Are you worried about graduation day? Are you working hard in school so you can ignore the fact that you have no idea what to do when you take off the graduation cap?
So was I.
In fact, I was so worried about not getting a job as a freshman, that even though I was already swimming competitively 20 hours a week and going to school full time, I still applied and worked an unpaid internship.
Fast forward 5 years later to my last year in university.
The CEO slid two offers across the table: one to renew my part-time contract for another 4 months and another for a full-time permanent position for my dream job when I graduated.
In this article, I’ll teach you the 6 steps you need to take so that you can have your dream job when you graduate, too.
I’ll also cover the 6 qualities you need to develop to support those steps so you can succeed in the real world.
Let’s dive in.
Step #1: Face Your Reality
Before you can pick a destination to travel to, you need to have a clear picture of where you’ll travel from.
Maybe you’re in a liberal arts program and your career opportunities are less defined than say, someone who has a business degree. You’ll need to give yourself more time to figure out and lock in those opportunities.
Maybe you’re really good at networking, but don’t have any functional skills to offer to your new contacts. Give yourself a few months to a year to try out different interests and find something you would want to become an expert in.
- What do I want my future to look like?
- What do I have to work with? What are my strengths?
- What’s standing in my way? What are my weaknesses?
This requires self-awareness and honesty. You need to look in the metaphorical mirror and assess your current situation, even though it might be hard to look. To do that you need…
Quality #1: Hyperrealism
When you summon up the courage and force yourself to face reality again and again, you develop the quality of hyperrealism or brutal honesty — a trait that billionaire Ray Dalio highlights in his book Principles.
He built one of the biggest investment funds in the world, but to succeed in doing that, he had to stare reality in the face time and time again, whether that was a rising or falling stock market.
He couldn’t just ignore and sweep facts under the rug because he was scared. His success depended on him accepting reality and dealing with it.
You may not run a multi-billion dollar hedge fund and have hundreds of employees. But your personal success depends on your ability to be brutally honest about your situation, your strengths, and your weaknesses and to do something about them.
Step #2: Have a General Direction (But Start ASAP)
The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The next best time is today. — Chinese proverb
Once you’ve faced reality and taken stock of who you are and where you are, you should start executing on your plan right away.
If you start early enough, you will have enough time and room to course-correct when you make mistakes.
For example, for my first job, I started asking professionals out for coffee 3 months before summer applications even opened. Starting early gave me the time to really dig into which jobs and companies I wanted to work for.
If a professional talked about their job and it turned out to be more boring than I thought, I didn’t have to waste time applying or working an entire summer for that company. I could just reach out to a professional in a different industry and learn more about that.
To get my dream job I did something similar: I applied and started working part-time for my dream company a good 7 months before I graduated.
Quality #2: Daily Urgency and Long-Term Patience
We get overwhelmed because we tend to overestimate how much we can get done in a day, while underestimating how much we can get done in a year.
I stole this line from Gary V, who calls this concept “macro patience and micro speed”:
The idea is that once you start working towards your goals, whether that’s a dream job out of graduation or a spot in a prestigious MBA program, you need to be plug away day in and day out, while never taking your eyes off the prize.
While I was applying for my first job, even after doing 10-15 coffee chats and making countless connections, I still got rejected from companies. Fortunately, when you rack up a dozen coffee chats, the useful ones tend to outnumber the ones that go nowhere.
For me, one of those coffee chats turned into a phone call with the recruiter for a bank. And that phone call turned into the recruiter fast-tracking my application and landing me an interview before the job application deadline even ended.
Step #3: Build Multiple Safety Nets
You can only learn from the mistakes you survive. — Jim Collins, Great by Choice
Contrary to popular belief, entrepreneurs are not bigger risk-takers. They just perceive risk differently. They also work to avoid and minimize as many risks as they can.
Similarly, I had a trump card that effectively removed the risk that the interview posed: I wasn’t afraid of losing the job because I had other options and side hustles.
For one, I knew that I could always interview for another company if this didn’t work out. By this time, I’d built up a resume that spanned 2-3 industries in every size of company, from small startups to Fortune 500 firms. I also had my blog and freelance writing on the side, so if I didn’t get a job after graduation, I could always do those.
This allowed me to relax, talk freely, and treat the interview as a meet-and-greet with my future boss. In fact, I told him about my side hustles, too, because I wanted to be honest and lay all my cards on the table.
And the reason I had all these safety nets in place was because I (unknowingly) practiced…
Quality #3: Productive Paranoia
I picked up this principle from Jim Collins’ book Great by Choice. In it, he talks about the concept of “productive paranoia.” Productive paranoia means identifying and dealing with the What If’s in a situation and being more than prepared should those What If’s happen:
- What if you’re planning on getting a 6-figure job after you graduate to pay off your debt, but the job market crashes?
- What if you spend so much that you only have less than $5,000 in your bank account at any given time… And then you suddenly need to pay for car expenses? (Based on a true story)
- What if AI got so good that companies stopped hiring engineers? (Hey, it could happen.)
I’m not saying you should be like your mom and worry all the time (love you, mom!).
