College kids are often bombarded with all sorts of advice.
Most of it’s well-meaning. Some of it’s pretty bad.
Either way, the platitudes sometimes seem to crowd out the of advice that college students probably don’t hear enough.
To get some of that insight, Business Insider spoke with a number of career experts and business execs.
Here are the great pieces of advice that college students rarely hear:
Be smart about your internet presence
The words “personal brand” might sound a bit intense to many college students. After all, you’re just an undergrad. Why worry about that? But in this digital age, cultivating an online presence is more important than ever.
That means you should avoid posting stupid stuff that could scare off potential employers or even wreck your life. It also means being proactive and establishing a professional presence early in your career.
“A common misconception among millennials is that you only need a personal brand when you are in desperate need of a job,” Tai Tran, a former Apple content lead who made Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list, authored the upcoming book “Zero to Infinity,” and spoke at TEDx on personal branding, tells Business Insider. “By that time, it is too late.”
“Having a personal brand is less about helping you land a job today, but more about setting you up for discovery and be top of mind with interesting people, including potential mentors, investors, and employers,” Tran says.
Learn how to negotiate now
“Negotiation goes both ways,” Marina Konchak, director of HR for education and child development company The Learning Experience, tells Business Insider. “You never get what you don’t ask for. Know that negotiation is always an option.”
She recommends that college students get used to checking compensation data, even for roles like side jobs and summer internships.
It’s a good idea to build up your negotiation prowess early on, so you’re not blind-sided after graduation.
Take a finance class or two
At many colleges, students are encouraged to branch out in their coursework and explore academic pursuits beyond their focus or major.
However, now’s the time to explore certain courses that won’t necessarily be available to you post-college. That means looking into subjects like computer science, finance, and accounting.
“Take at least one accounting and finance class,” Kevin LaVelle, founder of menswear brand Mizzen+Main, tells Business Insider. “Yes, it’s boring; but it’s also the language of business.”
“Even if you never do accounting again, take advantage of the opportunity to have experts teach you how to read financials statements so you are a better employee, team member, boss, or entrepreneur,” LaVelle says. “Not only will these classes help you in your career, but they will give you a roadmap for your personal life post-college as well.”
Stick with things
“You know that life’s too short to do work that you don’t enjoy,” Tien Tzuo, CEO and founder of financial service startup Zuora, tells Business Insider. “Having grown up with so much choice, you’re used to trying this and trying that.”
But, even though college is all about trying on different hats, don’t toss away good opportunities just for the sake of novelty-seeking. Consider your reasons for moving from different activities or opportunities before you pull the trigger.
Don’t apply to a ton of internships
If you’re trying to hit a target on a dart board, you’re better off throwing a handful of darts, instead of just one, right? That way, you’ll have more opportunities to succeed.
Well, not really. Holding onto all those darts might just make your throw awkward and your aim less accurate. You’d actually just be better off doing things properly and throw just one, well-aimed dart.
The same mentality goes for internship and part-time job applications.
“Don’t just spray and pray when applying to jobs — put in the extra work or go outside of your comfort zone to get noticed,” Eyal Grayevsky, CEO and co-founder of AI recruiting startup Mya Systems, Inc, tells Business Insider. “Do something bold to separate you from the pack, like cold calling the hiring manager or sending a personal note to the recruiter.”
Do some extra reading
Most college students are so swamped with assignments and reading that adding a few books to the pile sounds pretty awful.
But putting away one extra title a month is a great way of expanding your knowledge and your world — even beyond the classes you’re enrolled in.
“It will help expand your horizons and help you achieve more down the road,” Eric Yuan, CEO and founder of web conference service Zoom, tells Business Insider.
Start thinking about your finances
It’s never too early to start thinking about your finances.
“Young savers are often lower earners, since they are generally only working part time during the school year or a paid internship over the summer,” Kelly Lannan, financial service company Fidelity‘s director of women and young investors, tells Business Insider. “While you qualify, open a Roth IRA and put some of your summer earnings into a tax advantaged account that will grow tax-free throughout your whole career.”
You’ll have to pay taxes on the income, but you’ll likely be in a low tax bracket. When you start thinking about retirement, you’ll have a sizeable nest egg, thanks to tax-free compound growth.”
That also means learning how to file your taxes.
“It’s not something that most college students think about, but the more equipped you are with this piece of knowledge as you enter the workplace the better,” Matt Scanlan, founder and CEO of retail company Naadam Cashmere, tells Business Insider. “There are so many great tools that allow you do file taxes on your own. Learn what you can deduct for and what you can’t — it will make all the difference and likely lead you to a nice refund check come April.”
Lastly, don’t take out unnecessary loans in college.
“Live modestly,” Miko Branch, CEO and co-founder of haircare brand Miss Jessie’s, tells Business Insider. “Borrowers now leave school owing on average about $34,000. That’s more money than most first year salaries in many industries. Rough it. You’ll thank yourself later.”
