So many soon-to-graduate college students are told, “Just wait until you’re out in the real world.” But why is there a disconnect between the "real world" and the skills being taught in the classroom?
Mary-Connor Kitchens, recent graduate of Converse University and a member of the National Online Chapter of The National Society of Leadership and Success (NSLS), secured her first job within a few weeks of graduation. She’s now working for an engineering firm in South Carolina and training to be a full-time amenities project manager.
This wasn’t an easy goal to reach, given the challenges of the pandemic, economic conditions, and heightened competition. Getting there required intense focus on the process and repeating the tasks that helped increase her chances of landing the position she wanted.
Most importantly, she took hold of her future by ensuring she was developing and honing real-world skills.
“I went on many interviews, constantly updated my portfolio and website, engaged in leadership positions such as Design Software Tutor, Peer Tutor Consultant, and Student Design Assistant, and sent many thank you letters!”
Achieve Your Goals by Communicating with Humility
Mary-Connor looks up to leaders who educate and encourage others to think deeply, challenge their assumptions, and evolve their thinking in creative ways.
One such role model is the US educator Jane Elliot, famous for her classroom experiment known as “Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes,” which helps students recognize and dismantle the biases that lead to racism and discriminatory behaviors.
“To me, Jane Elliot is a leader. She’s an educator in the US breaking the stigma inherent in addressing the issue of race and bias. I look up to her because she takes a very triggering and problematic issue and makes you put yourself and your opinions to the side so that you can focus on the issue itself.”
By leading with positivity and developing strong communication skills, you'll be on a path to achieving any career goal. That’s particularly true after graduation, when one’s professional network isn’t as robust as it will be later in life. Being able to listen and communicate with others helps you access the resources you need to meet your goals.
In addition to strong communications skills, Mary-Connor believes that successful leaders must learn how to be teachable. While humility may not be a skill per se, it’s a vital character trait that will help you achieve challenging goals in any aspect of life.
“You have to be teachable. The more you acknowledge what you don’t know, the more you can be taught. It is completely okay to admit you don’t know how to do something. Employers really appreciate transparency. These two things combined—communications skills and humility—are used on a daily basis. Humility is part of communication.”
From SMART Goals to Success on the Job
The NSLS has helped Mary-Connor achieve her goals in a number of ways. Among the most helpful were the educational resources and training that the NSLS offers in goal setting and Success Networking Team meetings (SNTs).
“From having my family as my support group in my SNTs and dedicating some of my time to setting SMART goals, the NSLS helped me take time to really hone in on what I want to be successful at and how to achieve that success.”
Skilled leaders know how to leverage a successfully-met goal into meeting the next challenge. Mary-Connor is already looking toward her next goal and planning out exactly how she’ll reach it.
“My next goal is to officially be the amenities project manager. I’m currently still in training, so by asking questions, taking notes, and setting daily goals that fit my current level of understanding, that goal will be achievable.”
Mary-Connor’s Advice for Future Leaders
For Mary-Connor, leadership has to be about passion.
“Leadership means guiding people to their own means of understanding so that they can become passionate enough to continue the cycle. Take something that you’re really good at and educate people on it. You never know who you’ll inspire. When you talk about something you love or understand, people will notice your passion.”
She believes it’s important to develop confidence and trust in one’s own skills and experience. While it’s good to receive feedback and suggestions from those who’ve walked a path before you, it’s also important to recognize your own internal wisdom and sense of self.
“The biggest piece of advice that I’ve received is that no matter what path you choose, you will find your way. I struggled a lot with finding what I wanted to do and I did a lot of things that I was unhappy with. But through trial and error, I’m beginning to find my way.”
Whether you’ve already graduated or not, it’s never too early to begin planning your next steps. The NSLS recently sponsored an in-depth webinar that shows exactly how to design the life and career you want.