They Don't Teach Corporate in College, Third Edition: A Twenty-Something's Guide to the Business World

They Don't Teach Corporate in College, Third Edition: A Twenty-Something's Guide to the Business World

by Alexandra Levit

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781601633088
Publisher: Red Wheel/Weiser
Publication date: 02/25/2014
Edition description: Third Edition
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 770,409
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Alexandra Levit's goal is to help people succeed in meaningful jobs, and to build relationships between organizations and top talent. A former nationally syndicated columnist for the Wall Street Journal and a current writer for the New York Times, Alexandra has authored six books. She has advised the Obama administration on critical workforce issues and has consulted for and spoken at hundreds of organizations around the world. Frequently appearing as a spokesperson in major media outlets, she was recently named Money magazine's Online Career Expert of the Year and the author of one of Forbes' best Websites for women. A member of the Northwestern University Council of 100 and the Young Entrepreneur Council, Alexandra resides in Chicago, Illinois, with her husband, Stewart, and their two young children.

Read an Excerpt


Find Yourself, Find a Paycheck

Whether you're just coming out of school or are mid-career, searching for employment in the professional world is more challenging than any assignment you'll be given on the job. Not only do you have to decide exactly what to look for, but you also have to find a way in the door — and make that doorstop hold until you have an offer in hand. Fortunately, as in any game with rules, job hunting has its loopholes. In this chapter, I'll discuss how to take advantage of them as you're surveying the field, meeting contacts, preparing your promotional materials, and interviewing. I'll also touch on the sticky question of negotiation, and will suggest how to decide if you should relocate for a job, work for free, or hire a career coach.

The Panic Button

For me, preparing to enter the business world was a lot like being reborn. At the end of my senior year of college, I felt the same sense of discomfort that a baby must feel when leaving the safety of its mother's womb. I freaked out about being unemployed and having to move back home, so I stormed my university's career center and wreaked havoc on every job database I could get my hands on. I needed a job ASAP, and I was willing to take anything I could get, regardless of whether or not I was interested in the occupation. After all, it was only my first job, right? The media reinforced my belief that because I was 22, I wasn't supposed to have a clue. Alexandra Robbins and Abby Wilner, authors of Quarterlife Crisis: The Unique Challenges of Life in Your Twenties, define a quarterlife crisis as the "overwhelming instability, self-doubt, and sense of panicked helplessness faced by twenty-somethings as a result of constant change and too many choices." I became complacent, thinking that because I'd inevitably change my mind a million times, I might as well put off the soul-searching.

Even if this approach seems perfectly legitimate to you, I don't recommend it. First of all, prospective employers don't like unfocused candidates; they want to believe that you've been preparing to work for them forever. Also, switching careers multiple times just for the hell of it sounds like a lot of work to me. You need a lot of training and experience to become proficient in a career, and once you have a family to support, will you be able to afford to pursue the job you love at a $40,000 entry-level salary? Along those same lines, your 20s is the best time to get to a respectable level on the ladder. During these years, you don't have competing responsibilities, and you are accountable to no one but yourself.

Given these factors, wouldn't it be much easier to make the smartest career choice you can now? Don't get me wrong — discovering your true calling is not an exact science, and it's impossible to know what you will want to do 10 or 20 years from now. Some futurists even predict that people currently in their 20s will have several careers in their lifetimes that haven't been invented yet. Therefore, all of the self- reflection in the world will probably not result in a bulletproof career plan for the rest of your life. It's also possible that you will try a field you've researched and think is interesting, but will realize you hate it after a few months on the job. However, by doing a complete self-assessment while you're still in school or shortly thereafter, you will be able to decide on a path that provides the core skills and experience you will need to take you wherever you want to go in the future.

The Self-Assessment Journey

Start with a blank slate. This is easier said than done when everyone you know — especially your parents — has an opinion on what you should do now that you're all grown up. You also have to get past the issue of your college major. You might think that because you studied economics you have to pursue a career as a financial consultant. The truth is that even a business-related major will not adequately prepare you for the professional world, so why let it pigeonhole you?

Forget what you studied in school for a moment and make a list of your skills — otherwise known as the things you do better than most of your friends. Skills can be general or specific. (An example of a general skill is communicating well with people, and an example of a corresponding specific skill is that you present well in front of groups.) Next, sit down for a brief philosophical journey and reflect on the following questions:

* What are your values?

* What type of work would make you want to sit in traffic for hours just for the privilege of showing up? What would you be compelled to do even if you never got paid for it?

* How do you prefer to work? How are you most effective?

* What is your definition of success? What drives you?

* Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Use the answers to these questions to develop what Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, calls a personal mission statement. To paraphrase Covey, the personal mission statement is your own big picture. It should include what you hope to accomplish in your career, and it should reflect the type of person you want to become. By thinking about what's really important to you and where you want to go in life, your efforts and energy will be directed toward a common purpose. Along with your list of skills, your personal mission statement should provide clues about fields to research.

Now go online and pore over material about occupations that correspond to your skills, interests, and personal mission. Once you've made a list of potential careers, ask the career center at your college or university to help you set up informational interviews with alumni so that you can learn more about each job field you are interested in. In these meetings, don't be afraid to ask specific questions about training requirements, responsibilities, salary, work environment, and opportunities for advancement. As long as you are polite, no one will fault you for wanting the real scoop. Plus, if a job is not as glamorous as it sounds, you will want to know that before investing more of your time and energy. If possible, sample your options by taking courses related to the careers that interest you, applying for internships in your target occupations, or visiting prospective companies so that you can get a real feel for the field you'll be pursuing.

If you've already been in the business world a few years, I suggest a healthy reality check before you jump over to another job. Revise or develop your personal mission statement and ask yourself if you're on the right track. Why aren't you happy in your current position? Is it your career choice, your work situation, or you? If it's the second or third scenario, read on. Hopefully this book will help you. If it's your career choice, though, this might be a good time to make an appointment with a career counselor, take a personality inventory such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, or read a career assessment book such as What Color Is Your Parachute? by Richard Nelson Bolles. Even if you're mid-career, you can still find a job that works for you.

When you've collected enough data to make an informed decision about a particular field, imagine your career path over the next five or 10 years. Suppose you land a dream job in your chosen field. You'll want to set some preliminary goals for what you hope to accomplish once you get there. In determining aspirations and time frames, try to be realistic. If your objective is to be a millionaire by age 30, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. (For more information on setting goals, see Chapter 4.) You should also have a backup plan. What will you do if you can't find a job or if you don't succeed in your first career choice? Knowing you have something to fall back on will only increase your confidence level as you hold your nose and dive in.

No matter what direction you choose, you'll have to cope with some doubt and uncertainty. But don't let indecisiveness get the best of you. Staying unemployed for too long while you consider the perfect career move will drive you crazy and make prospective employers squirm. Make the best decision you can, act confidently, and never look back. If you do what you think is best, the pieces will most likely fall into place.

Your Professional Persona

The semester before I graduated, I flew home to look for a job. I had been kind of lazy in college, and my parents didn't feel I was ready for the professional world. They even told me to hold off on interviewing. I didn't listen, though. I bought a new suit, got a haircut, and practiced by talking to myself in the mirror for a week. When I went in to meet with employers, I pretended I'd been a smooth professional all my life. My parents met me for dinner one night, and they kept looking for traces of the former bum. I think they were in shock. My dad was like, "Well, I guess maybe you are ready."

Dan, 27, Rhode Island

In life, we get many chances to reinvent ourselves. Remember when you first arrived on campus for your freshman year of college? The most exciting thing about it was that no one knew what a [insert negative adjective of choice here] you were in high school. You taught yourself new habits and hobbies, and you bought yourself a new wardrobe. Maybe you even picked a new nickname. You had the chance to start over, as if your previous life had never existed.

Graduating from college is a similar opportunity, and, understandably, you probably want to spend the next few years figuring out who you are and what you want out of life. Should you decide to pursue a career in business, however, developing a professional persona will unquestionably serve you well. By professional persona, I mean the mature, competent, and friendly face you project to the work world. It doesn't matter what type of person you are in real life; just think of yourself as an actor playing a role while you are at work. So what if you still play drinking games on Friday nights or prefer a book to human company? You can still have a professional persona.

How will this help you? Quite simply, a marketable professional persona positively influences people's perceptions of you so that you can ultimately succeed in the world of work. I'm sure you've heard of big-time publicists who get paid megabucks to promote celebrities and make them look like the coolest people on earth. You can be just like those PR folks, only you have just one client to promote: you. It's pretty easy, but there is a catch: you must first learn to toot your own horn. Although there is a fine line between confidence and arrogance, learning to capitalize on your skills and assert your achievements is a must for career success. If you don't do it, no one else will, and you'll be out-promoted by people who know how to leverage their own contributions. Trust me on this. In the end it will pay off almost as handsomely for you as it does for the wealthiest of publicists.

Growing and maintaining a professional persona is hard work, because everything you say and do affects it one way or the other. The best way to make your persona stick is to clearly establish it at the beginning of your relationship with a company and consistently sustain it during the early phases of a new job.

You can start online. The first step is to do a Google search of your name — and alternate spellings of your name — and see what comes up. A lot of factors influence which pages appear first in a particular search engine, but you can help your cause by purchasing your name from a web domain company, such as GoDaddy (, and housing a professional biography, other credentials, and current contact information on a simple and clean Website. If you find yourself competing with other people who have the same name, you might also increase your share of online real estate by writing industry articles for third-party association Websites or community blogs.

