Another school year is about to begin, and I want to help students prepare for their careers. To do this, I’ve compiled a list of what I hope college students will learn before they graduate. The following will make them more valuable to their employers, and ease their transition into the “real world.”
1. How to talk to your boss. In college, you’re supposed to bring problems to your teachers during office hours and share a “kumbaya” experience to come up with a solution. In the real world, you’re supposed to provide solutions to your boss in an email that your boss doesn’t want to read or a five-minute conversation that your boss doesn’t want to hear. In the real world, your role is to provide answers, not questions. Remember: those that can do, do. Those who can’t do, commiserate with others who can’t do.
2. How to survive a meeting that’s poorly run. Unfortunately, it could be a while before you run meetings. Until then, you’ll be a hapless victim of them, so adopt these three practices to survive. First, assume that most of what you’ll hear is pure and petty, and it’s simly part of the game. This will prevent you from going crazy. Second, focus on what you want to accomplish in the meeting and ignore everything else. Once you get what you want, take yourself “out of your body,” sit back, and enjoy the show. Third, vow to yourself that someday when you’re the boss that your meetings won’t work like this.
3. How to run a meeting. Maybe you get lucky and do run meetings soon. Then you need to understand that the primary purpose of a meeting is to make a decision, not to share experiences in order to feel warm and fuzzy. With that in mind, here are five key points to learn:
- Start on time even if everyone isn’t because they will be next time
- Invite the fewest people possible to the meeting
- Set an agenda for exactly what’s going to happen at the meeting
- End on time or in an hour, whichever comes first, so that everyone focuses on the pertinent issues
- Send an email to all participants that confirms decisions reviews action items.
4. How to figure out anything on your own. Armed with Google, PDFs of manuals, and self-reliance, learn how to figure out anything on your own. If you have a question, the odds are very good that someone else had the same question and posted it within Google’s grasp. There are no office hours, no teaching assistants, and study groups in the real world. Actually, the real world can be a long, often lonely independent study, so get used to it.
5. How to negotiate. Don’t believe what you see on reality television shows about negotiation and teamwork. The only method that works in the real world involves five steps:
- Prepare for the negotiation by knowing your facts
- Figure out what you really want
- Figure out what you don’t care about
- Figure out what the other party really wants
- Create a win-win outcome that makes everyone happy
You’ll be CEO in a few years if can master this.
6. How to have a conversation. Generally, “Whassup?” doesn’t work in the real world. Generally, “What do you do?” unleashes a response that leads to a good conversation. If you listen more than you talk, you will (ironically) be considered not only a good conversationalist but also smart. Generally, if you’re clueless, shut up because there’s no reason to let everyone know that you’re clueless.
7. How to explain something in thirty seconds. Unfortunately, many schools don’t have elevators or else students would know how to explain things in a thirty-second elevator pitch. Think mantra (three words), not mission statements (sixty words). This is because time, not money, is the most important commodity, so think ahead, not on your feet. At the end of your thirty-second explanation, there should be an obvious answer to the question, “ So what?” If you can’t explain enough in thirty seconds to incite interest, you’re going to have a long, boring career.
8. How to write a one-page report. I remember struggling to meet the minimum page requirements of reports in college. Double spacing and 14 point Selectric typewriter balls saved me. Then I went out into the real world, and encountered bosses who wanted a one-page report. What the heck? The best reports in the real world are one page or less. (The same thing is true of resumes, but that’s another, more controversial topic for unemployed people who want to list all the .Net classes that they took.)
9. How to write a five-sentence email. Young people have an advantage over old people in this area because old people (like me) were taught to write letters that were printed on paper, signed, stuck in an envelope, and mailed. Writing a short email was a new experience for them. Young people, by contrast, are used to texting. If anything, they’re too skilled on brevity, but it’s easier to teach someone how to write a long message than a short one. Whether UR young or old, the point is that the optimal length of an email message is five sentences: who you are, what you want, why you should get it, and when you need it by.
10. How to get along with co-workers. Success in school is often determined by individual accomplishments: grades, test scores, and projects. Then you go out in the real world and the higher you rise in an organization, the less important your individual accomplishments are. What becomes important is the ability to work with/through/besides and sometimes around others. The most important lesson to learn about co-worker is to share the credit because a rising tide floats all boats.
What about freeloaders? (Those scum of the earth that don’t do anything for the group.) In school you can let them know how you truly feel. You can’t in the real world because bozos have a way of rising to the top of many organizations, and bozos seek revenge. The best solution is to bite your tongue, tolerate them, and try to never have them on the team again, but there’s little upside in criticizing them.
11. How to use PowerPoint. I’ve seen the PowerPoint slides of professors, and OMG they are horrible. This must be their train of thought: “This is a one-hour class, I can cover one slide per minute, so I need sixty slides. I’ve written all this text already in my textbook, so I’ll just copy and paste my twelve-point manuscript into the presentation.” Perhaps the tenure system causes this kind of problem. In the real world, this is no tenure so you need to limit yourself to ten slides, twenty minutes, and a thirty-point font.
12. How to leave a voicemail. Very few people of any age leave good voicemails. The purpose of a voicemail is to make progress towards getting what you want. A long voicemail isn’t going to zip you to the end point of this decision. A good model is to think of a voicemail as an oral version of a compelling five-sentence email; the optimal length of a voicemail is fifteen seconds.
Two power tips: First, slowly state your telephone number once at the beginning of your message and again at the end. You don’t want to make people playback your message to get your phone number, and if either of you are using AT&T, you may not hear all the digits. Second (and this applies to email too), always make progress. Never leave a voicemail or send an email that says, “Call me back, and I’ll tell you what time we can meet.” Just say, “Tuesday, 10:00 am, at your office.”
13. How to use social-media as marketing weapons. Grasshopper, this skill will take you long and far in the foreseeable job market. Learning how to use Facebook, Twitter, Loopt, Gowalla and FourSquare as marketing tools (as opposed to for voyeurism and exhibitionism) is a very valuable skill that the organizations need to acquire. Therefore, don’t let anyone over thirty-five tell you what a waste of time Facebook is—in fact, it could be your meal ticket in the future.
One last piece of advice: the purpose of going to school is not to prepare for working but to prepare for living. Working is a part of living, and it requires these kinds of skills no matter what career you pursue. However, there is much more to life than work, so study what you love.
(I posted something similar to this in August, 2006, but I wanted to get it out again because not much has changed in four years.)
[Editor's note: Guy Kawasaki will be answering your small business questions in a column the first week in September. You can send in your questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org]