I graduated high school four years ago, so I don’t know if kids are still being fed the same story I was, or if they’re still buying into it. I remember coming out of high school thinking, “Alright, I’m ready for that job now.” Well, it’s been four years since then and I’m still waiting. I’ve had jobs, don’t get me wrong. I spent a few years making coffee for the types of people I thought I was going to be, but the truth is, I won’t be one of those people with the briefcases and salaries until I get a good degree, or maybe three. Just “some college” doesn’t cut it. I’m one class away from an Associate’s, a stepping stone to my next stepping stone: a Bachelor’s degree. And after that, I really ought to get a Master’s, and maybe one day, when I’m sitting on a doctorate and I’m neck deep in a heap of student debt, that’s when I’ll finally get hired for a decent salary.
Hopeless as I make it sound, the prospect of landing a “good job” is not impossible. I don’t mean to discourage you. All I want is to prepare you for the reality of looking for a livable income these days. As far as college, I definitely recommend you do it! How many years you dedicate to college and how many degrees you decide to pursue is up to you, but just know that you’re competing for jobs against people with numerous degrees.
So the question is, how can you set yourself apart? Here are some steps you can start taking now, in high school, that will pay off later when you’re looking for a job.
Create Your Own Opportunities
Don’t limit yourself to existing opportunities. You can sign up for all the clubs and extracurriculars you want, but your future employer wants to know that you can take the initiative. Show them you can contribute something new, something that no one else has ever thought of doing. Take the necessary steps to set original ideas into motion.
In high school, you’re surrounded by resources you won’t always have access to. Take advantage of them while you’ve still got them. If you need to use expensive technical equipment, chances are your high school can supply it. Maybe you want to make a web-show with a friend, iCarly style. Collaborate with the video production department. Everyone will benefit: You’ll get your web-show, and the video production class will get their next assignment.
Or let’s say you’re taking journalism, and you’re bored of covering school dances and other mundane events. Create your own stories to cover. Don’t just wait around for one to come to you. In high school, you’re surrounded by talented classmates and staff members, so put them to use! How can you harness other people’s interests and talent?
Consider all those cooking contests on TV. Why can’t your high school host a cooking competition of its own? Then you’d have something to report on, not to mention, you’d create an opportunity for any budding chef at your school to showcase his or her talent. Everyone involved, including you, will have something original to contribute to their future resume. This is just one example, but the possibilities are limitless. Every time you catch yourself wondering, “Why doesn’t our school offer such-and-such?” don’t shrug it off! Make something happen. Let your high school host its own Olympics. High School is your time to act on your creative impulses and explore original ideas.
Take Advantage of Human Resources
Consider the previous example: hosting a cooking competition at your high school. The pieces were there all along: the students interested in cooking competing, the video production students filming, and you, the budding journalist who’s covering the story. Without the cooking competition, none of those students would have anything to show for their potential, but collaborating in this way allows them to showcase their potential and add something concrete to their resume.
The trick is to see people in terms of their potential. Individual ideas, interests and perspectives are resources that can be harnessed and used. Everybody has something they’re best at, something that only they can do. Being able to identify different people’s assets is a valuable skill, and collaborating effectively with others is essential in any field.
Know What Your Future Employer Will Be Looking For
No matter what profession you pursue, there are a few things all employers look for. One is the ability to work effectively with others as a team. Another is the ability to innovate and generate original ideas. Be creative. Be resourceful. Remember to think in terms of human resources. How is each individual an asset to the team? How are you an asset? You have to make yourself essential.
Maybe you’re an astrophysicist, but your understanding of astrophysics doesn’t make you special in your field. It’s your understanding of astrophysics in combination with your communication skills that make you unique. The only way to set yourself apart from competition is to present your unique set of skills in such a way that makes you irreplaceable.
It’s okay if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. You know which universal skills you can apply to any career you might eventually pursue: collaboration, innovation, the ability to take initiative, creativity, resourcefulness… Exemplify these skills in everything you do. Explore your passions during high school. Make things happen, don’t wait for opportunities to find you, because chances are, they won’t. And don’t confine yourself to opportunities prescribed to you, because they won’t set you apart. Create your own. Take the initiative, and take advantage of the resources you have in high school.