I always wanted to join my family’s business right after school – working and living with family, a comfortable executive chair, and a few other perks:
What’s there to not like? The exact same things drove me away from them. And 5 months into this journey, I’m still looking for a full-time job. I’ve interviewed with dozens of companies, interned at a startup, did contract work and have three part time jobs now. So far, it’s been a humbling roller coaster ride.
Although, I’m at no stage yet to impart adage I’ve been asked to share some of my wisdom here to help you make sure you don’t miss out the opportunities available to you at Cornell University.
Figure out what you want to do and start doing it before you graduate.
Real life comes faster and harder than a train. Before you graduate, figure out what you want to do and get good at it. If you’re planning on becoming a financial analyst go trade some stocks; if you have a start-up idea launch your business— begin doing what you want to do. Acquire the skills and experience to become hireable or fundable while you’re still in school and don’t have that many responsibilities. Trust me—in retrospect, those exams & papers are a piece of cake. So much so that a friend of mine pulls out an orgo text book for fun once in a while.
And don’t make excuses for yourself. If you’re serious about what you want to do you’ll find a way—take the classes, ask for help, intern, etc. However, if you’re still trying to figure out that one thing you want to do and are having a hard time pinning it, try to:
Find what you like by ruling out things you don’t like.
People ask me what I’d be willing to do if money was not an issue—to pinpoint my passion. I’d do a lot of things for free; heck, I’ll even pay to do some of the things I like. But the true test of how much you like something is if you could keep doing it in an office, hunched over a desk late at night. I thought I loved entomology, until I worked at a research lab studying the mating habits of ladybugs*. I thought I would love working with family until I worked for them. Requirements from clients, bosses, and projects will dictate how you do things, and those may not always be aligned with your interests. Don’t think that you’ll love doing something until you’ve tried it.
So, don’t limit yourself to what your degree says or what you think you like to do. If you’re an English major go take a finance class, intern at a design company, etc. Don’t try to pin down what you like. Instead try out different things and rule out things you don’t like.
Connect with more people.
Not making the effort to befriend more people while I was still at Cornell is my biggest regret because the community at Cornell has 25,000 of the smartest folks on this planet at any given moment. And, I don’t mean handing out business cards like at a networking event, but actually making deeper connections. Strike up conversations with people you don’t normally interact with and build on those relationships. Who knows when someone is going to help you in a pinch, make that connection or help you get something done.
Think back to when you first met some of your closest friends—initially, they were just as random as the people you don’t interact with today. Who knows, that person with the purple hair or that professor might be as cool as your closest friend. The worse thing they can do is reject you or ignore you.
Learn how to handle rejection.
You may be one out of a million— with your Ivy-League education, specialized degree, personal website, connections, etc.—but, statistically speaking, there are 7000 others just like you. One of those 7000 will get the funding you need, or the job you want. And, the only appropriate response to that is persistence.
Some of the world’s most successful people like Walt Disney or Milton Hershey were turned down by employers and investors multiple times before they had any success. They shrugged it off, learnt from it and persisted.
I’m an introvert so it was especially difficult for me to meet new people but once I discovered that being ignored was the worst thing that can happen I kept talking to more people. Now, I love meeting and talking to strangers, hearing stories and connecting with folks. Some of my recent friends are also just as close as other friends.
Learn to code or program.
It’s only a matter of time before coding and programming becomes a universal language that everyone will be expected to know. If you aren’t coding or programming yet, you have no idea how useful it can be even for something non-technical. Just last week, a friend figured out how many goats I’d need to start off with on a farm to feed myself a goat per day for the rest of my life—with just a few lines of code. Jokes aside, if I knew how to program I could have figured out the most efficient way to pack a shipping container for my family’s business with a few lines of code instead of having people figure it out every time we load or unload.
Even if you don’t want to get into the analytics side of coding at least learn some HTML and even Photoshop. At the very minimum set up a personal website. Every company needs somebody who can edit websites or design things.