THE BLOG

​College Advice from 10 Business Executives and Entrepreneurs

02/17/2015 12:48 am ET | Updated Apr 18, 2015

One of the quickest and surest ways to success is to skip the trial and error process (or at least minimize it) and learn from those who have already "made it." I had the privilege of collecting college advice from 10 incredibly successful business executives, leaders, and entrepreneurs to create a practical guide so students can spend less time trying to find their way and more time effectively and diligently pursuing their goals. Here's what they had to say.

Prioritize internships and gaining real world experience because although good grades are important, they won't differentiate you. As you consider different roles, keep in mind that working for a well-known firm is no substitute for positions with high responsibility. Although there can be value in name recognition, the real muscle on a resume is the skills one has acquired and the results one has delivered. Build relationships with a few teachers or professionals in your field of interest and don't be afraid to invite them for coffee or lunch. This is not only an important part of learning how to network, but can also help you develop the important "soft skills" that tend to be learned more in casual or real-time settings than in the classroom.
- Kemp Otto, Vice President of Wells Fargo

Have fun but also learn to work. Many times you'll need to tune out distractions and focus solely on the task at hand. Learning to sell yourself and ideas is also important and can be done through books, online videos, and most importantly... experience. Don't procrastinate - the self-discipline you'll develop because of it is invaluable. No matter what stage of life you're in, always remember to give something back to your community and those around you.
- Nick Nanton, 3-Time Emmy Award Winning Director and CEO of Celebrity Branding Agency

Learn to be likable. Sometimes in business (especially early on in your career) it's better to be nice than to be smart. Your intellect will only get you so far, but the relationships you build for yourself will take you anywhere that you want to go.
- Ryan Paugh, Co-Founder and COO of YEC

Work internships even if they're not paid. The connections and professional experience you'll gain because of them will greatly help as you begin your career. Write down daily, reachable goals so you feel like you're making progress and are motivated to continue. Read, watch videos, and learn as much as you can from those who have already achieved success. Keep in mind that you don't necessarily need a perfect 4.0 GPA to get a good job and have a successful career. It's important to have good enough grades (3.25 and above) to initially be considered for a position but beyond that, employers look mostly at your real world experience and how relevant it is to what you're applying for.
- Cameron Johnson, President at Magic City Ford Lincoln, International Best-Selling Author, and Serial Entrepreneur

Be very careful of who you spend time with. The people you surround yourself with are who you become and are crucial to your growth.
- Randy Rayess, Co-Founder of VenturePact

Learn to use a schedule and prioritize work items so your day is organized and you don't get sidetracked with distractions. Every aspect of someone is considered when getting a job so in addition to having relevant experience, learn to be articulate and personable. Visual presentation is also important and college is a great time to experiment with different clothing and hairstyles so by the time you enter the workforce, you have a strong overall impression. Develop a relationship with God because having a strong faith will help you get through difficult times and the morals and integrity you'll develop because of it will benefit all aspects of your life. Having fun is important but schedule it in and set and stick to limits so you don't get carried away.
- William Ntim, President and CEO of Young Houston Magazine

Write down what you love to do then figure out ways to make a living at it. Develop a plan to get there, join an organization within that field to deepen your understanding of it, and get the education and gain the skills necessary to succeed in it.
- Rex Ciavola, CEO of Qzina Specialty Foods

Read a book other than your textbooks at least once a month. Continual learning outside of school is very important and will help differentiate and advance you in your career. Realize that learning is a process. If you make mistakes, which we all do, make the best of them and keep moving forwards. Planning is good but trust your instincts -- you can't plan everything. Be kind to everyone as you progress through life. A good deed is never forgotten.
- Richard Yules, MD, New World Angels Investor

Do your best to stay out of debt, even if it means taking a year or two off and working. It's very difficult to develop proper habits and pursue your financial goals when you have tens of thousands of dollars in loans to pay off right from the start.
- Anthony Ford, National Best-Selling Author, CEO of My Investment Deals

Pick a subject you enjoy and one that you may become passionate about at some point in your education. You may not know what it is, but keep your eyes open. Study hard but lead a balanced life. All work and no play will burn you out before your time. Regular exercise is a must. Establish a routine and stick by it. Avoid too much alcohol and stay off the cannabis even if it is legal in some states. Young minds will not develop under those conditions. Develop a spiritual relationship with God by joining a church group. There will be times when you really need it. Eat right and take care of yourself. Your health is everything and as you get older, you'll be glad you were careful. Enjoy life. You're only going to live once. Don't sweat the small stuff and realize most things are small.
- Stan Marek, CEO of Marek Construction Inc.