The Season of Commencements
By Gherezgher Bekit
This is a season of excitement for it is the time students reap the fruit of their labor. Let me begin by congratulating you all, graduates and achievers graduating class of 2019, on your well-deserved success. It’s worth celebrating all your achievements and accomplishments. I wish you all the best in your future adventures and endeavors. Whether graduating from high school or college, there is a common thread that binds you all. That common thread is the hard work and challenging road that lie ahead of you to fulfill your dreams, aspirations and goals of pursuing higher education as well as embarking on the adventure of job search. By now, you, high school seniors, have already made up your mind which college/university you will be attending. Some of you, college graduates, might have already been recruited on campus by corporations. Kudos!! Don’t get blindsided by the offer though. Consider this as the first milestone in your career development and strive for more. If you have a plan to continue education, remember this is a delicate balancing act and get prepared to balance school, work and life.
At the risk of stating the obvious, I will here attempt to share with you some hints and tips for what it’s worth. During my 25 years of employment in higher education, mostly and specifically in the Financial Aid Department, I have come across students with self-imposed boundaries who disqualify themselves from opportunities of applying for financial aid. There is always some sort of financial aid for almost everyone depending on their financial need. For those who are high school seniors and have a need of financial aid to pursue your higher education, I hope by now you have already filled out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
There are so many opportunities out there for everyone. Stay diligent in your quest for financial aid so that you can go to college without carrying too much student loan debt. Try your best to not mortgage your future, if all possible. Statistics and study show that 2.3 billion dollars in Pell Grants left unclaimed in 2017. There are grants and scholarships for deserving African American students. The following corporations award scholarships:
Coca-Cola College Scholarship
Gates Millennium Scholarship
Sports Scholarships and Internships
National Association of Black Journalists Scholarships
Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Fund
Microsoft Scholarship Program
Learn all the necessary requirements to not only how to play it, but also how to compete. Once you have been awarded your grant or scholarship, make sure to read the terms and conditions so you can regain the award. If you set your mind to it, your success is not only possible but also imminent. As you very well know, success comes with certain cost. That cost is hard work and discipline.
4-Year Colleges or University: Most students go straight from high school to four-year universities/colleges. While this a great accomplishment that should be commended and not necessarily everyone achieves it, those of you who have been accepted to a four-year institution must be prepared for the “intimidating” atmosphere.
Advantages: Just to mention a few:
- Take on a bigger responsibility and independence.
- More major academic choices.
- Experience campus life, will have the opportunity to learn student culture and campus life, join student clubs and organizations and athletic programs.
- More of extracurricular activities.
- More and direct social life experience.
- More and better learning resources.
Disadvantages: Just to mention a few:
- May feel overwhelming and daunting as it is a culture of isolate or assimilate.
- Higher tuition cost.
- May rack up student loan debt unless you receive financial aid.
- May not afford wasting time by changing majors.
- Challenges of crowded classrooms, halls and auditoriums.
- Challenges of lecture note-taking due to fast-pace environment.
- Lack of immediate feedback from professors due to class size.
Usually, universities are categorized as intimidating, but if you bear the brunt of financial and social squeeze, you will be pleased with the outcome.
Community Colleges: There has been some misconception about community colleges. Community colleges had been viewed in the past as low-academic quality. However, community colleges have made notable improvements in academic quality in the last two decades. The quality of education in community colleges is comparable to traditional institution of higher education. It has become standard practice for community colleges to now require most professors to have a master’s degree or doctoral degree in their discipline. The trick here is to take transferable credits to a four-year university without wasting time. Consult with an academic advisor to take the right classes. You can fulfill all your general education requirements (lower division units), such as reading, writing, social science and math.
Advantages: Just to mention a few:
- Tuition is more affordable.
- Flexible schedule.
- Average class size is low, usually about 30-35 students.
- Professors are generally more accessible.
- More collaborative environment working with a group of students on projects.
- Possible one-to-one relationship or network with professors which you can use for job references.
- Meaningful interactions and constructive class discussions.
- Avoid crowded lectures.
- Gives time and opportunity to decide a major if you are not certain about your choice of major.
Disadvantages: Just to mention a few:
- Limited curriculum.
- Lighter workload and therefore not being challenged as much.
- Lack of adequate student activities, extracurricular activities.
- Lack of campus life experience.
- Feeling of complacency, too comfortable, not being able to push yourself out of your comfort zone.
Those who will be looking for a job, make sure you update your resume to indicate your hard and soft skills along with a cover letter tailored to the specific position you are applying for. Hard skills are those specific knowledge and abilities required to perform the advertised job. Whereas, soft skills are your unique interpersonal skills that separate you from the rest of the candidates. It may include strong work ethics, good communication skills, good attitude, time management and being a good team player. Although there is no right or wrong resume format, I would prefer to start off my resume with a PROFILE, followed by work experience and education, on the top of the page to get the interviewers’ attention to my soft skills. If I feel my work experience is not that impressive, I would first list my education to impress the interviewer.
Examples of a profile:
- Results oriented, highly motivated self-starter and decision maker.
- Strong record of steadily increasing responsibility.
- Excellent oral and communication skills with strong interpersonal work ethics.
- Extremely flexible, resourceful and committed to highest standards of ethical conduct.
Your cover letter should not be a duplicate of your resume. It should highlight areas of your expertise and the contributions you will bring to the organization that others won’t.
After you receive invitation for interview, fully explore and excavate information about the company. Although interview settings could be different from employer to employer, this is your chance to tell everything relevant you can about the question or the topic and for you to highlight your applicable qualifications and achievements. Feel free to provide as much detail as you can, including examples, quantities (oversee annual budget of $120 million), years of experience, scope and any other details that would help the interviewer learn as much as they can about you in relation to the job for which you have applied. Remember impressions are in the details. In a structured interview setting, keep in mind the time frame to answer all questions as much as possible in the allotted time.
If the job opening you are applying for is a promotional position within your organization, don’t assume the boss knows your knowledge, capabilities and skills because in the process, you may shortchange yourself. Just pretend as if the boss does not know anything about you. Try to give it your best shot. After you have been interviewed, send a “thank you” card to the interviewer followed by a phone call. It does not have to be a fancy one. Some people send an email. And that’s fine, but sometimes that email may get buried in a barrage of emails and it may have a slim chance of being noticed or sometimes may be overlooked. But a “thank you” card will make it to the desk of the boss and, therefore, it will serve as a constant reminder.
In the final analysis, no matter what you do, stay focused, stay the course and keep your eyes on the prize without abandoning your core principles. Count your blessings and when you do, count your family twice. Connect to your family and friends to firm up the continued support. Oftentimes, opportunities may come your way, but if you are not prepared, those opportunities may not materialize. So, be always prepared because success is a combination of preparation and opportunity. I have no doubt one day you will join the shakers and movers of corporate America.
I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors.