If you want to make sure you get a job after college…

In today’s economy, a lot of families are understandably worried about students’ job prospects after college.  I constantly see articles online about the majors with the best job placement and highest starting salary (guess what—none of them seem to agree).  

If you really want to improve your odds of a successful job search after college, here are five things I’d start learning how to do in high school.  Pick a few (or try them all).  Then use the opportunities in your college years to get even better at them. 

1. Learn to sell.
A lot of people think selling is icky.  But if you’re really good at sales and your track record shows it, you’re always going to have a job.  The best sales people don’t cost money for a company—they make money for the company.  If you work on the school newspaper or on the yearbook staff, take on the job of securing advertising.  If your club needs donated goods for the annual fundraiser, make that your job.  And don’t you dare let your parents sell the programs for the lacrosse team or the candy bars for the student council for you.  Get out there and sell them yourself.  Selling isn't easy.  It’s hard work and it can be demoralizing.  That’s what makes the people who are good at it so valuable.

2. Learn to write really well.
Writing is now many peoples’ preferred method of communication.  You simply can’t afford not to be good at it.  Clear writing is evidence of clear thinking.  If you can write a persuasive cover letter to HR, you’ll stand out during the job search.  And you’ll always bring something of value to whatever company you work for when you can write a convincing email to a reporter or some punchy copy for a company newsletter.

3. Learn accounting.
Do you like numbers?  Take a business accounting class at your local community college, one that teaches you how to read a profit and loss statement.  As a bonus, try to find a course that teaches you how to make and manage a budget for a small business.  It's hard to envision a place of work that doesn't have to manage money, pay employees, and make sure their tax returns are accurate.  All of those things depend on good accounting.

4. Learn how to keep computers working.  
If you can diagnose and fix computers, servers, and even networks, that’s a great line to have on your resume even if you’re looking for a job at an art gallery.  Sure, large companies have dedicated IT staffs to keep things working.  But at smaller companies, the one worker who actually knows how to diagnose problems and fix them, even though it’s not her job, is bringing a lot of value to the workplace.  She's also saving the company potentially thousands of dollars in costs for outsourced IT support.  

5. Learn how to do good work.
The best way to get a good job is to be really good at your last job.  And it’s surprising how many college grads have never worked before and think that a college degree alone will make them stand out.  I think every high school kid should get a part-time job at some point before you graduate.  Not a fancy job filing at your mom’s law firm, but a regular teenage-kid-job like bagging groceries or flipping burgers or selling clothes at the mall.  You learn a lot about what you’re good (and not good) at, and what it takes to be successful.  Thrive at one job and you’ll have an advantage when you look to move on to your next one.  Have a string of successes by the time you graduate from college and you’ll be ahead of the competition.  

Now, before you write off any of those as not being applicable to your field of interest, I’d just remind you that people who make yoga mats for a living still need to sell them.  Computer engineers still need to write emails and even proposals.  The head of a non-profit agency needs to know how to read a financial statement and balance a budget.  Anyone who uses a computer would benefit from knowing how to keep it working properly.  And since everyone leaves college hoping to get a job, previous work experience benefits every college grad.