How Not to be a Sheep: Getting the Job While Staying True to Yourself

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In October of my first semester at college, I received a text from my resume-less friend Paul asking about my plans for next summer. Paul, our high school’s valedictorian and now concert pianist/physics major/dean’s list student at Princeton University was worried that an internship-less summer as a 19-year-old kid would result in a Billy Madison-esque future.

Instead of the 9 to 5 grind, Paul chose to spend the first half of his summer studying German in the hills of the Fatherland and the second half teaching the video game Minecraft to pip squeaks at a day camp. He isn’t a sheep. Yet, the internship obsession and resume padding culture had even captured Albert Einstein and Mozart’s love child, but only for a moment. We all succumb to the pressure and worry about our future from time to time. To help remember how to stay true to ourselves while remaining on a healthy path to success, think WWPD: What would Paul do?

GIVE YOURSELF A REALITY CHECK

As an 18, 19 or 20-year-old, how much do you really know about yourself or your “specialty” to influence the inner workings of a corporation? Probably just as much as my grandpa knows about computer programming. CFO of Fidelity Biosciences Susan Wright said, “Experiment with different things because the pressure you put on yourself and what your major is just doesn’t really matter in the end.” So what should you do? Everything.

LET THE HATERS HATE

Don’t let people judge you for your passions, no matter what they are. More often than not, haters hate ya because they ain’t ya. Reflecting on a job review turned sob-fest, Wright told a tale of a psychology major turned Fidelity accountant who quit her job to be a traveling photographer. “She was so worried that I would judge her for quitting that she broke down. The first thing I told her was ‘You don’t know how jealous everyone here will be of you,’” Wright said. “Life moves fast. If you don’t stop to look around once in a while, you might miss it.” Wait, where have I heard that before? Bueller?

READ THE FINE LINES OF YOUR INTERNSHIP

Let’s face it. At a huge portion of internships, the most you’ll do is get coffee, send automated emails or read the Wall Street Journal. Wright said, “The advantage of an internship is that you meet these people. That only gives you a short leg up, though. I mean, how much can you really learn in three months?” Tell your uncle who knows a guy  with an available internship thanks, but no thanks.

GET A JOB SOMEWHERE. ANYWHERE

Just because an internship may be unnecessary doesn’t mean a job is. Employers don’t care if you’re Bill Gates Jr. – they want to see work experience. Thinking back to an applicant she recommended, Wright remembered her boss rejected the kid for never having a job. “I didn’t even know that was a requirement, but she said, ‘Well, yeah. He at least had to have scooped ice cream or something,’” said Wright. Your other uncle on your dad’s side owns a hardware store. Give him a call.

LEARN OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM

Be on the lookout for useful lessons because they can sneak right by you without the cozy, cliche setting of a classroom or office. Dr. Melissa Bailey, an OBGYN in Morristown, New Jersey better known as The Multitasker, said, “I was a waitress all through college and I learned how to handle a bunch of different tables at once. I don’t know how I would function now if I didn’t have that.” Be a waiter. Save a life.

HAVE A GOOD ‘TUDE

No matter what you do, do it with a good attitude. After college, smarts don’t matter as much as your work ethic and spirit. Stephen Murray, Managing Partner and owner of Kitson & Partners and former vice president at Morgan Stanley, said, “The guys with 3.0’s and great attitudes run circles around the 4.0 guys with terrible attitudes. I want a guy with a motor.’” You are Thomas the Train; you can do it.

 BE INTERESTING. BE WEIRD

Interviewers don’t want to hear about how your overly driven nature landed you an internship with Goldman Sachs at 12 years old. They want to hear a funny, honest story. In an interview with Bank of America in Chicago, an interviewer asked Murray to reveal something he wouldn’t want him to know. Murray said, “I stumbled for a second, but then told him about how I got arrested in high school. I got the job.” Next time you get arrested, just tell your parents you did it for a job interview. That should go over well.

HAVE A GOOD HANDSHAKE

Have you ever gone to give someone a handshake and they give you back the “dead fish?” The handshake never goes unnoticed. Practice with your boss, with those who work below you and with your friends and family. “I’ve interviewed hundreds of kids. I can tell within the first three minutes of the interview if it’s going to be great or terrible,” Murray said. The interview starts with a handshake.

TEACH YOURSELF

Nowadays, people rely on Google for everything. We constantly search “how to change my oil” or “is *insert malady* a symptom of death?” Obviously, our generation carries a stigma of laziness and decreased critical thinking. If you want to be successful, be able to think for yourself. Dr. Henry Greene, Chief of Inpatient Services at Children’s Specialized Hospital, said, “Anything you can look up online, you can figure out how to do by yourself. My dad taught me that. He was right.” Ever hear the expression, “The older you get, the smarter your dad gets?” Well, it’s right.

Ladies and gentlemen, don’t be a sheep. Listen to Ferris Bueller and don’t watch the world pass you by. Major in whatever the heck you want. Be whoever you want to be. If anyone tells you differently, simply punch them in the fa— I mean, resolve the conflict with cordial conversation.

Jack O'Reilly is a sophomore mathematics major at Boston College. He seeks to be a gentleman and a scholar in all walks of life: professionally, athletically, socially.

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