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11 Tips That Will Change the Way You Think About Grad School

Posted: 09/18/2012 6:02 pm

We're only a few weeks away from student orientations at most graduate schools.

You might have some preconceived notions about what your experience in graduate school will be like. But once you're living it, the view completely changes. And I think you'll find grad school to be a spiritual journey as much as a professional one.

As someone who spent two years in grad school only to finish without a job prospect in sight, here are 11 tips I've learned to get the most out of your graduate school experience:

1. Your resume is useless

This might come as a surprise, but your resume is the most useless tool in your job search arsenal. It's quickly becoming obsolete. Considering thousands of resumes are submitted for any one position, it's close to impossible to stand out based on that document alone.

To add to that, your resume is nothing but a bunch of bullet points on a page. It's not tangible evidence of any of the skills you claim you have. Ultimately, your resume will never get you your dream job. A blog, a portfolio of work, a network of contacts will have a significantly bigger impact on your ability to land work.

2. Don't get caught up in the ego-driven pursuit of a life that looks good on paper

Most of the choices I've made throughout the my career have been a byproduct of my ego. I used to choose jobs that would look good on my resume. That meant the biggest brand or most impressive job title.

The result was a deeply unfulfilling career, which is absolutely no one's big dream. Give some thought to WHY you want the job you do, and make sure you're not caught up in the ego-driven pursuit of a life that looks good on paper.

3. Your grades don't matter that much

Nobody (other than you and maybe your parents) really cares about your grades as long as you do relatively well. Most hiring managers certainly don't care about specific grades. Straight As won't give you much more than bragging rights and cocktail party conversation.

Why? Because good grades don't show that you know how to do anything. Real experience shows that.

4. Your degree won't get you a job

When I started my MBA, I thought that simply having the degree would open up a world of job opportunities.

Upon graduation, I got a rude awakening. The degree itself didn't open doors to a job for me --and it won't for you, either. It's all about what you do with the degree and what you do with your time during graduate school, not the piece of paper you get when you leave.

5. Take responsibility for your career

The entire time I was in school, I complained that the career office wasn't helping me with my job search. What I realize looking back is it was up to me to take responsibility for my career.

Putting your career in the hands of somebody else will severely limit your options. If you want to pursue a certain career path, then make it your mission to find the BEST resources about that career. Often that won't be the career office -- it will be real people working real jobs in the real world.

6. Build relationships

You can do nothing more valuable with your time in graduate school than building relationships. I hate the word "networking" because it sounds like feigning interest in somebody so you can get something out of them. Instead, be genuine in your efforts to connect with people.

As a student, you have the ultimate trump card: the informational interview. If you start conducting informational interviews at the beginning of your time in graduate school, you'll already know people when it's time to graduate. Those interactions will also give you an eye-opening look into your career choice. I thought I wanted to work in the entertainment industry. Two informational interviews changed that. You might be surprised by what you find.

7. Read smart books by smart people

These books will cost less than one of your textbooks and you'll likely get far more out of them:

  • The Education of Millionaires
  • Linchphin
  • The Art of Non-Conformity
  • The $100 Startup
  • Tribes
  • Outliers

These books will give you a glimpse into career paths you may not have considered, ones that might be far more appealing than what you had in mind. Use them to set a higher standard for yourself than a better job and a higher paycheck. Use them to help you find a career you actually enjoy.

8. You're a brand, whether you like it or not

So, what do you do if your resume is useless? You build a personal brand. Social media offers you a way to showcase your most unique and interesting qualities. Wouldn't you rather get hired for who you are than for the bullets on your resume?

9. Start something, build something, create something

Not only will this be deeply fulfilling and satisfy your need for self-actualization; it will also give you an opportunity to create a tangible asset that showcases the skills you have on your resume.

Start a blog, non-profit, student organization or anything else you think might be interesting. As a student, you have one of the most valuable assets in the world: TIME. What you do outside the classroom matters just as much as what you do inside the classroom. Give yourself an education that kicks the crap out of the one you're getting in school.

One of my friends at Columbia planted the seeds for a venture lab that will open up an insane amount of doors for her career. This is how you stand out in a world where there are so many distractions and so much noise.

10. Ditch the script

Whether you realize it or not, you've likely been living your life according to a script. That script is the byproduct of a system that tells you to follow a formula:

  • Go to school.
  • Get a job.
  • Go back to school.
  • Get a better job.

If an economic meltdown has taught us anything, it's that the system is broken and the formula no longer works. The bad news is that this is not going to change. We've entered a forever recession. The good news is that you now have an opportunity be the author of your own life.

11. Be flexible

Adaptability is one of the most important skills you can develop for your career. By the time you graduate, plenty will have changed. New products, technologies and companies will disrupt the world as you know it, creating opportunities that might not exist today. That's a good thing. But if you fight it and don't adapt, you'll become a victim of it rather than a beneficiary.

Don't just show up to class, do the required reading and get good grades. When you do that, you're robbing yourself of the opportunities at your disposal.

For the price you're paying for your education, don't you owe it to yourself to walk away with more than a piece of paper that hangs on the wall in a nice frame at your parent's house?

Srinivas Rao is the host and co-founder of BlogcastFM and the author of The Skool of Life, where he writes about things you should have learned in school but never did. Sign up for his free newsletter on the 7 Most Important Things You Never Learned in School. Brazen Life is a lifestyle and career blog for ambitious young professionals. Hosted by Brazen Careerist, we offer edgy and fun ideas for navigating the changing world of work -- this isn't your parents' career-advice blog. Be Brazen.

 
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