Don’t Be A Student, Part II: You Have Skills

(Sequel to Don’t Be A Student, Part I: Your Time Is Valuable.)

Now that you’ve decided you don’t want to be broke or exploited as student/slave labor, the next issue should be obvious, “How do I actually get paid?”

The simple answer is to exchange something you have of value for cash. Not very helpful, though, is it? In truth, there is no easy solution because if you want to get paid, you have to invest a lot of time and thought into identifying, developing, and marketing your skills.

But what are skills? Skills are talents you possess that are valuable to other people. And yes, you do have skills, whether you realize it yet or not. I have no idea what you’re good at, so you’re going to have to figure that out for yourself. However, I can offer some tips:

  • Don’t be modest. This is about identifying how you shine and broadcasting it to the world. False humility won’t get you anywhere, but at the same time know your limits and don’t make claims about yourself you can’t back up.
  • Focus on you as a person. This isn’t about what labels people attach to you. You might be class president or an artist or The Best Son In The World, but these aren’t skills, although they can serve as a starting point if you examine what about you makes you good at these things.
  • Think outside your major. Just because you study math doesn’t mean your only skills are quantitative (though those are great ones to have!). Look at everything you do, not just at what boxes you usually check on a job application.

Using myself as an example, I’ve always had a talent for technology. I took apart the family vacuum cleaner at age four (and put it back together!), and I spent thousands of hours playing with LEGOs and building cities as a kid. Since was born in the 1990s, this aptitude got channeled into the Internet, and now I can intuitively learn just about any program or process. I also have strong verbal skills, expressed by my love of reading, top marks in English, and the 16,000 (non-spam) emails in my Gmail account. Finally, I can think strategically, which drew me to play chess in high school and major in business, specifically operations, in college. Essentially, my relevant skills are technological, verbal, and strategic.

Once you’ve figured out what skills you have, you need to work out where you can apply them to create value. There are really two components to this step: whom do you want to work for and who will want you to work for them (and be willing to pay you). I can’t really help you at all here, except with the most general advice possible:

  • Once again, don’t limit yourself to your major field.
  • Be creative. You might be a business student, for example, but if you’ve always enjoyed art, you may have better luck selling those skills to small companies looking for some graphic work.
  • Exploit your social network. Look at your family, friends, and family friends. What businesses do they run/work in? Presumably, they like you, and you might be able to get your first jobs through their good words.
  • Don’t worry about building your résumé – any work you do of your own initiative will make you stand out as a job candidate, while giving you unique experience and talking points in interviews that no unpaid, coffee-fetching intern will ever have.
  • Look for a niche. Find something unique to do that your skills qualify you for. Feel free to invent a job title or field. The only reason you’re studying whatever you are in college is that someone, sometime ago decided to invent a topic on which he could be an authority.

For me, I realized that IT is overflowing with technical skill, but is sorely lacking in professionals who a) can communicate the value of their skills to clients and b) can approach projects with a strategic mindset, offering perspective which goes beyond programming and instead focuses on using new media as an integral part of a 21st century business model. Of course, these are just words without step three…

…Because once you’ve worked out what your skills are and where to apply them, the real work of building yourself as an authority begins. Get your name out. Comment on authoritative websites. Go to relevant business events. Get work. Develop a portfolio. Market yourself. Basically, find people who you can offer value to, and when they ask why they should pay you, be ready to wow them!

So there you have it – how to get paid as a student. There’s one last part, though: constantly and aggressively expand. You have a lot of free time in college, so be sure to make the most of it. Hone your skills, add new ones, make yourself more valuable, and raise your rates.

You have value. You have skills. Now go out and get paid!

(Guest post by Cooper Dukes. Visit his blog here.) This version of the article was edited by the staff members of the Website.



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