What do we do when we graduate from an undergraduate school? We either work full-time or we pretend to work; either way, being primarily responsible for every outcome in our lives. The journey that extends from two to four years of our undergraduate studies has a marked effect in shaping the type of professional that we will become in the future. But do we realize its importance?
I don’t know, at-least I am sure that I didn’t at the time (reasons are many). However, the students who did realize its importance were the ones who increased the probable chance of them becoming a better and more ‘industry ready’ employee than people like myself.
Being an engineering graduate for the last three years, I have experienced many facets of the industry, both good and bad. Compiled below are a snapshot of five areas/pieces of advice that I normally outline to juniors and those looking to progress themselves within the industry.
- Creating, developing and managing a start-up
I believe every student should try creating and working on a start-up project while being undergraduate. The resultant success or failure is inconsequential, rather the experience alone will assist you in understanding business dynamics and how companies work. Terms like business plans, strategies, profit/loss, financial rations, shares/equity will become part of your lexicon. The benefits of undertaking such activities is limitless. It will give you a deeper understanding of what it takes to run a company and the importance and value of time and money and the correlation between them both.
- Volunteering Officer Experience
My second piece of advice is to not underestimate the worth of volunteering experience. When I was in my undergraduate program, I was told to take part in local society/clubs and specifically IEEE student branch activities and programs to widen my experiences throughout my degree. Whilst I found these experiences emotionally beneficial, the leadership skills generated and refined cannot be denied.
Just by involving yourself into your IEEE Student branch, be it in a formal Chair position or even a committee member, such leadership skills are continuously being fostered. Having an understanding of what it takes to be an effective leader and the associated best practices to demonstrate this can have a marked effect at shaping the path of your own career.
- Everyone can work, but not everyone is good at communicating
I wish, I could write a whole book on this topic, but already there are many published and available in the market emphasizing the importance of this characteristic. Being good at talking and communicating effectively can make you stand out in front of your office colleagues, even when your job role is purely technical in nature. You might wonder, what makes me a better employee if I am good at talking? – Consider this opportunity, and trust me it is a real time case where I have seen people realizing and accepting this bitter truth.
Let’s say there is a company called “Mango” which produces cellphones and similar products. You are a R&D Engineer or a Product Manager and you, alongside dozens of other team members, are working on this new software/product/project. You all work tirelessly on the project, and you put in extra hours because somehow your supervisor (who was in-fact good at talking), motivated you effectively that now you own this software/product/project and you take a sense of pride and ownership over it. Finally, you along with your team have made it and now the company is considering sending some employees to Silicon Valley where delegates will talk on its features and promote it as much as they can. Here, the one with acceptable technical skills and a great effective communication skills would be preferred over someone who is only technologically savvy. Why? Because at the end, it’s the talking that matters.
Why waste time on polishing your speaking skills after you have finished graduating? These skills should be enriched and developed throughout your education!
Ways to improve your communication skills can include actively participating in IEEE Student branch/Local section events and partaking or joining professional organisations such as Toastmasters etc.
- Writing is as important as speaking
When it comes to writing a formal email, or a preparing a project report or writing an application to a client/manager/supervisor, it seems that many talented individuals feel helpless to do so. It’s not that you cannot write it, or you do not know how to write it, it’s all about practice. The more you do the faster you will improve and better yourself at it.
It is often very important that your language skills are of a high standard as little subtleties such as tone and message can often be misconstrued in the written form. Sending vague electronic emails are a typical example in the industry that can lead to potential problems for workers and managers alike.
- Internships: As much as you can
Attaining an internship in your Summer or Winter gaps is very important, as it offers you a chance to work and recognize the rules and techniques of being a full professional employee in a national or multi-national organization. Care less about the company and what it does but join it with the aim to feel a corporate responsibility and immerse yourself into the organizational environment. Focus more on learning from an individual rather than company itself.
I have seen students in the past trying to get an internship and not joining-in because the company profile is low or it is not of their interest. What they completely miss out on is the point where they can study human behavior, office politics (surely most of them do have) and working cycle that can open-up new dimensions and can yield thoughts to see avenues that they haven’t seen before in their professional life. Get into internships as much as you can. I completed four internships and every company had a different culture, environment and learnings. I also met some very intellectual people working for the various companies whom I still connect with to this day. The networking opportunities and gateways that are opened up are endless.
Consider your undergraduate time the most valuable phase of your life, where if you indulged into activities and programs that can nurture your personal and professional development, the results and benefits once you graduate are limitless.
Try to foresee your future by investing your time, energy and efforts into something that can grow as an asset for you in future. Don’t just spend your time, invest in it.
Article contributed by Sarang Shaikh, Editor, IEEE Impact
Articled edited by Michael Gough, IEEE Impact