Instead, you should let yourself worry and go do something about your fears in case they do happen.
Step #4: Learn to Network Your Way
Your network is your net worth. — Porter Gale
Building a professional network is the best safety net you can have. Talking to professionals in the field will help you know which hard skills to develop, help you hone and showcase your soft skills, and maybe even get you a job (but don’t ask for it directly! There are more finessed ways of doing this).
When I talk about building one your way, I mean meeting people professionally in a way that suits your personality.
Maybe it’s coffee meetings. Maybe it’s networking events. Maybe it’s signing up for a service like TenThousandCoffees.com
Learn what works best for you and do that because if you do what everyone else is doing, you won’t develop…
Quality #4: Charisma
These days I can meet almost anyone and instantly get them nodding, smiling, and laughing.
But I wasn’t always that way. I had to learn it.
In Olivia Fox Cabane’s book The Charisma Myth, she highlights the three elements of charisma:
- Presence – Being mentally and emotionally present in the situation
- Power – Being someone who can help the other person
- Warmth – Being someone who is willing to help the other person
Imagine walking into an interview and exhibiting these three things. You’re mentally in the game, and can deftly and honestly answer whatever questions the interviewer lobs at you. You also have an air of quiet confidence and geniality that makes the interviewer trust you can do the job.
These invisible competence triggers carry more weight in an interview than an Ivy League degree.
Step #5: Develop Technical Skills
I’m a fan of following interests, but not of following your passion.
Let me explain.
“Passion” means you’re diving deep into something you’ve done for a while and that you’re certain you love it.
If you’re not sure if you’re passionate about something, you’re either not passionate about it or you haven’t stuck with it long enough to get good at it.
If you don’t know that your passion is, chances are it’s because you haven’t explored enough interests.
Since you’re still in school, you have the time and space to try lots of different things without hurting yourself irreparably (unless those “things” include trying out for the X-Games, that is). Here’s a list of the interests I pursued in the quest to find my passion:
- Content marketing
- Social skills
- Growth marketing
- Freelance copywriting
- Personal development
- Game design
And to figure out which skills you need, you have to…
Quality #5: Zoom Out, Zoom In
Learn to zoom out to get a lay of the land, then zoom in, figure out your next steps, and get to work.
This quality is especially important if you feel anxious about the future. Getting out of your brain and into your body and work is the way to stop feeling like this.
Zoom out by consuming and learning first, whether it’s through course platforms like Skillshare and CreativeLive, books, or podcasts. You have to develop taste if you want to get into a specific medium or platform.
Afterwards, zoom in and start making stuff — write, paint, draw, record, shoot.
One thing I learned from competitive sports is that…
Practice begets confidence.
With landing jobs, or anything you want to feel confident about, the only way to stop feeling anxious is to do something about it.
Step #6: Have Projects to Showcase
Whether those projects you make succeed or fail, they’re fodder for life lessons and interview responses.
For example, one summer, I started a dropshipping store selling Pokemon GO merchandise right before Nintendo dropped the game.
I made 7 sales within the first hour of starting the store after I posted about it on Reddit. But I got some pushback from cynics in the forum about expensive prices and encountered some fulfillment issues with the Chinese supplier I found.
It was a failure (and I lost $400), but it was something I told the CEO at the interview for the company I’d eventually work for. He appreciated that I actually went out and tried things on the eCommerce platform he was on.
Fortunately, you don’t have to sink $400 into a project like I did. You can start taking photos and posting them on Instagram. Maybe join a challenge to help you get better and get inspired by other people’s work, like Peter McKinnon’s #pmgridchallenge. You can start a podcast and interview professionals you look up to for your coffee meetings.
Quality #6: Empirical Creativity
Another quality of successful CEOs that Jim Collins talks about in Great by Choice is empirical creativity. It’s not enough to take bold risks. They have to be based on data.
He uses the illustration of how naval warships would first shoot bullets, calibrate them, and get closer to the mark, before firing off a cannonball.
With your projects and pursuing your interests, you can start with small tests first. For example, if you want to experiment with photography, don’t spring for a DSLR camera right away.
Start by taking photos with your phone and see if you enjoy the process. Once you’ve consistently posted photos from your phone and you want to take your new interest further, then you can start looking at upgrading your equipment.
This approach allows you to dabble in a lot of different areas without breaking the bank or going too deep, too soon.
What Do You Do If You’re Missing One or All of These Things?
Just get as many as you can in whatever time you have.
By comparison, it took me 5 years to get all 6 elements and qualities into my system (I was in a 5-year program).
- In first year, I worked my first unpaid internship.
- In second year, I networked into my first real job and started my blog.
- In third year, I started freelance writing because I didn’t like the corporate job options I had.
- In fourth year, I did my Shopify store experiment.
- Then in my 5th year, I walked into the job interview with an enviable resume, a lot of career options aside from a 9-to-5, a few dozen articles in my blog, and a story about starting and failing an eCommerce store.
You might not have the luxury of that much time. But remember Qualities #1 and #2? Face your reality now. And then do something about it.
The best time to start was yesterday. The next best time is today.
Image Credits: featured