I Wish I’d Known Then What I Know Now

I’ve seen a lot of chatter the last week about college students needing to know what majors will pay off.  That is a horrible idea.  You find what you love and do it the rest of your life.  I’m still working on that.  I had been doing what I’d always wanted fresh out of college – and it did not have a big pay off financially, but I loved it!  As I got older, it was no longer the right fit, and as happens, you move on, and try to figure out what will bring you happiness and a sense of fulfillment.

Achieving this requires skills that a college education doesn’t tend to teach.  How do you negotiate a job contract or salary?  How do you prepare yourself not just for the first job for the one three steps up the ladder?  Why do men know more about this begin with than women?  Are women shut out of negotiation and the upward moving career track or do we shut ourselves out?

More women than men are graduating from college, we make up half of all law school graduates, one-third all MBA graduates, and half of all MFA graduates.  So where are all these women in the career world? Women make up 16 percent of equity partners at the top 200 law firms, 15 percent of corporate boards at Fortune 100 companies, and 23 percent of solo shows in New York galleries.  Something is getting missed, and while it clearly isn’t quality of education, it certainly has to do with the kind of education.

Many graduates do not leave school ready to jump into their first job in the working world knowing how to negotiate a salary, or network.  What 22 year old knows or cares about professional development and how important it is?

My reading this week has consisted of a couple articles on what college degrees get the most return on investment.  The Atlantic claimed college students should be given the facts about the return on their education, similar to the information you’d get on a 401k.  Is that really what college students want or care about?  I certainly went to school with people who were looking to make money as quickly as possible after graduation.  I also went to school with people who wanted to do what they loved, and make enough to be happy.  Generation Y students are certainly more likely to be in it for the joy they get out of their career, and the quality of life, not the size of the paycheck.  That does not account for every one of us.

To do what you love and make enough, you need to have negotiation skills, and know how to network.  These are also important as you try to move up in your career.  I learned the art of small talk in college, as a sorority girl, it was important, especially at requirement time.  But I never learned how to negotiate, and networking has been a work in progress.  An article on the Forbes website this week gives some great ideas to give daughters graduating from college.  The lesson of the article – let them study what they wish- humanities or not, but give them the skills they need to be successful in any career right from the start!

For young women just graduating – learn this skill!  Read a book, take a class, find someone who can teach it, and teach it well!  Yesterday morning,  Morning Joe had a great segment on negotiation and how women need to make the ask and do it the right way.  Gen Y women do this – but they ask in the wrong way.  Baby boomers ask by apologizing.  My first step – I’m going to read Knowing Your Value – Mika Brzezinski’s book, and inspiration for yesterday’s entire show.

What else should you know before going into the working world?  Tons!  Another piece on Forbes was a great list of things various people wished they’d known from the start.  The first thing I noticed was how many people wished they’d known the importance of the hand written thank you note.  For a generation raised on the Internet, this is crucial.  My mom insisted that I do this, and how much it stands out to employers.  It worked too.  I always have a stack of thank you cards sitting in my home – because you just don’t know when you might need one.

What do you wish you’d known before getting your first job?

Originally appeared on Fem2.0

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