Five Years. 132 credit hours. Over 2 GB of email. Three or four dozen all-nighters. More tests, quizzes, and homeworks than I can count. That’s the most obvious way to sum up my college experience. But it doesn’t seem to do it justice.
The five years I spent at Georgia Tech were possibly the five most important years of my life thus far. I learned a lot about technology, business, and (perhaps most importantly) myself. It’s been a couple days since I strode across the stage, and the reality of the situation hasn’t quite set in yet. Nonetheless, I’ve spent a great deal of time reflecting during the last 72 hours. Reflecting on what I learned, where I’m going, and what it really means to be a Yellow Jacket. I have tried to think of a phrase or tagline to describe it, but that’s harder than it sounds. So instead, I’ve compiled a couple of bits of advice for current and future Georgia Tech students, and maybe students at other institutions could benefit as well.
When I first arrived on campus, I had a college plan that could be distilled into three parts:
- Eat Pizza
- Go to Parties
It was a grand plan, constructed over many years of watching Real Genius and Animal House. After a few months of it, I started to wear down. I didn’t have a lot going on. I had some great friends, and I was learning, but on a day to day basis, my life was becoming monotonous (I even tried branching out from pizza to chicken wings). It was at the beginning of my second year that I set out to get involved on campus. I applied to be a host for Connect with Tech, an overnight visitation program for high school students. Fast forward a few years, and I found myself involved in more than four organizations, and I was spending more time in meetings than in class. But most importantly, I felt fulfilled. Getting involved gave me a lot of things.
- It gave me the chance to make a difference on campus. Through Student Government and Connect with Tech, I was able to make a positive impact on my fellow Tech students.
- It gave me the chance to try new things. Public speaking terrified me before I started at Tech. Getting involved in the way that I did thrust me in front of crowds more times than I can count. Not only did this exposure help me overcome my fear of public speaking, it helped me become pretty darn good at it.
- I met a ton of new people. I met many of my best friends through the various organizations I was involved with. People I might never have spoken to otherwise. That might be one of the biggest benefits. Not only that, but I made a lot of professional contacts. (See “Network” below)
- I got leadership experience. I will never know exactly why corporate recruiters picked me, but I have a pretty good hunch that they were attracted to my leadership experience. I had a proven track record of success. Plus, it helped me develop as a person.
Be Irresponsible…Just Not Often
Some of the closest friendships I developed during my college career were
strengthened by general mayhem. The adventures ranged from simply staying out too late on a school night, to hopping a fence to a closed pool in the dead of winter, to constructing fake identities to make our way into the VIP section of a club (it didn’t work). Few things strengthen a bond like doing something crazy.
I think this is where a lot of college students go wrong — they either take irresponsibility too far and flunk out, or they err on the side of caution and miss opportunities for silliness. The cautious approach certainly works better than partying all the time (academically, anyway) but I think there’s a happy medium. I tried to strive for generally responsible, dependable, but not boring.
The old adage goes “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” There’s a lot of truth to that, but I think a more accurate version would be: “It’s not what you know, or who you know, it’s who knows you.” It wasn’t until I started looking for internships that I truly realized the importance of networking. The truth of the matter is, of the job offers I have received (for full time jobs and internships) not one came without personally making a contact within the company. I submitted my resume through all kinds of online tools, and I got a couple of callbacks, but my ratio of callbacks to submissions was probably close to 1:20. In instances where I made a contact within the company and attempted to get an interview, my ratio is nearly one-to-one. In fact, every job offer I received for full time positions after graduation was the result of reaching out to an individual personally.
So what do I recommend? Here are just a few suggestions:
- Print business cards. When you go to networking events, having a business card means they won’t just forget about you when they’re done talking to you. Not to mention the majority of your counterparts won’t have business cards to hand out. This gives you a leg up.
- Go to corporate receptions and information sessions. Georgia Tech hosts a TON of information sessions and corporate receptions. The former is generally organized by the company, and gives you some face time with their recruiters and staff. The corporate receptions are typically organized by The Institute, and they want to bring in proactive students so they can show you off. Events like these give you a great opportunity to talk to recruiters in a more relaxed context.
- Volunteer for Career Fairs. Sure, you can go to the career fair, and get lost in a sea of black suits, and I’d encourage you to do so. Unfortunately, these are not the best way to meet people. The venue is crowded, you only get a couple of minutes of face time, and there is little you can do to set yourself apart. But if you sign up to volunteer, you will spend your day bringing them water, food and chit chatting to make sure they’re comfortable. They get a chance to interact with you on a more personal level, and they will see that you are working hard. Hand out a few business cards at the end of the day and they will probably not forget about you.
But the most important rule of networking is be genuinely interested in getting to know people. It’s easy to tell the difference between someone who is chatty for the sake of furthering their career and someone who is friendly and engaged. Ask questions. Lots of them. You can learn something from everyone, and realizing that is the first step to being a successful networker. Talking to strangers wasn’t in my nature when I arrived on campus. I had to work my way up to it. It was well worth it.
Fun facts about my experiences with networking:
- I met the recruiters for ConocoPhillips at a corporate reception. I walked up, introduced myself, and was invited to interview on campus the following day.
- I met the recruiters for Microsoft at a restaurant on campus (Moe’s Southwest Grill, in case you were interested.) I was volunteering at the career fair that day, so I knew who they were, and when they finished their meals I walked over to say hello and give them my business card. They invited me to walk back to the career fair with them, and I got a call back for an interview later that afternoon.
In the beginning I said I couldn’t come up with one sentence to sum up my college experience. I still can’t. But after writing this entry, I can come up with one that’s kind of close. It’s not only
how I feel about my time at the Institute, but about life in general: Do something that scares you. And never stop. The scary experiences are the ones that you learn from. You emerge from them stronger and more prepared to take on the world than ever. They allow you to stretch yourself, to try new things, and to really learn who you are.
Moving away from my family and friends to go to school at Georgia Tech made me anxious, giving my first tour scared me, walking up to strangers and handing them my business cards terrified me, moving 2,500 miles away from everything familiar to start a new career in Seattle scares the hell out of me. But I know that, like all the other adventures, it’s going to be good for me. So sure, I’m scared. Am I excited?
Georgia Tech has done an incredible job of preparing me for whatever is to come, and I can say with 100% confidence that I would not be who I am today without my experiences at The Institute.
Graduation day photos courtesy of Angie Watson.