Your Back-to-School Checklist Will Never Be the Same

Not too long ago, your back-to-school checklist was fairly simple: a good backpack, the right clothes, red solo cups, classes you could tolerate and roommates who didn’t suck.

Now, however, getting ready for school has changed dramatically – and back-to-school basics must include a mental checklist of how you are going to rock the school year. No, I don’t mean the “study hard and get good grades” stuff – and all the other out-dated advice you hear from parents and well-wishers…

I’m talking about kicking butt after graduation by:

  • Knowing that a job will NOT be waiting for you after graduation
  • Taking advantage of every possible outside-the-classroom opportunity
  • Developing a personal brand that puts you well ahead of your career competition

With that in mind, here’s a “new economy” version of your back-to-school checklist for 2012-2013:

Find a Mentor (or Three)

For many who have done very well after graduation, there is one factor that stands out in their success: mentorship. A mentor can open your eyes and mind to new opportunities, shorten learning curves, provide advice based on the real world and introduce you to other influencers. A mentor… is gold.

Developing mentoring relationships sounds difficult; however, with the right spirit and ambition finding mentors can be quite simple. The key: establish commonalities between you and the potential mentor – and then convince the mentor you have potential… and are worth an investment of time, energy and wisdom.

Where do you start looking? Keep reading, because each of the following back-to-school items is fertile ground for establishing mutually-beneficial mentor relationships.

Start Your Social Media Presence

Social media isn’t a fad, a nonsensical buzzword… or just a method of stalking your ex. In fact, social media can be the key to establishing a high-quality personal brand.

Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn (and now Pinterest, Instagram and even Foursquare) can help you be perceived as an influencer, connector and employable in your field of choice. Before all that happens, social media can demonstrate your coachability, desire to learn and unique personality.

Even for those who consider themselves social media dummies, most find it easy to get started… and appreciate that this digital effort can be implemented around your existing class and social schedule.

Develop Your Soft Skills

Your transferable skills – those traits you take with you no matter what career field you choose – are a huge asset. Just like your intellect and muscles, they don’t develop without hard work.

Not sure where to start? Focus on the skills in high-demand and those that employers often say are lacking in new graduates: oral and written communication skills, problem-solving, work ethic, decision-making and self-discipline.

Naturally, some of these you can only learn by doing… and failing… and doing again. Others, however, you can develop through planning and commitment. Oral and written communication skills, for example, can be honed by… you guessed it… talking in public and writing! Pen a blog, or two – and ask for critical feedback. Attend just one Toastmaster’s meeting – and see if it doesn’t change your life.

Gain Leadership Experience

Ah, the biggest soft skill of them all.

Why? Because leadership implies you have many other in-demand soft skills including confidence, effective teaming, the already mentioned soft skills and much more.

Most important, companies in our new economy are forced to do far more with fewer employees and contributors – and they need to squeeze out every drop of leadership from every team member. Leaders, without a doubt, go to the top of the “must hire” list.

And… leadership experience is infinitely available on-campus: clubs, committees, Greek organizations, brand ambassador positions, events and meet-ups and intramural sports are all great places to learn – and grow.

Secure Informational Interviews

If you don’t yet understand the power of informational interviews, I encourage you to read “How I Got 13 Interviews in 10 Weeks (Without Submitting a Single Application)” by Ben Paul on YouTern.

Hint: informational interviews were a big part of Ben’s success – and must be a quantifiable goal on your checklist for this school year.

Complete at Least One Internship

The single best place to develop soft skills AND career-related experience: internships. Your back-to-school checklist must include at least one high-impact internship every year. Period.

What does “high-impact” mean? Simple: it means a mentor-based internship where you actually learn – as opposed to fetching coffee or serving as someone’s lackey for 12 weeks. It means being allowed to fail, and learn from the mistakes. Just as important, a high-impact internship means that you are contributing to the mission of the hosting organization – instead of watching others do the work.

And… with 9 out of 10 direct-from-college hires going to those with internship experience, it is a no-brainer that internships be on your back-to-school checklist.

Build a Solid Personal Networking Plan

By some estimates, 80 to 90% of all jobs are secured through… networking.

Of course, by securing mentors, engaging in social media, developing relationships during internships and through leadership development – this is going to happen organically. That, however, is not enough.

Your school year checklist must include a proactive plan for developing your personal network – and expanding your sphere of influence. Which influencers in your chosen career path will you meet, virtually or in-person this year? How many networking events will you appear at this year? Which regional or national conferences will you attend? How many cups of coffee will you buy as you facilitate face-to-face meetings?

Set your goals… and make sure you meet them. Nothing else could be more important to your future.

With all due respect to the “get good grades” brainwashing and the social life that will undoubtedly involve those red solo cups – you have the whole year to set yourself apart by being active, thinking ahead and working your butt off.

Get started now… by developing – and implementing – your back-to-school checklist for the new economy.



About the Author: A passionate supporter of Gen Y talent, CEO and Founder of YouTern Mark Babbitt is a serial entrepreneur and mentor. Mark has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Mashable, Forbes and Under30CEO regarding internships, higher education’s role in preparing emerging talent for the workforce and career development. Recently, Mark was honored to be named to GenJuice’s list of “Top 100 Most Desirable Mentors”. Contact Mark via email or follow him on Twitter!


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