“I don’t know what I wanna do.”

An open letter to business students part II

Photo from Chris Davis

I don’t know what I wanna do. There is no maxim more frequently uttered or heard by students. The kicker is it’s from a lack of effort, not a lack of opportunity.

The logic boils down to “I don’t know what’s out there.” We all have talents, aspirations, favourite things and activities. Of course we know what we want in an ideal sense. Many of us just don’t have a bearing on how this manifests into an actual job — especially at a junior level.

Fortunately we have unrivalled access to empowering tools, communities and knowledge that reveal such dream jobs and bring them within reach.

The bad news is some of us don’t capitalize on this, despite the vast sum of free resources hiding little more than a swipe away. It’s unfortunate that helpful career capital goes untapped from imprudence. If we hope to find those meaningful, challenging and rewarding jobs, I think it’s important we act tremendously curious and resourceful as we navigate our early careers.

This was written to share some tools and tips that have been particularly helpful as I navigate mine. I’ll quickly preface these resources with three misguided decisions that plague student job searches:

1. Using a university job-board as the go-to source

Yes, it’s the easiest option. But when we’re confronted with sub-par (even belittling) internship postings on our job portal, it should cue a desire to look elsewhere:

❓🙈 ❓ 🙈 ❓ 🙈 ❓ 🙈 ❓

If we let university job-boards dictate our threshold of acceptable internships, expectations become disproportionately low. These job boards also foster awkward and unnecessary competition between classmates, and are encumbered with their own set of rules and limitations. I understand the temptation to reap low-bearing fruit early in one’s career, but at some point we’ve got to wake up. Look elsewhere first, please. 😇

2. Expecting to be hand-held

Our classmates like to complain that the program didn’t assist enough with their job search. I acknowledge that business school should act as a support hub bridging academia and industry. But to use this as a crutch and an excuse for lacklustre internships feels awfully lazy. IMO expecting university support staff to find our internship for us is like asking one’s wife to find a mistress for a hall-pass hookup: The opportunity alone is lucky, let alone expecting it served on a platter.

3. Not respecting the opportunity

By virtue of participating in a co-op or internship program, we’re afforded the luxury of absorbing a company’s time, resources — and proprietary assets — with no obligation to stay, and no repercussions leaving after the contract. My program in particular mandates we do this three times. Imagine how poorly it will reflect on us to bounce around jobs every four months in the real world! This is a special opportunity, and few of our classmates appreciate it.


Coles Notes Career Resources

Career curiosity

Project work

  • Tip: “I built this as a side project” is captivating to an employer. Sleepy three hour lectures have a huge opportunity cost — do, write or make something instead. If you need help getting started, try a contracted gig with Riipen or Freelanship
  • Teach yourself super-basic design skills with Canva
  • Consider a templated resume — Dribbble, Pinterest and Envato have beautiful and functional designs. Mine cost seven bucks, and the end result was well-worth the frustration spent tweaking it
  • Tip: Make a skill cloud. This is not a fluffy document; it’s a concrete, ambitious contract of skills and capabilities you want to learn. Put them in writing and hold yourself accountable — these are mine:
Known-unknowns are a need to have, not a nice to have

Mentorship

We owe it to our careers and the work we do to surround ourselves with people who challenge us and take us to the next level. Seek out your school’s mentorship program or nurture an outside relationship.

Tip: Older mentors have advice without ego; they selflessly give up their network, fellowship, feedback or patronage. It may be easier to find common ground with a more junior mentor, but they can sometimes forego advice out of vain

Networking

  • Join some industry Slack channels using chitchats. Throw yourself out there and make some friends:
If you don’t know what Slack is at this point… smh
  • Get LinkedIn (did COM class not teach you anything?)
  • Tip: Definitely unsubscribe from their mailing lists 🚫🙅
  • Blazers and beer are fun: Attend pitch-events, open houses, speaker series and Creative Jams/meetups
  • Hang out at your local co-working space. It can be a really encouraging environment, not to mention great wifi and sometimes free coffee ☕️
  • Tip: Subject lines like Student seeking industry insights/career connections are nice ice-breakers. Provided you further the discourse with smart questions and personality, people are happy to talk about themselves, share resources and forward you to others
  • Tip: Startups rarely post internship openings. But what does that matter? Cold-pitch your capabilities to the Founder with a well-worded email. It may not be advertised, but junior talent is warmly welcomed. This method also skips application formalities 🎉
  • Tip: Writing cover letters and filling stock forms suck. Build relationships instead 👬

Twitter

Yes, Twitter gets its own section.

As the open cocktail party of the internet, Twitter is where everyone in tech, startups, marketing, design and development mingle. It be-fucking-wilders me how few of our classmates recognize or care about this.

Participating in a relevant (sometimes career altering) discourse has never been so fun or easy. With Twitter you can get to anybody and there’s a sum percentage chance they’ll want to engage back. I directly attribute most of my business connections, opportunities and acumen to Twitter.

Join the freakin’ party, please.

Tip: Twitter and Pocket make a mean combo 🍔🍟

Tip: As of recently, you can private message anyone. This is straight up networking heaven

Dare: Create a big, smart and specific list of industry practitioners with the same list name as the aforementioned email subject line. It’ll get a chuckle — and if the list is immaculately well curated — might spark a relationship


Career curiosity should be a regular habit and its own reward

Curiosity and resourcefulness are undeniable proxies to early business opportunities, and I think we’ll be aptly rewarded the more we exercise them.

It follows that we must not allow uninspired job boards or conventional business school moulds to set a precedent for our early career expectations. Antiquated truisms from Luddite professors do not reflect today’s business environment, and the more complicit we are, the less we will take risks and explore off the beaten path.

Theoretical classroom fodder does not help our early career. Purposeful, focused, extra-curricular curiosity does. I encourage us all to spend more time exploring professional endeavours. 🚀💼 Powerful digital tools and free, accessible knowledge make it easier and more effective than ever. And benefiting from these resources is genuinely fun! As Seth Godin aptly puts it: “It’s your career. You’re gonna do it for 70 more years, but the next three are going to matter a lot”.