Your social media presence should enhance, rather than detract from your professional persona. By now you are hopefully aware that social networks and blogs are not the private havens for friends that they used to be. You can pretty much count on the fact that your boss, senior managers, colleagues, and potential employers are looking at your online sites — privacy controls or no privacy controls. That's not to say that you can't have a little fun by including content that demonstrates you're a human being, but don't go too crazy with apps and games, and beware of getting too personal. Upload photos of friends, but leave out those of last weekend's drunken soiree.

If you love posting real-time updates on micro-blogging platforms like Twitter, Tumblr, or Instagram, please think very carefully before you send messages or photos out into the world. Trust me: your boss will find out that you're posting from a Cubs game when you're supposed to be out sick, or that you've been conversing on Twitter all morning when you have a critical deadline to meet.

All of your online profiles should be consistent, updated frequently, and crafted to portray the attributes that encompass a strong professional persona: trustworthiness, sincerity, reliability, enthusiasm, self-sufficiency, and loyalty. Keeping the idea of the professional persona in mind, let's move on to the mechanics of finding a job.

Scoping the Field

Getting a good job in today's economy requires more than just graduating from a good college and hanging out at recruiting fairs. You have to set yourself apart, get their attention, and make them want you.

You probably don't have a lot of time to make this happen. If you're unemployed, you might be cashing in the last of your savings bonds to make your rent, and you need a job ASAP. If you already have a job and are looking for another, you have only so many hours to inconspicuously surf online before your boss figures out what's going on. When you're in your 20s, employment is a catch-22 — you need experience to get a job, but you must have a job in order to get that experience. Our forefathers relied on temp agencies to float them through the job-search process. Unfortunately, we don't have that luxury. These days, temp firms are more crowded than a Beyonce concert. You'll sit in their plush waiting rooms for hours, answering personality inventories on your smartphone and proving that you're Windows 8 compliant on an old, slower-than- DSL desktop.

Don't despair, though. Landing a job in the business world is quite achievable with a little ingenuity and preparation. Don't give them a reason to hire you; dare them to find a reason not to. This is where the concept of the professional persona comes in. Every interaction you have with a company — from your first written communication to your salary negotiation — should exude maturity, professionalism, and competency. You want the employer to say, "Wow, I've never seen a more together candidate. So what if the company is in a hiring freeze? I have to get her on board."

So where do you start? A good first step is to scout out openings commensurate with your level of experience. Here are some places to try:

* Your college career center and/or alumni network.

* Online professional networks such as

* Employment or recruiting agencies — a.k.a. headhunters, or people who get paid by a company to scout out desirable candidates.

* Company Websites with job postings.

* Local job fairs.

* Trade associations.

* Craig's List ( — hey, you never know.

Keep in mind that most job openings aren't advertised, because a lot of businesses prefer to hire from within the company or through word of mouth. If you're coming in from off the street, you could be out of luck. My friend Jake once tore through New York City in search of a job. In a week, he dropped 200 resumes at a career expo, signed with five recruiting firms, and answered dozens of online job postings. Boy, was he bitter when he was still unemployed after his month-long assault on the New York job market. Jake learned that, unfortunately, being proactive is sometimes not enough. Instead of working harder, work smarter. Use online resources, such as Hoover's (, and business trade publications, such as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Forbes, Fortune, Business Week, Business Insider, and Smart Brief to target desirable companies in your geographic area. Then, prepare to infiltrate these companies by making the transition from outsider to insider. Here's how:

* Get to know individuals already employed at your target company who are in a position to hire you. (See "The Myth of Cover Letters" on page X.)

* Apply for an internship position that will land you inside the company and provide you with an opportunity to build your skill portfolio.

* Secure referrals from anyone you know in your chosen field — either people with years of experience behind them, such as old professors and your parents' friends, or recent graduates who will have sympathy for your plight and might also be more familiar with a company's lower-level job openings.


Excerpted from "They Don't Teach Corporate in College"
by .
Copyright © 2014 Alexandra Levit.
Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Preface to the 10th-Anniversary Edition 11

Introduction 13

Chapter 1 Find Yourself, Find a Paycheck 19

Chapter 2 Congratulations, You're Hired! 45

Chapter 3 Working the Crowd 67

Chapter 4 Be the Master of Your Plan 91

Chapter 5 The Purposeful Workday 111

Chapter 6 Check Your Attitude at the Door 137

Chapter 7 People Management 157

Chapter 8 Moving Up in the World 173

Chapter 9 You're the Boss Now! 191

Chapter 10 Exit Stage Left 213

Bibliography 233

Index 235

About the Author 239

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