Required topics for the college experience
Last week, we posted on the topic of how gaining specific skills during the college experience can impact a corporate career. There are a lot of pros and cons to the college experience. The cost of an education these days is astronomical and I often wonder how parents and young people manage. In my position, I see a lot of young people struggle to land a job after college that will leverage their hard-earned and expensive degree.
Last weeks post provided business reasons why I believe that effective public speaking is so important to the corporate career. Not only does the ability to speak in front of others help you with your job interview (think panel interviews and stressful presentations) but it will also put your career on a completely different trajectory. Effective public speaking will separate you from the group that doesn’t like to speak publicly OR doesn’t want to speak publicly. If you have a reputation for being an effective public speaker, the opportunity will come.
This week, I am going to write about 4 more topics that I think are critical to a career in the new economy.
A few years ago, I posted a blog for candidates who are veterans to help these candidates overcome military stereotypes while trying to enter the job market. My father-in-law was a Colonel in the US Army so I asked him to proofread the post before I shared it publicly. My intent was to receive counsel on the content. My goal was to make sure that I wasn’t offending anyone in the military or misrepresenting this demographic. Well, I hit the content, but the redlined document I received back reminded me of my grade school days. Corrections in red marker were everywhere. It didn’t help that I had forgotten that my father in law taught English at West Point and served with General Colin Powell. I realized then and there where the terms “mark up” and “redline” in Microsoft Word originated. I am sure that he was wondering who was the illiterate monkey his daughter married as he was grading the paper. I remember saying out loud and in disbelief:
“WTF is a Dangling Participle!”
There is a reason that English is more important than ever and it isn’t to learn about the dangling participle. 20 years ago, we didn’t have email, text, voice to text or the various forms of instant messenger/chat. I would estimate that 80% of my communication is via email and most of my “thought leadership” is provided in some form via written communication. Many of us “chat” with co-workers that sit right next to us.
Make no mistake, I am not recommending an English major if you want a job in corporate America. 30 years ago, an English major could land just about any entry-level job. In the year 2014, colleges should ask students to sign an English Major Waiver. This document would acknowledge the fact that the student understands the repercussions of approaching corporate America with an English major in hand. This is similar to the way I look for our employees to sign a waiver acknowledging that we serve alcohol in the workplace. Both waivers have their place and their reasoning, but it is probably going to get ugly and you are probably “going to see some shit go down”, so proceed at your own risk and think about your tolerance for the consequences.
With so much communication done over email, it isn’t just updates and general correspondence anymore. Ideas are only as good as the message delivered. You can have a great idea, but if you aren’t able to articulate yourself, you might as well be mute. Effective writers can type their message once and be done with it. Others need multiple drafts and yet others should have their fingers removed. Polished writing has it place in corporate America and poor grammar will give you unwanted visibility.
Both for-profit and non-profit companies need to hit a bottom line and answer to a Board of Directors. If we don’t know where we are financially, what’s the point of the business? After the crash of 1999 and 2008, we should ALL know how to read a financial statement. We should all have some sense of which direction the companies that write our paychecks are going. This is a stretch, but if we understood basic accounting principles we might not have so much credit card debt and mortgages we couldn’t afford.
There is nothing more impressive than an employee that is deep in their discipline AND understands the business. Individual contributors understand their discipline. Sr. managers and execs have mastered their discipline and understand the business. They are able to see the big picture and will only be given a budget if they know how to manage one.
All candidates understand Microsoft Office, PowerPoint, and Word. When I ask about Excel, the usual response is “Yes, I know Excel”. When I follow-up with “What can you do in Excel?” the usual response is “Lists, sorting and basic functions, yes I know Excel”.
If I could go back in time and buy a bunch of Google stock I would. Since I can’t, I will think about the next best thing. If I could go back to school and do it all over, I would focus on Excel or some database skill-set. The cost of electronic storage has changed the game around how much we care about data. Recent innovations in the field of Big Data have raised the bar on how companies and managers view analytics. I don’t expect a recent graduate to understand Tableau or MySQL, but pivot tables, joins, sorts and advanced equations will put a recent graduate on the map.
This is my Achilles heel and I continue to take classes to improve this skill set. Had I paid more attention in class, I might have saved myself a lot of heartaches.
Next week, I reveal what I believe to be the MOST important class to take in college to land a job.
See you at the after party,