I spent a bit of time thinking of how best to approach this in a way that would have, I hope, meaningful impact on the person reading this. Taking a walk this morning, after a lot of internal back and forth, I had a bit of a eureka moment and thought to myself, “what do I wish I had known earlier?” Following that thought process, I came up with a list of a few things that could have made the journey to where I am today smoother than it was. I hope you can learn a thing or two from these points so here goes!
Educational excellence is great, but the buck does not stop there – I spent a lot of my university days focusing solely on academic excellence, pursuing a first class, accumulating certifications and qualifications. All these are great to have but what you realize very quickly is that for the companies you are applying to, educational excellence is the minimum expectation. What this means is almost everyone who is applying for these roles are equally as smart and intelligent as you, so if that is all you have to offer, you will rarely stand out. I was lucky to be introduced to a training programme that helped equip me for life after university, building up soft skills and how to ace interviews. Trust me, these programmes were not as popular then as they are today. Sometimes, it could be as simple as picking up an extracurricular activity. Are you on a sports team? Are you active in a students’ club? Doing things outside of school make you way more interesting to talk to. The university environment is supposed to provide a wholistic learning opportunity, make the most of it!
Hence, my first advice to you is invest in yourself beyond having a good degree because a good degree only gets you through the door, the rest depends on how well you have invested in the getting the necessary skills / traits. Build up your soft skills, build up your technical skills in your desired field of interest, attend trainings and seminars to prepare you for life after university, find mentors and learn as much from them as possible. The question you should try to answer to yourself is, “If I am in a room with all the best students from all the best universities in the world, what can I bring to the table other than my degree that will make me stand out?”
Do not underestimate the importance of internships
I wish I had done more internships back in university. I believe it would have better prepared me for the transition to a working environment. There are two types of internships in university, depending on what year of university you are in:
“Learning Experience” Internships: These internships are a good way to test both your technical and soft skills in a pressure free environment. People expect that you do not know much so there is no pressure to “overdeliver”. It is also a good opportunity to (1) figure out what you like / don’t like and what career path works for you; and (2) ask for honest feedback about what you can do better – what traits needs to be refined, improved or discarded. You should aim to do this after your first or second year. FYI – these internships do not need to be paid internships, the aim here is first to learn.
“I want that offer” internship: This is the high stakes / high pressure internship because for you, a full-time offer is the primary goal. At this point, you’re probably in your final / pen-ultimate year of university and you should be looking to leverage all the knowledge you have gained from your “learning experience” internships which should help you know how and where to put your best foot forward. Now, some of you might be thinking “I am in my 3rd / final year and don’t have any internships under my belt”. That’s okay, I did my first internship in the middle of my final year and still turned out okay so you can do it too . It just means you need to work twice as hard and twice as smart as the next person. Build those soft skills, attend those trainings and read those books that put you in the best position to succeed.
In summary, my second advice to you is to the extent possible, aim to do an internship at the end of every year of university. I appreciate it can be difficult to schedule, especially with our public universities’ calendars sometimes not giving room for a long summer break. However, make the effort to apply for roles, leverage your network, student associations and training programmes like SEO, Talent Mine and Edubridge to get access to these opportunities.
You are not too young to save / invest – Building a saving and investing culture is one thing I wish I did a lot earlier. I definitely know it is not as easy as it sounds – there is always something else to buy, something else you think you need but the question is “do you really need it RIGHT NOW?” There are many approaches / theories on the best way to save and invest and I am certain you can read a million books about it, but the important thing is to start. It might be N500 a week that you save by sacrificing the urge to get some Cold Stone Ice cream. Seems small right? If you saved N500 every week (N2,000 / month) for 4 years in university at 10% p.a., by the time you graduate, you would have made over N20,000 in returns (i.e. basically recouped 10 months of savings in interest!). Savings and investments not only provide an alternate stream of income but also help you when the rainy day comes as you do not have to go scrambling.
Also, the reality might be that there just isn’t enough to save and that is okay too. If this is you, focus on developing financial discipline (i.e. spend wisely on only what you need, give or take the occasional treat for yourself); do not rack up debt that you know you cannot afford to repay conveniently (i.e. live within your means).
So, my third advice to you is maintain financial discipline, aim to always be debt free and if possible, save as much as you can when you can, no matter how small. Little drops of water make a might ocean.
Stay positive – tough times don’t last, tough people do – staying positive in tough situations and continuing to be optimistic is probably one of the hardest things I have had to learn. There will always be ups and downs
in various aspects of life – career life, personal / family life, spiritual life. If you are in your early to mid-20s, you are probably starting to experience some form of quarter-life crisis and it is weighing you down.
Two main things I have done in these moments are: (1) look for success stories i.e. remind myself that there are people who have gone through the challenges I am going through now and have come out on the other side successful. I try to find real life examples of these people and in doing that, convince myself that if they can do it, so can I; (2) speak to someone – it could be a mentor, a friend, a parent, a therapist. The popular saying goes “a problem shared is a problem halved”. Speaking to people can bring a different perspective to issues you are facing that you probably would not have considered. There are other things other people do to get through tough times and different approaches work for different people. Find the one that works for you.
My fourth and final advice to you is that in whatever tough situation you find yourself, do not let it deter you from achieving your goals / dreams. Continue to stay positive, focus on improving your mental health, don’t give up (not all good things come easy) and remember tough times don’t last, tough people do!