So, is there a “downside” to all this DO-talk? I was talking to the parent of an incoming freshman this week at Orientation. Her daughter is in that far echelon of the student bell curve that we get in the Fall. As a high school student she has already accumulated enough credits to be halfway through her sophomore year in college. She’s done an internship, countless volunteer hours, and a senior project that would shame an Eagle Scout. In a word, she is awesome. The type of student who has the potential to be a breakaway rockstar.
However, she also has the potential to flame out spectacularly. More than a few high school superstars get to college and go nuts. Temptation, freedom, new interests, peer pressure; all these things can pile up on a kid who has been guided and encouraged by a strong parental hand. Even if you disregard the extremely sheltered types who have no idea about the pool they are diving into, this experiment in freedom can be fraught with hazards for the most mature and astute student.
Going back to my conversation, this mother was already formulating a career target for her daughter. I’m sure they have spoken about it the same as I’ve had the conversation with my son, so I began to explain the “DO” philosophy to her. Focusing on what she wants to do can help her focus on a cool end prize and hopefully keep temptation at bay. Immediately there was pushback.
“I understand telling kids to go do what makes them happy, but you have to be realistic as well. They have to be able to earn a living. You can’t pay the bills hugging trees and stuff like that.”
Um, actually, you can if that’s what rocks your world. Let’s say you have an environmental streak. You have decided that what you want to DO is participate in programs that help protect the environment, conserve natural resources, clean up pollution, and educate others about this stuff….that kind of thing. Cool! Or should I say, Groovy!
Well, here are two things that the astute student should be finding out. First, UCFs College of Business Dixon School of Accounting Burnett Eminent Scholar & Pegasus Professor, Robin W. Roberts is currently researching sustainability applications in the field of Accounting. In other words, putting a number to the impact that sustainability and conservation activities have on corporate performance. I put that giant title behind his name to show you that despite his easy-going and approachable demeanor, he’s a huge freaking deal.
Second, Publix Supermarkets is one of many companies to operationalize this field of study. They have a department of Corporate Environmental and Sustainability Management. This emerging field is saving large retailers like Publix, Target, and Wal Mart millions of dollars by lowering their energy costs, softening their footprint, and enacting other programs that reduce consumption of the stuff THEY have to buy to sell you the stuff they want YOU to buy.
Armed with these two pieces of knowledge, I can now start to put together the frame-work of a career plan. Step one, choose my major. Since I’d like to get to know Professor Roberts, I’d check out what it takes to major in Accounting. Hopefully you are inclined to quantitative activities. That’s math. Can’t do that? Well, then Accounting isn’t for you. Seriously, don’t try. You will suck and I’ll point out why that is bad in a minute. You can still get to know him in a different College of Business major, though. The relationship won’t be as strong and you’ll have to go out of your way to get to know him, but stuff like this isn’t handed to you, Chucko. Thus all the DO talk… Put down the controller, turn off Mass Effect, and get to work.
Step two, do some research on the companies that have sustainability departments. Most of these will be retailers. Why? Retailers have HUGE footprints (that’s square footages of stores) and spend a lot of money making their stores comfortable, nice places to go that turn a profit. So, I Googled “Target Sustainability Management” and found their 2012 Corporate Responsibility Report. Wow! Good stuff and lots on what they are doing in the area of sustainability. Now that I know Target’s “company-speak for sustainability, I went to LinkedIn and searched “Target Corporate Responsibility.” Guess what, I got over 90,000 hits on that search. After looking through the top couple of pages, I decided to pare it down a bit and see how many have UCF as their school. Still over 100. My search may vary from yours; I have a lot of contacts. But, it shows you the power of LinkedIn. One thing I learned by looking at the first few pages was that everyone seemed to move internally. Target likes to promote from within. Repeat this exercise for the other employers you identify.
Step three, figure out how to get your foot in the door at these types of places. Going back to Target, you can start by working there part-time. You can also go to Career Services and find out Target is a BIG supporter of UCF. Target teaches workshops, hosts information sessions, attends the career expos, and other activities. Seems like it’d be pretty easy to meet someone with Target that way. Publix also promotes from within. I’ve been shopping at the same Publix for 16 years and every person in management there started as a bagger, cashier, or customer service rep.
Step four, expand your network. So let’s say the gig with Target intrigues you. Do you like coffee? Can you learn to like coffee? Read Lindsay’s awesome blog about Informational Interviews and do some of that.
Step five, don’t suck. Ok, the best way to completely drive this train off the tracks is to perform poorly. Lousy grades, poor performance at work, a lack of focus, being more interested in socializing, student conduct issues, “lack of progress” holds, whatever, can make all this work you’ve done irrelevant. Here’s a secret, it doesn’t matter if you want to DO something. What matters to an employer is that you can demonstrate your ability to do it. Here’s a way of thinking about it. You meet some cutie patootie in class. You chat and think, dang! Then you find out that the last few relationships this person was engaged in ended badly. Like epically bad. Stole the dog, hooked up with the roommate, wrecked the car, police reports, any number of bad experiences. Are you as likely to think about investing in getting to know this person on a very trusting and personal way now? Hopefully not. That would probably be a bad decision unless you don’t like your dog, roommate, or car. So, when you show your crappy grades or poor work performance to an employer, don’t expect them to just give you a chance. You’ve already blown that!
That’s just one example of turning your “DO” into a “BE.” Just because you love baby ducks or want to save trees doesn’t mean you have to take a job that doesn’t interest you. However, you do have to be astute enough to realize that you’re going to have to work your way into that position. It starts with doing well in school and then follows with doing well in the potentially unrelated job you get with the company so you can get to the related job that interests you. Just because you work in customer service now doesn’t mean you have to be there forever. And if you are looking to move up but don’t…well, it’s probably not the job that has the problem!