A younger family friend reached out recently to ask for my advice on choosing a post secondary/college route, and for a while, I really struggled to give any sort of advice.
I’ve done a lot of thinking since graduating college this past year, and while I’m happy I decided to pursue post secondary education, I’m also of the opinion that the curriculum (in most programs) is pretty lackluster and students can learn more by doing things outside of school.
After some thinking, I gave my 2 cents to my friend, and basically summed everything up by saying your education throughout life is what you make of it.
College can be 4-5 years that just earns you a piece of paper that will hang in some overly-ornate frame on your wall, or it can a time period in which you learn useful skills and develop as a person. Similarly, your career can just be a 9-5 job that pays the bills, or it can be a dynamic process in which you continuously strive to grow and improve.
Anyway, that discussion lead me down the rabbit hole that left me wondering: what are some useful skills to learn, and what should young, budding students or entrepreneurs focus on in terms of skill development outside of the classroom/before their first job?
If you’re looking for some useful things to learn outside before graduation to improve your career or future side hustle endeavors, this is the post for you!
Useful Skills to Learn for your Career, Business, & Life
Regardless of your stage in life, learning or improving upon the following skills will help improve your success in business, any side hustles you undertake, and how you handle the challenges life throws at you.
General Organization Abilities
For almost all of college I was the kind of person who wrote my monthly to-do list on a single sticky-note, which I would inevitably misplace within 24 hours, bringing on a tidal wave of stress and more hastily created sticky-note calendars (it was a vicious cycle, really).
During college I also missed plenty of assignment deadlines, and I once showed up to an exam exactly 1 week after I was supposed to write it (I knew the damn thing was on Friday, but I guess I picked the wrong one!)
Anyway, I’ve since learned that the simple act of buying a calendar for your desk or committing to using the calendar app in your smartphone will change your entire life. If you can stick to organizing your thoughts for 1-2 weeks to develop the habit, the rest of your life will be significantly less hectic and more productive.
If you currently organize your life on sticky-notes or something similar, go buy a calendar. It will actually change your life.
Learn How to Network
When it comes to useful skills to learn, the ability to effectively network is one of the more abstract but critical ones in my opinion.
However, here’s the thing: there is smart networking, and then there is stupid networking.
See, successful/smart networking requires 2 individuals (or more) to make a connection in order to create some sort mutually beneficial relationship. It’s a scenario in which everyone leaves the table feeling as if they have gained something of value.
Stupid networking, in contrast, is a scenario in which either a single or both parties really have nothing to gain from the exchange and the whole thing is a waste of time or pure showboating.
I’m sure you’ve been there…It’s cocktail hour at the social and Chad from marketing drags you into a 45 minute conversation about his plans and his dreams and how great of a guy he really is. Bonus points if he gives you a business card at the end of the whole thing and if he’s wearing a full on suit to a business-casual event.
Anyway, the point is: don’t get caught up in bullshit.
College is full of big talk and less walk, and this reality can carry on into the workplace as well. Networking uses your time, and time is valuable, so don’t squander it by spending time with people who can’t offer you any sort of value. You really can and should say no to wasting time with stupid people.
Look to find people in your field who can help educate you or connect you to the right people and ensure that you can provide something of value in exchange.
It doesn’t matter if you are an entry level recent grad and looking to take a potential new boss or manager out for a drink; research what they need help with, sell yourself, and give them something in return. The same thing goes for establishing connections in your side hustles or online business ventures.
Extra reading/listening: a quick listen on how to use a value approach for networking.
Prospecting, Cold Calling, & Closing
I always assumed I would be able to cold call or sell because I’m an alright public speaker, but boy, I was I wrong.
During a 4 month internship at a marine satellite technology company, I was mostly in charge of attending trade shows, promoting our technology to boat owners, and calling marine distributors/press/event organizers to try and secure some media attention.
Needless to say, I basically shit my pants the entire first day in our trade show booth as I tried to explain to veteran sailors and fishermen why the equipment they have been using for the past 15 years isn’t all that great and that they should hand me a thousand bucks to replace everything.
The point is, you will never know how to sell, cold call, or close unless you actually try to do it. And, even if you never go into sales directly, there will be points in your life when you need to convince an audience that your solution is the way to go.
One of my college friends actually took a 4 month door-to-door summer sales job primarily to work on his selling abilities, and the decision to go out and learn a useful skill like direct sales is not one he regrets.
I’ve started to learn just how hard the process of selling can be through the digital marketing side hustle my friend and I have running, and it’s a skill that can always use some practice.
Glassophobia, or the fear of public speaking, is one of the most common fears people have.