Call your parents more
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Whether you’ve moved an ocean away or are living at home and commuting to your campus, college definitely changes your relationship with your parents.
That means it’s time to focus on those transitioning relationships.
“Believe me when I say that you’re actually going become friends with your parents,” Scanlan says. “Take the time that you are in school to begin building that adult child-parent relationship — they will be your best resources, biggest fans, and always provide an ear for when you need to vent.”
Don’t let well-meaning people get in the way of your interests
It’s a great idea to gain work experience in college through part-time jobs, volunteering gigs, or internships. Trying out work opportunities that you’re entirely sure about is also a good strategy — you’ll never know what you’ll come to love.
But don’t let external forces push you into gigs that you’re truly not interested in. Your family, friends, and mentor may think they’re being helpful, but you’ll just end up wasting time that you could have spent discovering what you truly want to do.
“Don’t put yourself in a box and settle for something you may have previously enjoyed,” Alex Pollak, CEO and founder of medical service startup Paradocs, tells Business Insider. “As you get older, your interests and values may change, and it’s never too late to make a switch.”
Most of all, college should be a time to try out different options.
“The choices I made early in building my career felt monumental at the time — as if there was a risk I put myself on the ‘wrong’ path,” Nidhi Kapur, founder and CEO of furniture startup Maiden Home, tells Business Insider. “The reality is your best professional life will be a winding path, shaped by your personal passions and interests.”
Realize that mentorship isn’t everything
“Most people look for the most influential, highly-placed execs to help them learn and grow,” Maureen Chiquet, author of “Beyond the Label: Women, Leadership, and Success on Our Own Terms, tells Business Insider. “They want advice, tips, and tricks for advancing in their careers.”
But it’s unreasonable to expect your mentor to act as your fairy job-mother — or father.
“The most important quality to look for in a mentor is not their ability to solve your problems or give you direction but to ask you questions, share their own stories, and provide a mirror in which you can see yourself,” Chiquet says.
Get your ego — or lack thereof — under control
For many college students, self-confidence comes in fits and starts.
“Regulate your ego so you’re not constantly vacillating between ‘I am garbage’ and ‘I am God,'” Jennifer Romolini, author of “Weird in a World That’s Not: A Career Guide for Misfits, F—ups, and Failures, tells Business Insider.” “You’re in the middle somewhere — we all are. Even Kanye.”
If you feel ham-stringed by self-doubt, try to adopt a mentality of acting on your goals, instead of dwelling upon them. The more you put yourself out there and take risks, the less scary it will be.
“Have a bias toward action as opposed to the tendency to keep your head up, always looking for the next step,” Frank Bien, CEO of software firm Looker, tells Business Insider.
Most of all, just go easy on yourself and try to enjoy your time in school.
Learn the rules — and then bend them
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In a formal, structured setting like college, it can be easy to fall into the mindset that always playing by the rules will get you ahead.
If you put in some hours on the library studying, you will ace a test and receive excellent grades. If you try to flaunt the system and wing the exam after attending a frat party the night before, your chances of success are far more precarious.
But the world outside of college doesn’t always reward rule-followers.
“Learn the rules to bend them,” Chiquet says.
Need some inspiration? Start listening to jazz.
“Great jazz musicians master the music, the instruments, and techniques to play with absolute perfection, but the real magic only comes when they improvise — subverting and pushing up against those musical forms,” Chiquet says.
Remember that intelligence doesn’t matter as much as you think it does
“Most college students — perhaps because they are mostly judged based on tests or papers — think that if they have a strong IQ, that the world is their oyster,” Dheeraj Pandey, founder and CEO of software company Nutanix, tells Business Insider. “And it is true that a great IQ can open a lot of doors.”
However, smarts aren’t everything.
“As you advance in your career, it becomes more and more important for you to not just open doors yourself, but to develop a team that can help you not just open doors, but break through barriers,” Pandey says.
So definitely spend your undergraduate years beefing up your brain, but don’t neglect your emotional intelligence.
Make some time to freelance
College is a busy time. Between your studies and your extra-curricular activities and your personal life — not to mention the occasional kegger — there’s often not much time left over for extra work.
But Lannan says that freelancing can offer you an excellent opportunity to build your résumé and your savings in college.
“Whether you are majoring in computer science or graphic design, a side hustle may be for you,” Lannan says. “Freelancing can help bolster your professional skills and build a network, leaving you in good shape for the inevitable post-college job hunt.”
Connect with your professors
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Professors aren’t just there to hand out grades. They can be valuable additions to your network, too.
“Some of your professors in college have worked in the industries they’re teaching about, especially if you’re at a trade school,” Gina Argento, CEO and president of production company Broadway Stages, tells Business Insider. “Therefore maintaining a relationship with them can be incredibly beneficial when you’re entering the workforce. Professors can help connect you to companies, be used as referrals, and always give great advice.”