The following article is part of a new series of guest articles we will be featuring from our esteemed colleagues around industry. Enjoy!
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Dear 85% of recent college graduates,
I’m not going to hire you. Neither is anyone I know. If you’re smart, you’ve already figured this out.
I know what you’re thinking. This shouldn’t be happening. You did your homework all through elementary and high school; you played sports; you did extra-curriculars; you got decent grades; you even graduated with a bachelor’s of arts from a private college featured in US News and World Report / Princeton Review—none of it seems to matter. You can’t get the job that you thought was waiting for you. You’re not making what you should be. There must be a reason: Republicans, democrats, recession, boom, illegal immigration, forced repatriation, COVID—something! This isn’t how it was supposed to be. This is not what was promised if you stayed on track, and YOU DID.
You are scared. You feel financially behind the power curve. Both your career trajectory and your earning potential are unclear. It seems like you can’t get in the front door to the job you thought you were being made for. Everything you had planned—work, family, travel—is on hold if not cancelled. What happened? Seemingly having been groomed your entire youth as an aspiring queen, you are living a pawn’s existence.
Forget everything that your high school guidance counselor told you—it’s all garbage. Nobody cares about your women’s studies major, least of all any organization dedicated to advancing actual women’s issues. You wasted four years of your precious dedicated studying time writing papers and researching topics that nobody outside of a very small subset of academia cares about, and precisely NOBODY in the business world is impressed, regardless of your GPA. To be competitive out of college, you need three things—demonstrable knowledge, demonstrable skills, and demonstrable abilities (KSAs). Being able to communicate counts; however, given what I have been handed as ‘writing samples’ from recent college graduates lends me and many others to no longer assume that a degree equates to communication proficiency. Knowledge and skills are achieved through study and training; abilities are God given and honed in experience. If your grand sum total of life by the time you are 22 and graduated from college is your degree, you may have rudimentary knowledge, depending on your degree. You probably don’t have skills, and your abilities are a big question mark. You are a risk to any prospective employer that doesn’t owe your uncle a favor.
Let me tell you about the best resume I have seen this year from a recent college graduate. Spoiler alert: it didn’t have any fancy embossed watermarks, or catchy slogans, or endless dissertations on your two weeks spent in Bevery Hills volunteering for Save the Goldendoodles. The candidate—we’ll call him ‘Dave,’-- was graduating cum laude from a state school with a degree in mechanical engineering. He is 24 years old, and had extensive experience as an automechanic and competing in stock car racing as a member of the pit crew, as well as retail experience in management at an auto parts store. Dave was terrified about his prospects because he didn’t look like the 22 year old college graduates from Name-A-Private-University, and didn’t have a “fancy” internship at Relative-Unknown-Yet-Self-Absorbed-Engineering-Consultancy. Who. Fucking. Cares. I don’t. I’ll tell you who else doesn’t care: Elon Musk. I told the guy to apply to SpaceX since he doesn’t mind nut-busting hard work, and within five years he will have written his own ticket to do whatever the hell he wants. This man brings knowledge, skills and abilities. He also brings something else: no debt risk. It may seem trivial to you; however, a young hire that is not saddled with debt is considerably less stressed out and more organized in their personal lives than one who isn’t. That person demonstrates business savvy—they gritted their teeth and worked two years while going to community college, graduated from a state school at reduced cost and in the mean time picked up some KSAs that set them apart from their recent graduate peers. These are character traits that I—and many others like me—gravitate to.
This isn’t to say that just because you graduated with a degree in International Relations with a concentration in Conflict and Security from the George Washington University, you cannot grow to become a STEM innovator—you’ll just find yourself playing catchup. This brings me to my favorite case study, Qore Performance.
The Co-Foudner of Qore Performance, Inc., Justin Li, was just that GW graduate. When an unforeseen medical diagnosis prevented his commissioning as a naval officer, Li added business classes as electives and leveraged his recreational passion for paintball into a sponsored campus team. His experience with the sport and his business training led to his creation of his first business at age 24. The business failed three years later, but that loss was critical to shaping his future. The same story repeated itself multiple times throughout Li’s life—the blending of passion with the acquisition of knowledge / skills and abilities—both blue collar and white collar—in order to bring visions of innovations and businesses to life. Qore Performance—as the website will tell you—is the love child of Li’s tactical experience as a San Diego Sheriff’s Department Deputy and hard-accumulated seamstress / physics / manufacturing / RDT&E KSAs. Li hasn’t stopped acquiring KSAs through direct experience as well as through his growing workforce (hint-hint).
Dave did not follow his high school guidance counselor’s track. Li ended up making a significant deviation from it when his life plans were altered. They are both at the point where they control significantly more of their destiny than they would if they resigned themselves to allow others to do their planning for them; to set them on an institutional course that serves itself and not their own personal ambitions. It is never too early or too late to start collecting KSAs—show up to your interview being able to ACTUALLY MAKE SHIT, whether it is a website, a high production value video, a rebuilt stock car engine, or a compression short with pulse point cooling technology.
The faster you build your KSAs, the faster you stop living the Generation Pawn life.
NL is a Lead Engineer for a major university affiliated research corporation, and a former naval officer.
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