Guy Kawasaki has a great list of what to learn in college; I’ll go through his list (in bold) with my comments about my college experience:
- How to talk to your boss. I never spent a lot of time with my professors, in fact, I think I went to office hours one time during a database class that I was taking — the simple fact of the matter is that it will be your responsibility to use all of the resources at your disposal to figure things out. Much of my free time was spent working and the vast majority of my work at school was in security — I learned to talk to employees, I learned to talk to customers, I learned how to lead in an unsupervised environment, and I learned to talk to my bosses remotely and talk to them effectively. Find and create similar opportunities for yourself because it is that important.
- How to survive a meeting that’s poorly run. Learn how to play the game and not walk out on poor meetings or poorly run classes/lectures for that matter. The biggest thing that you can learn from poorly run meetings is why they are poorly run and ensure that you do not run meetings that way.
- How to run a meeting. Read Guy’s tips in his post because they are 5 great tips for running a meeting. Seek opportunities to run meetings whether structured or unstructured because you need all of the practice you can get. Also, regardless of what your professors say, effective meetings do not require Powerpoint presentations every time and if you have to do Powerpoint, do it correctly.
- How to figure out anything on your own. I never stepped foot in the library and my college, not once, not even on the initial tour. Why? The library is probably the least effective place to find information — how many businesses have you been in (besides large law firms) that have their own libraries? Learn to make use of every resource at your disposal to figure out problems.
- How to negotiate. Negotiations in college are practice for the real world; that doesn’t mean that I was running into every store trying to negotiate the price of, say, a pair of socks. The biggest thing to learn in college is how to come up with win-win solutions — read Guy’s post for his 4 points on this topic. What’s nice about college is that you are generally not negotiating very major issues, so you’ll have ample opportunity to screw negotiations up and not get hurt too badly.
- How to have a conversation. I tried to talk to people that I did not know in my classes. With the exception of my core business classes, there were 20,000 other people at my school that I might not see again, which meant that I could work on figuring out how to talk to people with a very realistic expectation that I might never see them again after any given semester. Learn to listen and actively listen and you’ll be surprised how easy it is to talk to people.
- How to explain something in 30 seconds. The most frustrating classes that I took were ones in which the professor would either give long-winded explanations to questions or allow students to give long-winded answers to questions that the professor had asked; effective classes were ones in which professors gave brief and succinct answers and students giving long-winded explanations were cut off quickly in favor of students that could provide shorter responses. Bear in mind that a 30 second answer isn’t necessarily a one word answer, it’s simply brief and to the point.
- How to write a one-page report. I had a lot of classes where there was a minimum length limit on written reports, but I luckily learned that you got the best grades by presenting your argument and a good summary on the first page — once I did a 12 page report on Fleet Financial with the first page being my entire argument and summary of points supporting the argument, the remaining 11 pages were all a whole bunch of facts and graphs, and I still got an A. Executive summaries of not more than 1 page are important in business and even better if you can get the information across in less than 1 page.
- How to write a five-sentence e-mail. Are you starting to get the brevity theme? If not, please re-read numbers 7 & 8 above. Guy thinks that the optimal length of an e-mail is 5 sentences, which is fine. I think that you need to learn how to get somewhere in between text messaging on your cell phone and writing more than 1 paragraph. Also, learn that e-mail does not transmit emotions and learn to remove all emotion content (and emoticons) from your e-mail.
- How to get along with co-workers. If you are lucky, you will quickly get into classes that are small enough for the teachers to team you up in small groups to teach you about teamwork — I was very lucky that most of my business classes were small enough to be run in this manner. Take as many opportunities to learn about team dynamics, attitudes, etc. because most everything you see in college is a microcosm of the same kind of things that you will find in the real world.
- How to use Powerpoint. If you are lucky, you will have a professor that gives you very specific guidelines on Powerpoint (see the link in number 3 above). I was never lucky, so all of my Powerpoint slides in college were endless slides of bulleted content (note that this is the way that most professors prepare their slides to teach you, so while you may learn from the slide content, do not plan on learning by example as it relates to Powerpoint). One thing to keep in mind if you do follow good rules about Powerpoint is that you may get dinged by a professor for not putting in enough information, so understand that effective presentations in the real world are the ones that are not reports in slide format.
- How to leave a voicemail. See number 7 above — my personal rule is to spend not longer than 30 seconds leaving a voicemail and, in fact, my outgoing voicemail says, “. . . leave a message, and you have thirty seconds to do so . . .” Consider that if you are leaving your name, your phone number, and a brief description of why you are calling, 30 seconds is not a lot of time, which is the whole point. I have not recently seen a voicemail system that does not stamp time and date, so unless that information is critical to the subject, chances are good you can leave that out and save the listener some time.
My bonus tips:
- Read other books on the subject. Lots of college textbooks really suck, so if you’re actually interested in what you are studying in any given class, go invest in some books by other authors on the subject. Warning: a side effect of reading other books on a subject may lead to healthy debate with your professor during class. Reading other books is especially important if your professor is the author of the book your are required to read for any particular class unless you don’t care about the subject.
- Learn to effectively argue. Learn to debate verbally, especially with your professor — good professors invite debate. When writing, learn how to clearly present an argument and support it. One of the best classes I took in college was Business Writing — the professor made us write arguments and to make it interesting, made us argue the side that we did not agree with or argue a side that did not make sense.
- Write and expand your vocabulary. I am simply amazed by how horribly people write in the business world. With the volume of e-mail, blog posts, reports, and Powerpoint presentations, you cannot afford to write poorly. The best book that I’ve ever read on writing is Eats Shoots and Leaves. When I was in college, I would write monthly updates about my life and e-mail them as attachments to family and friends and if blogging had been as well developed at that point, I probably would have blogged my updates — e-mail updates and blogging are free ways to practice writing and writing, like anything else, gets much better with practice.
- Manage your time. It starts when you pick out what days to attend classes and drills all the way down to how you spend your hours every day. If you can develop a time management system in college that works effectively, it will help you significantly in life.
- Learn how to type. Hunt-and-peck stopped being ok with my generation and the voice recognition software that I’ve used just isn’t that good, so if you don’t know how to type by the time you get to college, use those 4 or so years to learn how.