However, learning how to comfortably and effectively present is an incredibly useful skill to learn.
One aspect of college I enjoyed was that many classes required frequent presentations, so that was a great way to improve public speaking skills. However, there is always room to improve, and even if your class doesn’t have presentations there are plenty of tips to improve public speaking skills or local workshops you can enroll in to practice.
Presentations are always going to be a part of life, especially in the workplace or even your side business, so it doesn’t hurt to hone this skill.
Using Excel + Data Analysis
Even if you don’t work in a field that requires you to handle significant data sets, being proficient in Excel is one of the most valuable skills to learn.
Excel and an understanding of how to manipulate data can help you make sense of information, track patterns, and effectively organize your life.
Outside of work I religiously use Excel for my budgeting spreadsheet, and I also use Excel to help plan out my blogging content map for This Online World. I still have no idea how to really use Excel macros or a lot of the incredibly powerful Excel functions, so that’s something I’m trying to improve on through courses.
However, even a basic understanding of how to use Excel and manage information will help you in the long run.
You can learn how to use Excel with this free Udemy course, or plenty of other online resources!
Basic Understanding of Web Design & SEO
I’m a bit biased on this one because I find search engine optimization to be fascinating, but I think it is important for people entering the workforce to learn as much as they can about how the digital world works.
One thing I’ve learned from working various internship jobs is that cross-department communication can often suffer from people being on completely different pages, especially when it’s a case of science meets business. Having a robust understanding of how digital marketing or online businesses operate can help mend some communication barriers and get people on the same page (I also think people in marketing/business should try to learn the basics of other departments for the same reason).
Additionally, learning more about how search engines work is critical to understanding how humans consume a vast amount of online information. SEO, Google rankings, and how websites function in a competitive landscape directly impacts the sort of information that is consumed by the majority of people, so in a way, these algorithms have a pretty substantial impact on the world…I think so, at least.
Extra reading: this 2019 SEO guide for beginners by BlogRex is a decent read to scratch the surface of what SEO is and how Google ranks websites with their search engine.
Basic Financial Management & Budgeting
A final but immensely useful skill to learn is how to to manage money, and not just in the personal finance sense.
At some point in time, you will probably have to make financial decisions that influence your career or side hustle, and being able to budget/forecast how you will utilize your capital is important.
This Online World generated an approximate and humble $1,800 last year, but I am already realizing that the decision making process behind investing back into this blog (i.e. through hosting plans, purchasing Tailwind) can be challenging…I have to consider how much work I will outsource, predict how much revenue this blog will make and if I can cover costs, and try to forecast my growth.
Similarly, your side hustle will probably bring up similar questions. You will have to track your income, plan for expenses/taxes, and consider how you can scale without taking too much risk. Additionally, if you run something like a digital marketing business where you deal with clients and their budgets, you have to account for their strategies, financial limitations, and goals.
I’m trying to get better at accepting my fixed costs and investing more into the growth of this blog, but this is definitely an exercise that takes some time and practice.
Admittedly this is a harder skill to practice, but I suppose it all begins with learning the basics, tracking finances, and deciding to make a plan/budget.
Extra reading: how to create a business budget by Fundera.
Additional Skills/Things to Have Prepared:
I think the list of skills I mentioned above are a great way to develop a solid foundation before graduating college and entering the workforce, but there are additional things I wish I had improved on or had in my back pocket while I was still in school.
Some ideas you can consider include:
- Make sure your resume/cover letter are always up to date.
- If you start a side hustle/business, don’t be afraid to make it legit; make a website, register the business, print business cards etc. if you start to generate revenue and want to become more professional.
- Get on LinkedIn if you aren’t already, and craft a great profile.
- Actively attend conferences, sign up for workshops, and take advantage of free education resources that colleges or companies push.
Ultimately, college is never going to teach you everything you need to learn in life, and I’m a big believer in taking initiative to develop new skills outside of the classroom or workplace. After all, there’s a wealth of information available online (and for free), so I figure we might as well make use of it!
I tried to compile a list of useful skills that could apply to any field or just entrepreneurs/young adults in general, but I am sure there are many more ones I have forgotten to list.
However, I think that as long as college students or young adults actively try to acquire new skills and develop what they are already good at, it can’t hurt. I know I’ll definitely be looking into some Excel courses in the upcoming weeks!
Catch you guys in the next post!
Tom is a 23 year old recent college graduate from Canada with a passion for side hustling, passive income, and marketing. This Online World is all about providing people with honest ways to make and save more money by using technology. To learn more about Tom, read his About Page!
If you’re interested in freelance writing services or want to partner with This Online World, please visit Tom Blake Digital to get in touch!