I graduated from the university believing I was well equipped to be successful at least in the first job roles I would embark on. It was not all rosy as I thought or expected; some ups and downs but generally great opportunities to be proud of. However, at every role I assumed on my career journey so far, I have had every reason to reflect on some of the things I should have invested my time in while I was in the university. This has become very imperative as a result of the skills that I continuously have to possess and exhibit at every stage of my life.
Most importantly, I have picked up valuable life lessons from these regrets and I would want young students to learn these lessons early enough to avoid them.
- I took up more leadership roles on campus
The possibility of you going through the university without taking part in any extracurricular activity is very high. Maybe one day I should interview business executives to find out how many took up leadership roles or were very engaged outside the classroom when they were in school.
Academic work can be very demanding and you might be tempted to only concentrate on your coursework and be shut off from anything that does not add to your credit scores. I realized over the past few years of working and engaging with some HR professionals, they tend to prefer fresh graduates who were more engaged outside the classroom and demonstrated some leadership capabilities whilst taking on some extra-curricular activities on campus.
One secret to succeeding at interviews as fresh graduates is to talk about the out-of-the-classroom roles you were engaged in while in school. Most of the interview questions are all about getting to know you better and if you are a best fit for the job and their organization.
How do you answer the famous ‘Tell me about yourself’, ‘Tell me your Strengths and Weaknesses’ and ‘Share with us any challenging moments in your life when you had to lead a team’ interview questions when you have no experience to share?
I personally wish I took up a lot more leadership roles to further improve my confidence, public speaking, time management and interpersonal skills. I was somewhat engaged in school activities, but I believe I would have been more effective if I went the extra mile and came out of my comfort zone.
- Engaged more with my lecturers outside class hours
My observations and the conversations I have had with friends, clients and colleagues emphasize this point. Most universities have large class sizes, hence students are unable to have personal exchanges with their lecturers in their entire time in the university. It is very common for lecturers and students to know only names and nothing else. Students might not even know where their lecturer’s office is or his full name, whereas lecturers might not even be able to put faces to the names of their students.
I find this challenging, as it affects most graduates who need references from their lecturers to pursue a post graduate degree or apply for a job. You can tell a genuine reference when the referee has a good relationship and knows the applicant/student very well. There is consistency with reports from both parties.
In recent times, when students need references from their lecturers, they actually write the letter on behalf of the lecturer for him/her to sign. You will agree with me that should recruiters actually follow up with a call to lecturers to learn more about the student, there will be a problem if the lecturer does not know much about the student.
I will advise students to make a conscious effort to visit lecturers in their offices to strike an acquaintance with them. Visit them often and share your career goals with them, provide feedback; and I believe these regular walk-ins will nurture the relationship. In future should you need any assistance, you are sure they will be of help.
At least I know two people who missed out on a great opportunity because one of the main requirements for their scholarship and job application processes was to provide two academic references. This was not the usual reference letter, but the kind that requires applicants to provide only the email address of the referees for the prospective school to contact directly and verify the capacity they know the student and why they will recommend that particular student.
For your future’s sake, have good relations with at least two lecturers who you know can vouch for you at any time.
- I made more friends and nurtured my relationships to build my network
No matter the level you are at, you will, at a certain point, need the services and help of others. Things work and move faster when you have a friend at a place who can push things for you. This is not bribery, it’s just some perks that come with building and nurturing your network and knowing people in strategic positions.
Don’t be too anti-social or stuck up when you are on campus. Say hello to your peers, seniors or juniors, you might not know who will give you your first pay check. In doing this, you also don’t have to make friends just for personal benefits – be genuinely interested in people and get to know people better.
I must confess that this is what I wish I did more when I was on campus. I made a lot of friends but I did not nurture most of those friendships; hence when I graduated I fell out of the friendship and did not stay in touch. I did not see the importance of reaching out to people and staying in touch with friends until I assumed a critical role in my life which required corporate engagement for opportunities for students. This is when having a good relationship within and outside your connect is very crucial. Most of the opportunities and doors that were opened for me were through my network of colleagues at school. I wish I made more friends at school. You can rely on friends at school when you want to start a project or business or for advice when making a career move in an industry where a friend is or has been.
Allow yourself to explore all there is to go higher through the help of the members in your network. Man is not HOT, no I mean an ISLAND!
- I volunteered more during campus events, community engagement, etc.
I found out late in my university days how fulfilling helping people without expecting anything in return is. Volunteering for me at the time in the university was not too interesting as I was always looking for what was in it for me before making any move. Little did I know that volunteerism in itself did me a favour – it gave me the opportunity to discover myself better, learn and acquire skills.
Most of the volunteering roles I have embarked on have enriched my CV, exposed me to people from all walks of life that I doubt I will ever meet had I decided to not offer a helping hand.
I wish I volunteered more in school because there are a lot of such opportunities available on campus or those you can create than when you are out of school. When you are busy with work and other responsibilities, volunteering is quite difficult but extremely possible.
For individuals who don’t know what they want to do after school or need help in discovering themselves, you can explore volunteering in various areas of interest. Try this and you will see how you will find fulfilment and happiness that can’t be defined.
- I read other books apart from my course textbooks
Reading, reading, reading!! I am still guilty but hopefully this year I will do better. All the while in the university, I was convinced I read a lot only to complete school and finally realize that I only read textbooks. I believe I spoke textbook English hahahahha!
I wish I managed my time well to have time to read novels for leisure. I believe I would have added more words to my vocabulary and made me a communications pro J. Believe it or not, as a student you have more time at your disposal to read a lot, learn a new skill, etc.
When adulthood with a lot of responsibilities sets in, leisure reading will no longer be a luxury. Most people become rusty when they stop reading, and this greatly affect them – I was affected big time!!
Thank God for audio books! You can listen to your favourite novels being read to you.
- I attended more social events with friends outside my university
I didn’t know why I felt awkward anytime I hanged out with friends who were outside my university network. I realized it was mostly because I was only used to my smaller circle of friends in my university. Unfortunately life is bigger than the friends in your small university or class. Make friends with people in different schools and hang out with them to learn more about their way of life too. In doing this you are exposed to a diverse background of people and you will learn how to engage with these people.
I graduated from the university not knowing how to mingle with people outside my university as I was accustomed to being in smaller groups and a certain way of socialization. I have come to appreciate other forms of socialization but I had to learn this the hard way.
I find this point worth mentioning because even in the business environment, you will find yourself involved in a lot of social events or networking events which will require you to exhibit some interpersonal skills that might enhance your profile at the work place and in effect might usher you into your next career phase.
Have adventure and explore opportunities while in the university – of course with caution! It is not all about the books when you are in school; make friends and hang out to have an all-round perspective to life.
It will be great for you to also share with us what you wish you did more or better when you were in school. I believe this will help the younger generation learn from our regrets and make better decisions.