By Darren Johnson
Over the years working in colleges, I have seen many students transform. The ones who graduate on time — and go onto decent careers — transformed the most between freshman and senior years. They became adults and were a lot more polished by the time they got to the stage to get their degrees.
Other students, not so much. Some students fail to adapt while in college; they are less open to change. Their thinking remains rigid, they don’t develop a love for the subject matter. It’s just taking tests for them. Such students are less likely to graduate, or, if they do, they are less likely to get a decent job after. The kind of job that one loves.
Below is a straightforward checklist of what you should work on eliminating, or at least reducing, before you go onto a career. Take this time in college to perfect yourself. And try to fall in love with at least one subject during these years. Make it your mission.
I’m not going to go into a rant as to whether you should drink or not, but in the real world, successful people don’t binge drink in the way some college students do. They may get seriously buzzed, even drunk, but not in a frat-house kind of way. The professional adult (who chooses to imbibe) will choose wine or hard liquor, not funnels of beer, wine coolers or shot after shot. The professional adult will sip, not guzzle. He or she will come up with an exit strategy for a party, as not to embarrass oneself. He or she will also avoid drunk driving. If you do partake in drinking, do it right.
Really assess the music you listen to. Truly compare it to past generations of music. Your bosses will not like most current music, and they may be well versed in music of the 1990s, 1980s and prior. You should have a working knowledge of all of the bands that played at the original Woodstock. This event happened before I was born, too, but I can freely admit that the era from 1965-75 may be the best ever in rock music. It’s OK if you like Lady Gaga and Rihanna, but at least have some respect and knowledge of the music that came before them.
So many college students are picky eaters. I was, too, but added a few food items here and there over the years to the point where I can be considered adventurous at times. Your picky eating is your subconscious mind playing games with you. You feel you have a lack of control in other aspects of your life, so thus become a control freak in areas where you can — such as meals. However, in the professional networking world, all kinds of foods will be presented. You at least will have to make an effort at eating them as a part of being social. Don’t worry, you’re not selling out your principles if you try something new. It’s not the proverbial “Kool-Aid.” Also, learn basic table manners. I’m sure there is a video on YouTube on that. And don’t pig out, either. That looks even worse than eating nothing.
Sneakers are for weekends and the gym, and that’s about it. Start wearing actual shoes to class to get used to that feel. You could start with some leather Sketchers or similar. No sandals or work boots, either. Maybe wearing better shoes will help your dating prospects, as well.
Pot (and all drugs, for that matter)
I don’t want to get into the whole debate as to whether pot should be legal or not, or whether it is “safer” than drinking, and the vast majority of today’s professionals at least took a puff or two in college. Sure, some may even do so today. But if you find that you do a lot of pot smoking, you should start winding that down. Maybe wean yourself to once a week, and then once a month and then never. While there always are exceptions to the rule, in my vast experience as a past student and educator, I’ve found students who live the pot lifestyle to grow increasingly less focused and less motivated over time. I had a friend in college who even grew his own plants. He came from a prestigious high school. His GPA seemed to slip a point from his freshman to sophomore year, and then another point in his junior year. He didn’t make it to his senior year. He self-destructed. Sure, he was a fun and affable guy, but so what? When I was a student, it was evident that the students who smoked the most were not the ones who made it with me to the graduation stage at the end. And who knows if you’ll get caught with pot by a cop? The more you do it, the higher your odds. And that stain on your record could prevent you from getting a large number of jobs down the road, whether pot is eventually legalized or not. And forget even harder drugs. What’s with all this self-pleasure, anyway? Look to help others. That’s what adults do.
You may as well start working on your biorhythms. Most of the white-collar jobs you will pursue after college will start at 8 or 9 a.m., meaning you may have to get up at 6 or 7 a.m. to get ready and commute. No more watching late-night talk shows. Force yourself to go to sleep by 11 p.m. The workforce isn’t college — and if you are constantly going into work with less than optimum sleep time (7-9 hours), it will become apparent after a while. Most of your supervisors will be older and older people just biologically require less sleep. They will be running circles around your tired ass! Also, older staff may have children, so they are used to going to bed early and waking up early because of that. Don’t handicap yourself because you can’t get used to being “on” first thing in the morning.
It may be time to put away the PlayStation. You might have realized already if you are playing virtual games that many of your opponents are kids. Adults generally don’t play video games, not go-getter adults, anyway. If you have babies, you will be able to shake off the rust and play videogames with them; say in 10-15 years or so.
Any “hobby” you may have should either assist others — say activist pursuits, such as helping the environment, politics, the poor, etc. — or helping your career pursuits — for example, if your learn Photoshop or theater in your spare time, which could help you improve your computer skills or sales/speaking ability. Hobbies should not include collecting toys and the like or playing cards and role playing games. You had the chance to do that when you were 13. You’re an adult now, and there are only so many hours in the day. Spare time should be spent on self-improvement.
Being a smoker, especially in the Northeast, where the lowest percentage of people in the country partake, says to an employer: “This is someone with no self-discipline.” And smoking has become so rare in the white collar world, non-smokers can smell it on you. That whiff could kibosh you in an interview. Besides, are you going to be the one standing outside your office building on a -5 degree day, hunched over, watching traffic go by, just to get your nicotine fix? End it now before the smokes really get a hold of you.
This may sound strange in the era of apps, but ease up on the Facebook, Twitter, etc. You can only lose by being too prolific on such sites. Potential employers do look at what you do on these sites. No one wants to hire a public diarist. And what’s the point of all that posting, anyway? Just keep a barebones presence on these sites. Only post items you wouldn’t mind your grandmother reading. (Or create a fake account to rant!)
Clothes off the Rack
Younger employees often have that look of having clothing that is “off the rack.” It may not fit just right. See a tailor/seamstress and get at least one outfit that has taste and sophistication; this would be for important meetings, including a job interview. Once hired, then you could wear the lesser outfits.
Your Local Accent
This may take a few years, but consciously try to neutralize the way you speak a bit. There will always be a hint of where you came from in your voice, but, perhaps subconsciously, people may trust you less if your accent is strong. Think of how you may feel when you hear someone with an over-the-top Southern accent. Your guard is up, admit it. Even in the South, the educated people speak with less of a pronounced accent than the yokels. Your Queens/Brooklyn/Boston/Upstate/Long Island/etc. accent may work if you plan to exist locally your whole life. But if a high-end career is your ultimate goal, that may require moving to multiple cities over time. When I first got to a Long Island college after having lived my whole life deep Upstate, the other students made fun of the way I spoke. The word “hick” was even used. Eventually, my speaking pattern evened out, and, I have to admit, when I go back to my old hometown, some of the more gooberish people do sound dumb. Enunciate. Having a more neutral, newscaster way of public speech will just make transitions easier for you when you move on.
Read a real newspaper. The Internet is still too free-wheeling when it comes to news. A serious story on Yahoo! News, for example, could be next to a story on “how to lose your muffin top.” It is easy to get distracted or lost while clicking around “news” sites. But a paper newspaper puts the stories in a certain order. Professional adults are well versed in current events, and a print newspaper is the most efficient way to be up to date on what’s really happening in the world. This will make you a better conversationalist, too, an important skill in professional networking. Be seen walking the hallways with a New York Times or Wall Street Journal tucked under your arm and the high ups, who are generally older, will respect you.