Attend college to develop a life and career, not just get a job — from the Career Opportunities Podcast

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Even in this year of 2014, I still meet lots of people, either just entering college or just finishing, who think that their time in college was intended to just get them a job. Like following some class rubric, they put in the time, check the checkboxes and expect to be hired within weeks. While I don’t think a college degree ever necessarily worked this way in the past, I think it is even less true to today. You don’t go to college to get a job. You go to college to learn facts and skills that you can apply to any number of jobs when the time comes. You never can tell what curves you will be thrown in your life and trying to learn just those items you need to a specific job could leave you unemployed once you graduate.

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If you want to make yourself most employable — and who doesn’t — you need to think about your career in a wider sense. You aren’t going to graduate to be an accountant. You are going to graduate to be someone who works with numbers in a business settings. The range of jobs outside the typical scope of “accountant” is far greater than within. If you focus too tightly or too closely on any specific job, you could be greatly limiting your opportunities. Even in a role as specific as an architect, there are an infinite number of gradations and colorations to the job you might eventually find.

If you only have one idea of what it means to be an architect, you are going to find your job opportunities very limited. Even worse, your concept of what an architect “is” might not even exist by the time you reach the job market. Look at the changes that have occurred in all areas of work and you will see this is not that farfetched an idea. Entire swathes of jobs and careers have been virtually eliminated in the last 20 years. You must be aware of this and direct your education accordingly to provide for the greatest opportunity once you emerge.

You need widely applicable skills

No matter what your area of study, general or specific, scientific or artistic, high-tech or high-touch, you are best served by developing skills that are widely applicable to any number of jobs. Sure, if your interest lies in architecture or engineering there will be some very specific facts and skills you will need, but you also need to consider others. A few that come to mind include presentation skills and the ability to speak in front of others — and do it persuasively. There isn’t one architect who doesn’t need these skills to help insure their projects get built and yet these same skills apply to any job you might seek.

The fact is, the job and career you develop after you leave college often little resembles the career you might have envisioned. Life and reality have a way of pushing us about sometimes. Maybe you can’t or don’t want to move outside the area where you grew up. That puts immediate limits on the available jobs. Perhaps you discover during college you aren’t that fond of certain aspects of your chosen work. You are going to have to seek out jobs that better suit your wants and needs. This changes things yet again.

By developing widely applicable skills, you gain the freedom to bob and weave your way through your life and career, just like an expert basketball or football player. When you have enough skill and education, you can zig one way while everyone else is zagging the other. This is what will allow you develop the career you deserve instead of settling for whatever life hands you. If college fills you with unneeded skills or skills for a particular type of work you dislike, it blocks you out of certain jobs and careers and can even leave you feeling trapped by decisions you made 4-6 years ago.

While colleges, advisors, your friends and family, will often counsel you to focus on a very specific goal, job and career, I believe you are better off understanding that life often changes quite drastically and you need the ability to be flexible. Have goals, surely, but be adaptable when faced with change and adversity. Never stop striving for something you want, but be very, very sure you actually want it before you sacrifice everything else.


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