Here are 10 things all students MUST do in order to be prepared to make the leap from school to life in the real world. The world is more connected than ever. The entire landscape of employment and college acceptance is such that young people are competing for jobs and college acceptance in an ecosystem where the “rules” are more esoteric than ever. So how do they compete? The answer is to stand out and differentiate. Show competence and confidence. Whether a high school student or soon to be college graduate, these steps apply to the entire transition from student life to adulthood. Here’s how to LEAP that gap like a champ!
(I wrote this TO teens – if you’re an adult, consider yourself the messenger and pay it forward! Please share this with a young person, their parents, and teachers, thanks!)
Think about the future.
It’s easier sometimes to see the crazy distant future than the near future for many young people. Think about where you want to be in 20 years. What do you want to be doing? What do you want to feel? What do you want to have accomplished? Where do you want to have traveled to? Work backwards from here and take a step in the direction of your goals and dreams today. And then (see #8!) practice talking about where you would like to see yourself. Check back soon for an article on developing your unique 1 minute elevator pitch.
Build a network.
Meet adults and other people older than you – older than your older siblings and the kids you grew up with. These people will become your professional network, and your safety net in adulthood. They will answer your questions about adulthood and open doors to other people who will help you build your career and your life.
Market yourself everywhere, always.
Guess what? You are a brand! Everything you do in your interpersonal communications, in your social media and online is already creating your brand. Be conscious and deliberate about who you are. This does not mean changing yourself to fit someone else’s ideas of who you should be, rather it means you must consider how people other than your peers in your social networks see you. Think about adults who will seer you through a lens of “hey, should I hire this person?” or “can I trust this teenager with money in my store/confidential information/a large complex project?” Think of it this way: you never know when you may be interacting with the next adult who will turn around and offer to make an introduction to your next boss. You don’t need to be hustling to be in the game anymore. Market yourself! You are your own product and you are always on the market!
Build your tools.
You need a resume, a LinkedIn profile, and a cleaned up and ready for market digital footprint. This is similar to #3. Not only do you need to market yourself behaviorally, but you also need to have the tools and the online presence that works for you 24/7.
Get experience, and document it.
Get a job, and also get an internship. Expose yourself to different types of work environments to help you either “rule in” or “rule out” what you do or don’t like doing. The job is important, because it builds your resume. Your resume is what tells the world you are experienced and ready to take on more responsibility, bigger projects, and more important assignments. An internship shows prospective employers and colleges that you have been willing to step out of your comfort zone and get experience in a particular field of work that you may or may not have been paid for. You can absolutely get an internship on your own. And don’t forget to volunteer. The world wants to know that you are a good citizen. Having these three categories of experience on your resume shows that you are well-rounded, that you seek opportunities beyond just your paid job (the internship) and that you care about the world and spend some of your time giving back. This trifecta of experience tells a well rounded story about who you are. So: Get a job. Get an internship. Get volunteer experience.
Start a business.
If I had my way, every teenager would take an entrepreneurship class in high school. Every single one, of all learning abilities. It is a fun, collaborative, creative way to build so many skills and tons of confidence and self-awareness – but the class should be non-prescriptive and based on students’ own creative ideas from day one. You teens have tremendous ideas for changing the world and making your own communities a better place. Want to know how to get started right now? Read my article Teach ‘Em How to Hustle: 11 Things Your Teens Can Do This Summer.
Open a bank account.
If you have more than $1000, open an online savings account with a higher interest-rate. Make smart financial decisions. First step: Don’t buy those shoes. That $100 will be far more valuable to you in the future invested and turned into more than $100 down the road. That is a smart financial decision. If you didn’t buy a pair of shoes, congratulations. You just made a smart financial decision. Next, don’t buy those shades. You get how this works.
Practice talking to people.
Who exactly? People you don’t know, especially adults. Making the transition from one culture to another requires learning about and practicing the language, norms, and behaviors of the new culture you are about to visit. The best way for you, for any teenager, to get started on making the leap from student to adult is to start having conversations with adults – and especially those you do not see regularly. It’s time to step out of your comfort zones and start practicing handshakes, eye contact, having new conversations and speaking Standard Business English (or, as my students would tell you, SBE).
Seek adult mentors.
Every young person needs non-parent and non-teacher adult mentors to help make the transition from student to adult. It is much easier for young people to talk about some things or ask certain questions of an adult with whom you do not have a pre-existing, structured, or sticky relationship. It is also much easier for you to step into your own adult persona with a trusted adult mentor. And guess what? All you need to do is ask an adult to mentor you on something. They will be immensely flattered and you will be giving them a concrete way to give back.
Build your confidence!
The reason this is item #10 on the list is because every single step before it, 1 – 9, helps to build a young person’s confidence. YOUR confidence! You need to prove to yourself that you can do something. Feedback from others is great, but your first hand experience and the feeling you get from taking a step toward your own future/independence/empowerment is precisely what builds confidence. There is no prescription for gaining self-confidence other than trying on something you haven’t before and proving to yourself that you can do something you didn’t think you could.
Do you have anything to add to this list? I would love to hear from you! And don’t forget to share – do you know how many teenagers there are in the world who need to see this list and get a fist bump of reassurance from adults in their lives? Yes, way more than you can imagine. So go on, share! And I already wrote this speaking directly to young people, so consider yourself the messenger, open a new email and say, “hey I just read this list and thought of you! Let me know if I can help with #9!”
About the Author:
Amy L. Carrier is an advocate for children, true education reform that puts children first and community engagement in the classroom. She has been building new solutions in education since 2000. She is known for empowering teens to become entrepreneurs teaching them how to create their own unique solutions to problems in their communities. Amy has been interviewed on CNN about teaching business and entrepreneurship in schools.