules can’t even be bent a little, and the professional world is a lot less forgiving than academia: losing your job is a lot more devastating than needing to redo an assignment. Build habits of following rules now. If you stole a coworkers work, your best situation would be a written warning, though you’d likely be fired. Apply the same level of discipline to your academia: give credit to sources, and do it properly with a citation generator.

See things through. Millenials have a notorious reputation for having extremely short attention spans and seldom following through upon their commitments. Set yourself apart from this negative stereotype: don’t just talk about doing things, but do things. Getting a reputation as a “sayer not a doer” will become one of the most harmful things to your professional career, and word spreads fast. A good start would be finishing your degree: you signed up for it, so unless you have some undeniably fantastic opportunity, finish it. If you signed up to complete a degree that you subsequently discovered would not be a good fit for the future financially… maybe change your major and never talk about it.

Take care of yourself. The stereotype of college students binging on Ramen Noodles and energy drinks was formed quite before the millennial generation (perhaps replacing energy drinks with coffee,) but millennials face a new set of challenges due to the economy and other factors: namely, the current state of health insurance. As you enter the workforce, you will see that many of the best places to work have a high focus on employee wellness for sound reasons: employee health directly correlates to performance and longevity. If others are willing to invest in your health, you should be willing to invest in your own health.

Observe your peers. Regardless of what you’re studying, observe your fellow college students: especially those not majoring in the same area as you are. These people will become your consumers. Having a pulse on what will rapidly become the most lucrative consumer base will give you an edge above candidates from other generations. It doesn’t matter if you are not inherently in a sales or marketing role: your knowledge of the consumer base can help you give vision, strategy, and direction to a future employer.

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