What are some important things you wish you'd known in college?: originally appeared on Quora: The best answer to any question. Ask a question, get a great answer. Learn from experts and access insider knowledge. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.
When people make lists about things they wish they knew in college, it's usually full of general things students hear over and over again.
"Make good friends." "Go to office hours." "Don't be afraid to take chances."
That's all great.
But I never heard about the harsh realities of job recruiting that I'll have to deal with after I graduate. That's what I really wanted to know about. I mean, that's one of the most important reasons we go to college, right? And no one tells us the truth about how to go about achieving our career goals.
That's what I'm going to tell you here. I'm going to tell you the truth about how to position yourself to get the best job you can.
1. Don't choose a career based on "average salaries"
There is always money to be made if 1) you're good at what you do, 2) you know how to promote yourself, and 3) there's at least some demand for your skills. I'm going to work in product design. The average designer makes far less than a designer working at a company like Apple or Facebook. Part of it is because Facebook and Apple are in a big cities, but it's also because they hire only the best. This is generally true for engineering, marketing, and most other professions too. The average copywriter makes something like $50k a year, but I know some copywriters who are millionaires because they get amazing results.
Be really good at what you do, have a skill that's at least somewhat in demand, and promote yourself. You'll do just fine studying practically anything.
2. English and Philosophy majors aren't stupid
English majors can do viral marketing, copywriting, and sales (among many other things) - if you're really good at any of those 3 things, you'll do very well for yourself.
I also know a guy who works as a Director of Marketing for a well funded tech startup and he studied philosophy in college. Obviously companies don't go around recruiting philosophy majors specifically, but that doesn't mean they're going to reject you if you study something non-traditional. Philosophy majors can still learn valuable logical reasoning skills which can help in any job. I'm studying economics, which isn't directly related to product design, but it has not been a barrier for me at all in getting jobs because I still have a good portfolio.
A lot of college kids think that if they study philosophy, it means they have to go into law, or if they study political science, they have to go into government. Not true. Don't tie your college major directly to a single type of career.
3. Your degree is worthless
Don't get me wrong, having that piece of paper can open doors for you, but just because you've learned theoretical information in school doesn't mean you can apply it in the real world. A French class won't make you conversationally fluent in French just by giving you a few quizzes and tests. You have to go out of your way to talk to French people for months if not years to make that happen. If you get an A in a computer science class but can't build an app, you're probably of no use to a mobile app company.
You need to take some initiative and go out of your way to build a skill set for your profession. You're not going to get that practical experience in class, and getting As in your classes without practical experience is worthless to employers.
4. Always be networking
I only learned this in the last couple of years. If you're sending your resume out online to get a job or internship, you might as well not apply at all. It's very rare that companies will interview applicants who apply cold. Usually you need to come in through a referral.
Find 1-2 alumni a week on LinkedIn and try to grab coffee with them. Or talk to them on the phone. Start building that network early. It will pay significant dividends.
5. You can't "make" yourself like a subject
When I first started college, I took a bunch of science classes. I thought I could force myself to like science if I had just worked hard enough to get good at it.
Passion does generally follow hard work and success, but that doesn't mean you're going to like everything you work hard at. Don't force yourself to major in computer science or something just because it's in demand. Like I said before, you'll do well in practically anything if you get really good at it.
6. Your grades don't matter as much as you think.
Caveat: if you want to go to a top grad school, ignore this advice. Your grades do matter a lot, in that case.
Here's a secret that most people won't tell you: When you apply for a job cold (online), you're evaluated first on your credentials. When you apply through a referral, you're evaluated on your accomplishments.
You know why? It's because when you apply cold, the hiring manager has no idea who you are. You have no credibility. You're just one of hundreds (if not thousands) of applicants who submitted their resume online. If they don't see a good GPA from a relevant major listed there, they're not going to interview you.
When you apply through a referrer who knows people in the company, you have credibility. The more reputed the referrer, the better your credibility. Now, all of a sudden, you're evaluated based on the things you have done. Your software projects. Your contributions to open source. Your designs. Your marketing campaign results. No one really cares about your GPA anymore. And because you were referred, there's a pretty high chance that you'll get an interview.
If you have 1) a big professional network, and 2) great results from past projects, you have a tremendous advantage over the competition when it comes to a job search. I'm not saying slack off in school. But if I had to choose between either prioritizing my grades or getting great results in real world projects and building my network, I'd pick the latter two 10 out of 10 times.