In the past few years, many students have reached out to me asking for career advice, mentorship and professional guidance. Here are the 6 mistakes that, I think, prevent most of the students from achieving success and a few tips on how to avoid them.
1. “Once I graduate, I will build my professional network…”
Here is a simple truth: when you are a student, no one will ever say “no” to you. Want an informational interview? Email HR and ask for an opportunity to learn about the company. Want to learn how startup founders raised funds for their company or built their products? Set up a coffee chat after the event at which they are invited as speakers. Want a piece of solid advice from company CEO? Send him or her a message on LinkedIn.
No matter what you want, as long as your ask is reasonable, people will rarely say “no” to you. Because we were all students once and most of the folks out there do want to help.
What you don’t know is that the moment you graduate, everything changes. From someone who is “curious and wants to learn”, you turn into a “job seeker”. This is when people are less likely open to a coffee chat because everyone knows: you have an agenda. You are now looking for a job.
Lesson: Build your network before you need it. Meet people, set up coffee chats, ask, ask, ask, learn… Once you graduate, you lose the advantage of being a student.
2. “I will start my business when I get X years of experience…”
As a student, you have virtually unlimited access to mentors, advisors and funding opportunities. Are you in SFU? Check out Venture Labs, LEAP!, 4D Labs, Coast Capital Savings Venture Connection, RADIUS, SFU Innovates. Are you a UBC student? Check out entrepreneurship@UBC and Small Business Accelerator Program. BCIT student? Visit Entrepreneurial Services. You get the point.
BCIT has compiled a resource package of helpful links to guide you through the beginning stage of the startup and product or service commercialization process.
League of Innovators is an amazing place for entrepreneurs under 24 to find mentorship, funding and growth opportunities.
You don’t necessarily have to look for accelerators that are student-focused. Vancouver has an amazing startup ecosystem and a number of places that support entrepreneurs – Launch Academy, Spring and more.
As a student, you can also access a number of funding opportunities – all you need to do is to have an idea, to be willing to work on it, and to ask.
3. “I can learn about the industry I am interested in by simply taking classes…”
Can you? Textbooks and group projects are cool but to learn about the industry, you would need to hang out with people working in that industry.
My personal advice is to reach out to people directly – on LinkedIn, industry events etc. Most occupations have industry associations or meetups where you can learn and connect with professionals. Interested in product management? Join ProductBC (it’s about $20) and attend their events or join their mentorship program. Feeling like a future project manager? Check out the events & mentorship program organized by the West Coast PMI Chapter. Want to learn about business analysis? There is the IIBA Vancouver Chapter. You got it.
4. “I want to explore multiple jobs/industries and the only way to do it is to become an intern…”
Remember: mentors are shortcuts. You can spend 20 years of your life exploring all industries, or you can find people who can share their 20 years of experience each with you.
Once again, my personal advice is to reach out to people directly – on LinkedIn, industry events etc.
If you don’t know where to start or need more guidance, remember that most universities have structured mentorship programs. SFU has Mentors in Business, UBC has Executive Mentorship Program etc. If you cannot find one in your school – maybe, you can initiate it?
There is also the Leaders of Tomorrow (LOT) mentorship program organized by the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade. It provides students with opportunities to network with experienced business people, to volunteer, to build leadership skills, to attend exclusive events, and to get connected to Greater Vancouver business community.
5. “Once I find a job, I will have more time to volunteer…”
Will you? Life always gets in the way. Once you graduate, you will likely be busy with other priorities – work, family, professional development, business…
Rotaract Clubs such at UBC and Yaletown, Leaders of Tomorrow Outreach Committee, Global Shapers and many other initiatives allow young people to give back, network and have lots of fun while doing it!
6. “I don’t have money to attend industry conferences and events…”
It is true that many conferences and events are quite costly. But you are a student! Most of the events have volunteer opportunities allowing you to get in for free. Others offer special student pricing or discounts. Do your research and don’t be shy to ask. Even if there is nothing you can find on their websites – ask. Send organizers an email and ask for a volunteer opportunity or a discount.
Use your student years to your advantage – learn, network, build your business and jump-start your career. The best time to live the life of your dreams is now.