Education doesn’t guarantee you a career

Recently, I was on The Jay Boatman Show to discuss my thoughts on for-profit education and the “Gainful Employment” legislation that is being spearheaded by the Department of Education.  In a nutshell, the federal government wants limit the amount of Title IV funding that private sector (aka “for-profit”) colleges receive for students to attend their colleges and  universities.

The aspiration of rewarding, gainful employment is a solid one.  If you are going to spend the majority of your time working, why wouldn’t you want to enjoy what you are doing and be financially rewarded for it? The Department of Education issue, however, isn’t really about people being gainfully employed – it is more about ensuring that education consumers who select to go to school at market-driven institutions are able to repay the debt they accrued while seeking higher education opportunities.

Unfortunately, both private and public sector colleges and universities have students who graduate who cannot pay back their debt. My core belief is that much of this problem stems from a complex system of misinformation and the culture of debt we have in this country.  I also believe that if we are truly concerned about “gainful employment” for our college graduates, we need to look at ALL higher education institutions and get down to frank discussions about how we educate our future leaders.

Ultimately, YOU are solely responsible for your career readiness and ensuring that you are well-informed about how to make the most of your future.  Education can help you attain your career goals if you are prepared and make the most of your experience.

Keep these things in mind when choosing a school and field of study:

Know yourself and your situation, even if you don’t know exactly what you want to do

You may not know your end career goal, but you need to know your strengths and leverage them.  Spend a few uninterrupted hours (or days!) with yourself to reflect on why you want to go to school and your primary passions.  Know what you like to do and where your talents lie.  Ask friends, relatives, former teachers and managers to quickly summarize your greatest assets and weaknesses.  Blog or journal about your future aspirations and make some SMART goals for the next year, two years, and so on (SMART = Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely).  Assess and list any relevant considerations such as abilities, family and financial obligations, location and other potential barriers or resources.

Research, research – and then research some more

Using your SMART goals and your situation details, start external research.  There are hundreds of websites dedicated to helping you understand how to pick a higher education institution.  Use the web, but use it well.  Don’t rely on one or two websites and use a variety of keywords in your search criteria.  For example, the search terms “pick a college” and “questions to ask when picking a college” are similar, but yield different search results.  Rely on well-known, reputable sites for school listings such as the Department of Education site which includes all public and private sector accredited institutions.  For further resources that I like, see the end of this post.

Think long term

Once you are invested in your education, make the most of it.  Understand the resources available to you on campus.  Utilize your Academics, financial aid, student services and career development offices.  Attend their events, participate and ask questions.  Go above and beyond your peers and don’t take shortcuts on your assignments.  Build a network of people who can help you in your future – and don’t forget to help them and stay in touch, too.  You are there to learn and engage with those around you.   Every day makes an impact on your future.

Be a Marketeer

In the end, it comes down to you.  Proactively promote yourself and your needs.  Don’t be passive and hope that someone else will do something for you.  If you don’t understand something after you have researched it, determine the correct person and get an answer.  Advocate for yourself throughout your education and you will carry that habit onto your career and your future.

Want more information on the issue of “Gainful Employment”?  Read all sides:

Want more information on choosing colleges, majors and careers?  Here are some of my favorite resources:


Be a Career Marketeer

You’ve read the guides and know the key things you should be doing for your job search.  You spend over 30 hours a week researching opportunities on job boards, sending your error-free resume and finding and attending career fairs and professional networking events.  You even have a well-practiced elevator pitch to succinctly tell that brand new industry contact all about your credentials and what you are looking for in your next opportunity.  So why haven’t you landed a new job?

If you’ve been diligent about your search, chances are you are following a checklist of activities to do everything possible to find your next position.   However, it may be time to ask yourself if you are just running through the motions of your search and “checking the box” on these activities, or if you are approaching your search like a true marketeer.

What’s a Marketeer?   

We know that marketers use strategies such as product placement, advertising, public relations, brand management and social media promotion to sell goods and services to consumers.  Similarly, the word marketeer is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a specialist in promoting or selling a product or service.”

However, much more than the literal definition, the word marketeer conjures images of a champion marketer who will stop at nothing to ensure that the product for sale is seen as a necessity by the consumer.   And, a career marketeer would apply those same strategies and promotion principles to ensure that he or she is seen as a necessity to an employer.

Be a Marketeer

To be a career marketeer, you must determine what is working well in your job search and what needs to be implemented. Take the following steps to maximize your success in finding a new opportunity:

Conduct a self-analysis of all of your promotional channels – including you!

–          Audit your job search documents, social networking profiles and all promotional tools to ensure that they are concise and contain action words and achievements to convey high energy.  Your resume, cover letters, social networking profiles and personal interactions all must drive engagement and buy-in from others.  Clean up imperfections, misspellings and get rid of irrelevant information.

–          Analyze your process to maximize your time spent on job-searching activities.  Don’t spend 6 hours a day online searching for opportunities if you aren’t getting feedback. Instead align your actions with what is generating a positive response.  And if nothing is generating a response – test the market and increase your networking.

Test the market and increase your networking.

–          Ask a few trusted contacts to spend 10 minutes reviewing your resume, LinkedIn and social media profiles and in-person interview attire.  Then ask them for 3 candid tips on how to improve your presence online and in-person.

–          Do more than just attend a career fair or networking event.  Research industry topics and engage at least 3 new contacts in relevant discussion.  Volunteer to chair an industry-related committee or lead a project. Follow up, and follow through.

–          Help them help you.  Ask your contacts if you can help them with a project – and then do so enthusiastically.  You may meet a new contact, but the better benefit is being useful which can reinvigorate you and your job search.

Promote your brand in all interactions – and then align it with the opportunity pipeline.

–          Build your brand. In 1997, Tom Peters wrote a great article for Fast Company magazine that highlighted the necessity of personal branding entitled “The Brand Called You.”  Reference his article for ways to create and promote your brand.

–          Prepare to “wow” during your next elevator pitch and interview.  Instead of reciting your abilities and desires in your elevator pitch, align your profile with the available opportunity.  In other words, know your audience and show how your brand is important to helping them achieve their goals.

–          Rally people around you by bringing energy to all of your interactions and staying positive.  Infusing excitement and camaraderie will leave a lasting impression and will increase your chances of being remembered when it comes time to hire.

Most importantly, after you do land your new job, carry your marketeer perspective into the workplace to ensure a successful start and future growth opportunities!