Whiting column: Graduating this year’s class responsibly, part 1
It’s graduation time again. For those graduating, it’s a combination of achievement, anticipation and apprehension. For the rest of us, it’s an annual period of reflection, re-evaluation and refocus.
Graduates, you will soon be on your own in a career-level position. Whether it be in a month, four years or more, the time will come when you will be working for a living, supporting yourself, necessitating financial independence.
More accurately, it’s financial dependence. Dependence upon yourself — not others, not the government. Even if your parents or Aunt Matilda are rich, responsible adults want to accomplish and achieve on their own. Relying on yourself is the only route to true independence. Think about the people you know. For many, happiness and independence are linked.
During the educational process, family and teachers were telling you what to do, when and how to do it, supplying the push if self-motivation was lacking. The time comes when you don’t want to have great potential, you want to be the person fulfilling their potential. Taking charge will help.
Develop your own career or a job will find you. This means work: while you are being educated and during the summer. Besides generating money, which facilitates saving, avoiding or reducing debt, work experience is the best career reference you can have. In today’s market, a person without significant work experience is basically unemployable or at the very least only employable at a lower level than they would desire. Education means you could do something; experience means you have done it.
Work when it’s inconvenient. Working on weekends, during spring breaks and the summer demonstrates initiative and work ethic to a boss better than anything you say in an interview. Employers will tell you the most difficult characteristic to determine in an interview is work ethic. “Are you a hard worker?” is obviously ineffective. Consequently, employers have upped their game, structuring interviews to help them determine what they need to know without asking the direct question.
“What did you do last spring break?” sounds like an innocuous question. If your response is “I went skiing in Taos,” the employer will go along responding, “That sounds like fun. How was the snow?” Inside, he made note you weren’t working. If your true response had been about working at your usual job and what you did, you can be assured the boss noticed you were working when inconvenient. You demonstrated will power, work ethic and empathy by not asking for a week off. You’re separating and elevating yourself over the competition.
“How did you pay for your education?” Supplementing scholarships and/or parental funding with earned income demonstrates responsibility and work ethic. If scholarships paid it all, they will expect significant earned and saved income.
“College is expensive, you must have considerable debt?” determines the same. Employers don’t expect zero debt, but an excessive amount indicates you didn’t maximize your opportunities.
Education: Get as much as you can in as many different areas as you can. You can’t have too much training or skills. You never know when something you learned could be the key that unlocks a career opportunity or enables you to better meet your employer’s needs.
Make sure education will provide a marketable skill, because that assures your education generates an income. You may enjoy history, philosophy or literature, but realistically historian, philosopher and literary analysis jobs are hard to find. Such areas may be more suitable as a minor or area of concentration than a major and degree. Employers desire well-rounded individuals, but they also want employees that possess the necessary skills. Training you is expensive, doesn’t guarantee competence and at best delays the time before you become productive.
Education in some aspect of business always provides a diverse array of marketable skills and employability options, but that doesn’t mean you have to major in business. A business minor is an employability asset to any degree whether it be engineering, technology, nursing, environment or even back to history, philosophy and literature. Business knowledge will enhance the chance a history major can win the museum director interview.
Don’t overdo online education. Its emergence as a source of additional training has facilitated saving time and adaptation to individual schedules. Employers value the ability to network, communicate and convince person to person since most careers involve others in some capacity. They also value punctuality, appropriate appearance and discipline. Going away to school can demonstrate that in a way an online course cannot.
Take enough economics to understand how the American Economic System functions. You will make better decisions, and your job depends on it regardless of career. An employer wants someone who understands profit and loss; price and costs; supply and demand; someone who understands if the business doesn’t succeed their job is gone. Every career has an economic and business aspect. A nonprofit must seek the greatest value from its limited funds; scientists must convince a board if they are to win a research grant. It’s all economics.
Graduate to independence by being personally responsible. Next week we will continue to graduate.
Bryan Whiting feels most of our issues are best solved by personal responsibility and an understanding of non-partisan economics rather than by government intervention. He recently retired after 40 years of teaching marketing, entrepreneurship and economics. Comments and column suggestions to: email@example.com.