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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Despite all efforts to the contrary, August has arrived. August, the dog days of summer, when it’s time for students to start thinking about going back to school. Oh, the poor dears. (Still, it beats working, right?) So, with the thought of college and keggers looming, I’m just going to go out on a limb here and give college students some free advice: N-E-T-O-W-O-R-K! Network to gain contacts, who will help you gain access to the jobs you are interested in. Network to gain entry to internships and part-time jobs at which you will have the opportunity to learn something about your chosen field, and what skills/experience they require. Network to gain said skills and experience.
Your prestigious school is lovely, good grades never hurt, but if you would like to graduate and not have to move back in with your parents (who, let’s be frank, kinda suck as roommates); if you would actually like to have a chance to use your degree, you absolutely, without fail, must network your path to employment. Some of you are rolling your eyes at me, because um, Carlota, what’s this fancy degree I’m about to get…chicken liver?
Listen, I love my purty Wellesley College degree too, and it’s framed, and it never fails to impress the super whenever he comes over to 1) fix stuff and 2) try to set me up with a nice Colombian friend of his and yet: if I don’t network, and more importantly, demonstrate to potential clients why it is worth their time to hire me and give me their hard-earned money, that degree ain’t paying the rent. (Same with the law degree, by the way: fancy, quite large, tends to impress my dates… but  unless I can use it as a means to differentiate myself to clients, and demonstrate my value…well, then it’s just a very large framed piece of paper.) Some of you are also thinking, um, weren’t you a history major, AKA unemployable? You are correct, son…and I got my first job at NBC News in Moscow, Russia because of luck, timing and networking. That was way back in the ‘90s, when the job market—even in Mother Russia, fer Chrissake—was cooking.  NBC hired me, gave me the keys to the office and started throwing money at me. (True story: my neighbors, in my slum Moscow neighborhood, were pretty sure my boyfriend and I were members of the Mob. They gave us a very wide berth. Ahh, good times. I could have probably ended up running some miscellaneous republic of the Former Soviet Union, had I just been more focused.)
Today…well, not so much. Today, you must think from the POV of a potential employer: you just graduated college. So if you are hired, the employer has to spend time and money (valuable company resources!) training you to make you profitable to the company. Now: why is the employer going to do that? Because you went to her alma mater? In an economy that’s creating jobs like popcorn, perhaps…in this one? Um.
But: what if you could demonstrate to that employer, not only did you attend, for example, her alma mater, but you held relevant internships and summer jobs, you gained relevant, cutting-edge skills, and you bring with you contacts that can add profitability to the business? That’s a lot of work, right? Right! But you can do this. You can start to network, and to view internships and summer and part-time jobs all as ways to gain further value and profitability in whatever field you are interested in. You can do this…and you must. You went to college, I presume, to broaden your mind, and gain the educational tools necessary to benefit your entire life, right? Right. (You also went to hit it, I know, I know, but let’s stay on message here.)
 I fell into TV news when it was still worth the network’s while to train me in the daily logistics of putting news on the air; the value I added was fluency in Russian, as well as a deep understanding of the country, its culture, history and politics.
Today, that value wouldn’t be enough. I was very lucky, determined, hard-working, ambitious…but lucky. Today, you have to make your own luck.
(P.S.: you can do this!)

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