Four Things to Know Before you Graduate*

[*High School. If you don’t know these things by the time you graduate college, whooo boy. You better get it together – FAST.]

In December 2018, I was reflecting on how I might better serve my students at Rochester High School by teaching them employ-ability and soft skills.  I coined this, “What you should know before you graduate!”  I promptly went on Facebook and asked for industry feedback.  Four key points came up repeatedly. Here they are.

1. Spreadsheet Management

It was interesting to find the sheer emphasis on spreadsheet management. Excel is KING of the software, in many industries and a prerequisite in college.  Specifically, you should know:

  • How to design a spreadsheet with, borders, shading and page breaks and print options to one page.
  • Basic functions – (sum, average, max, min)
  • Pivot tables
  • Conditional formatting
  • How to create a graph
  • Mail merge data from Excel into Word.

If this sounds like a foreign language, I strongly encourage you to follow some YouTube videos, or even better, get a computer skills class under your belt before you graduate.

2. Communication skills

When you talk to people, you need to look them in the eye and be prepared and confident in your delivery. This includes talking on the phone.  You need to plan and be prepared for the meeting, telephone conversation or even a water cooler interaction.  Being distracted by your phone or using it as a crutch will not get you a salary increase or promotion. 

The people you work with want to know that you are engaged, eager to learn and a participating member of the team.   I heavily encourage taking a note book and pen with you when you meet with people, so you look poised, interested and ready to learn or follow a directive. (See our blog on the Importance of Writing it Down.) Also it’s an excellent way to reference the interaction and make sure you are doing what has been asked of you, before you forget the details. If you realize later that you need more information, you can go back and say, “I wrote down [x,y,z], could you clarify….”

3. The mundane and small things.

Ok, guys, let’s get real.  Some of you (you know who you are) have the attention span of a goldfish and speed of a sloth.  I ask sometimes for my students to hole punch, cut paper with a paper cutter, collate papers, type data into a spreadsheet and nine times out of ten, you mess up.  (And it’s not just MY experience – again, this is what I repeatedly heard from your more experienced colleagues.) Instead of learning, being open minded and taking some direction, you throw your hands up in the air like a spoiled toddler and declare give up! 

For the love of all that is holy, PLEASE take pride in your work and be persistent enough to learn a basic skills so the outcome is clear, concise and quality work!  I use this analogy about many tasks kids mess up:

Mastering basic tasks is like kissing:  The first time it’s messy and awkward but with time and practice, it turns out to be quite good.” 

– Karen Malsbury

Now if that doesn’t make you smile, lighten up!  

4. Email and business letter etiquette. 

Business letter writing has been around for decades.  So why do I continually see mistakes and lack of attention to detail? Writing a business letter is simple. See attachment, here:

It should be one page, formal, typed, left-justified and three paragraphs max for the main body of the letter.  Please see this perfect example of a business cover letter for a job application.  Make sure you have the key details before you start, whom you are writing to, their tile and their address in block format,  Write a compelling body with perfect grammar, spelling and punctuation and then end with “Sincerely,” [your first and last name] because you are yet to be acquainted. 

As for email, please adhere to the following Etiquette. https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/272780

  • Do have a clear subject line. …
  • Don’t forget your signature. …
  • Do use a professional salutation. …
  • Don’t use humor. …
  • Do proofread your message. …
  • Don’t assume the recipient knows what you are talking about. …
  • Do reply to all emails. …
  • Don’t shoot from the hip…
  • Do keep private material confidential…
  • Don’t! overuse exclamation points!!!!! (Annoying and unprofessional.)

Sidebar on emailing teachers/professors about grades: Make sure your argument is valid. Also, please don’t go in for the punch until you have made an attempt to set the scene.  As a teacher, there is nothing worse than trying to explain yourself to 140 adolescents when a) The student hasn’t even seen the assignment in question — the one that I spent time correcting and b) I have no idea what assignment you are talking about because that was before spring break and I can hardly remember what I did yesterday. Give me a break, people!

Emails need to be concise and to the point.  If you really need to write an epic novel, STOP yourself and pick up the phone.  Also remember any email or text that is sent could be used in a court of law. Love this meme. Hahaha!

So, that’s about it, people! Four little things that can get you to the next step. At the end of the day it’s all about a good attitude, listening, acting on constructive criticism, dedication, perseverance and willingness to learn something, even if it doesn’t come naturally.

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