Making the Transition – College Student to Employee

CollegeDoes it really matter - grades, involvement, friends, work experience? What's the big deal - a 3.0 GPA vs. 4.0 GPA? Why does it matter whether or not I am involved in campus organizations? Co-op...intern...why? Why would anyone care what I post on my Twitter, Facebook or YouTube accounts - they're mine and those pictures rock! What's the value in relationships and a network? These are all interesting questions and some of which we tackled last week with an up-and-coming college leadership group at Georgia Tech (hosted by the Student Alumni Association). Here are several key points to consider when thinking about the transition from college to professional life.

Grades Matter. Grades matter most in two areas - your first job and in plans for graduate school. Some companies maintain a GPA threshold that allows them to shrink the list of potential candidates while focusing their interview energy on top "academic" talent. There can be a big difference between a 3.4 and 3.5 GPA when the "line" is at 3.5. Major GPA really has no play in this situation as companies look primarily at overall GPA.

Grades also make a significant difference when applying to graduate schools. The top business, law, and medical schools look at GPA as an indicator of work ethic and ability to complete the play at the graduate school level.

Bottom Line: You can choose to make class and grades a priority. Recognize that your choice will be a choice you will have to live with after college.

Work Experience Matters. Imagine being interviewed by Accenture at 2pm for an entry-level consultant position. For the next hour, you are able to share your experience working as an intern with AT&T - challenges you faced, situations you managed, diversity in the workplace, people you interacted with daily, thinks you liked...and didn't like about the job. You are also able to tie that experience to your work in school on campus. At 3pm, Accenture interviews a second candidate who has only focused on classes and academics and has no real-world experience. He is not able to talk about challenges in the workplace, interacting with different levels of executives or solving real-world problems. He is able to talk about leading his fraternity social committee and experience working on a group project. Who would you hire?

Work experience in college is an absolute differentiator and is a complement to your academics and involvement on campus. Internships and co-op positions are a great way to get experience while in school while making some money to pay for school.

Bottom Line: Spending your Summer interning at a firm, co-oping with a business or splitting time working part-time while completing classes, will be an investment that pays for itself during the first and second job after college. Don't rush through college and by-pass the opportunity to "try-out" a company.

Get Involved. Most companies are not looking for a 4.0 student that has no work experience or involvement in campus or other organizations. Most are looking for a well-rounded student that has solid grades and exhibits leadership through involvement in campus organizations, in the community and / or in intern or co-op positions. Finding this kind of student can be a great decision for a business as it makes the assimilation and ramp-up process much faster - the runway to adding value in the business is typically shorter because you have already balanced competing priorities, engaged with people you do not know, and found time to get things done while making grades.

Engaging in campus activities is also your first mechanism for establishing your network. Your network will be the key to many future life decisions - start building it early.

Bottom Line: Engage in campus activities. Volunteer to be the leader if it's something you are passionate about. Build your network.

Choose Wisely. Decisions you make in college, will be decisions you must manage for the rest of your life. Your GPA will not change after college. Personal mistakes / transgressions will be decisions you live with after college. That tattoo you got on spring break, yes, it will be there forever.

Choose your friends wisely. Who do you spend time with? Who are your best friends and confidants - who stands up for you and provides you real feedback on life? The people that you listen to are a vision of the future you. Choose your friend group wisely.

Choose what you share on social media carefully. Twitter, Facebook, Linked-in, Flickr and YouTube content is all searchable and companies have a very easy way to learn all about you via your social media accounts. Recognize that while it may be fun or funny to post inappropriate content, that it is essentially part of your brand and can be detrimental to your candidacy with an organization. "If she posts that on Twitter, I would not want that to be representative of our organization."

Bottom Line: Social media platforms are incredible - changing the way we communicate and changing our societal interactions as a whole. Choose your content wisely and use your own personal "filter" before posting.