Dec162010

Transitioning from College to the Workforce

Last week I had the opportunity to speak with the Ferris State University Graphic Arts Association about transitioning from college to the work force. As a follow-up, I thought it would be beneficial to post the basics from my presentation, along with additional information I may not have covered.

Introduction

I am a graduate of the FSU New Media Printing and Publishing program. Before attending Ferris, I received my two year associates degree from West Shore Community College in Network Services.

I work for Independent Printing Company, Inc. based out of De Pere, Wisconsin. I am a software developer, focusing mainly on reporting and workflow automation. How did I get into software development based on a print degree? That's coming up.

School

As I said, I'm a graduate of the NMPP program at FSU, as well as having an associates degree in computer and networking systems. Thankfully, almost all of my credits transferred from my community college to Ferris, allowing me to focus solely on my printing degree.

The classes that the NMPP program offered were great. I received a wide array of knowledge of the printing industry, while still being able to focus on the technical side of it (e.g JDF, prepress, workflow, etc). By combining my two areas of expertise, I was able to find my niche in the printing industry.

With how tough the economy is, it's important to find a niche in the industry. Having basic skills and knowing a little bit of everything would have cut it a few years back, especially for entry-level positions, but now that jobs are scarce it's important to show why we are valuable and why we should be hired over that other guy. By finding a specialty in the industry, we can focus and build up our skill sets to become experts in that area, thus becoming more valuable as a potential employee.

What should your niche be? It's hard to say. For me, it was taking my strong technical background and combining it with my newly received printing knowledge. Opposed to some previous developers at IPC, I have a working knowledge of how many print processes work, and can combine it with the workflow and automation programming requirements to be more efficient and productive for the company. For you? Maybe combining graphic design, marketing, accounting, or other areas could be yours. The possibilities are endless.

Internships

I was one of those students that wanted to get through college as quickly as possible. I wanted to do my time, get my degree, and get to work. When I first started looking at enrolling into Ferris, I asked if I could skip the internship portion of it since I had worked at a quick-printer for the previous two years. Thankfully my advisor, Mr. Klarecki, said that he still wanted me to find an internship, and it wouldn't slow me down at all (since it would occur over a summer).

Between my junior and senior year, I interned with Independent as a web developer/analyst (a position that was later renamed to software developer). The experience was great, amazing even. I was lucky enough to fall into a position that was a borderline "real job," but I was still able to do a few weeks of job-rotations to see how the company functioned as a whole.

After experiencing my internship, I can say I'm glad that I did it. It gave me a true, working knowledge of the skills I learned in school, for both degrees even, and I was able to see things in action and more hands on than Ferris could offer.

My suggestion to you: find an internship, and take advantage of everything they have to offer. Heck, I have a friend who did two or three internships the entire time he was at Ferris (talk about overachiever!). Even if you're only a freshmen or a sophomore, see if you can secure an internship. It may seem a little early for you, but earlier is better than later or too late.

Work

You may have a very difficult time securing an internship, and possibly an even harder time securing a job. Don't let that discourage you. If you've managed to land an internship, excellent. If you're still looking, try harder (resumés, phone calls, emails, visits, whatever it takes). It's an important step, and one that will help you land a job.

I left my internship with a part-time job in-hand. Independent was so impressed with my work, they decided to let me work remotely from school on a part-time basis while I finish my degree. Around March of this year, I received a job offer. Full-time position, salary, benefits, all the goodies a soon-to-graduate college student could ask for. One even better, I was able to work out with them to let me stay remote (took a bit of a pay cut, but I got an expense report out of it).

For me, transitioning was easy; I literally never left the company. For you, you'll probably have a break between your internship and your hopeful job. If you want to go back to the same company, keep the lines of communication open. Keep up with your coworkers, and even better, keep up with your supervisors/bosses. Don't become overbearing, but let them know you're still interested and want to come back. If you decide that you want to look elsewhere, you should still keep some communication open. Internships can be really good references (as long as you weren't a less-than-stellar employee), and you should use that to your advantage.

Also, similar with internships, be sure to send out your resumés, make phone calls, send emails, or whatever else it takes to get your name out there. Try to secure interviews and get yourself known. Be sure to show them the skills that you have, and tell them why you need to be a part of their company.

Resources

One thing Ferris did for me was provide a huge networking opportunity. I'm not just talking about the job fairs that the university runs, I'm talking about the department, the faculty, staff, and students in the department. You have an immense amount of resources at your disposal. Have teachers use their connections in the industry, ask for past alumni to talk to, have your friends drop a good word for you when they are on their internship or moving into a job. There's a lot you can do to help each other out; just remember to pay it forward.

Also, the GAA is great in that it helps you prepare for job fairs, interviews, and getting known in the industry. They work closely with the department in preparing your resumés, holding mock interviews, and other valuable resources that you should be taking advantage of. If you're not willing to go the extra mile to get your resume and presentation put together, how are you proving that you're going to be an above average employee? Take advantage of everything there is to take advantage of!

Bonus: Scholarships and Student Loans

Something I hit on during my presentation, and something I don't think is talked about enough, is your financial situation as a college student. As for myself, I had a few thousand dollars in scholarships at FSU, but the rest was paid by student loans. A few tips regarding your financial situation (in no particular order):

  • Keep track of how much money you're borrowing. If you can cut back, then cut back. It may seem awesome to get $2500 back after you've paid for classes, but it isn't awesome when the bill comes.
  • Keep track of your interest rates on your loans. When looking for a lender, see what they can offer you.
  • For those of you about to graduate: you have six months before you have to start paying on your loans. If you can't find a job in 3 or 4, look into what deferment options you have. Also, see if you can find out how much your monthly payments will be (I'm paying around $550/month for $40,000 in loans).
  • Start a budget. There are several tools out there that can help you plan your financial situation. Personally, I'm a fan of mint.com.
  • Try to have a part-time job while you're in school. Don't overwork yourself (you want to do well in school), but make enough money to possibly pay for groceries and other necessities.
  • Look into getting a bridge card. Money you don't have to spend on food is money that can be saved or used elsewhere.

Closing

Obviously, these are all opinions based on my personal experience at school and in the workforce. Your mileage may very.

If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment, send me a message, of find me on Facebook or twitter. I'd be happy to answer just about anything.