This month, I made my bi-annual trip to my alma mater in Winona, Minn., to speak to classes about the PR industry—trends, skills, the job search, my experience, etc.
One question that came up in all three classes to which I spoke: What was the most valuable thing you learned in college?
It’s a good question, and most students likely suspect the answer comes from the classroom. Even though my academic experience was highly valuable, my biggest lessons in college did not come in the classroom.
Here’s a quick rundown of those lessons, and how they helped me in my professional life:
Selling ads for the student newspaper
Sounds like a lame job for a college student, doesn’t it? It was cold call after cold call, and it was tough. But you know what—it paid. For a college student in Winona, I didn’t need much. At that time, I could have a fun Thursday night for $10.
But the real value of this job was that it taught me to be fearless. One of my biggest challenges when I was young was the fear of meeting new people, speaking up in meetings, and pushing back on my boss. The job selling ads for the Winonan
didn’t get me over the hump on all those fears, but it certainly paved the way.
Covering the women’s basketball team as a beat reporter
For a time, I also covered the women’s basketball team for the Winonan
. The women’s team wasn’t very good at the time, but it was a lot of fun. I got to know the coach a bit and the players. I even traveled with the team on occasion.
But the most enjoyable part of the job was writing on deadline. I had to watch the game, take notes, interview the coach and a few players, and then turn around an article in a few hours. It was a rush. And it prepared me beautifully for the pressure of writing on deadline in the workplace—something you become familiar with quickly when you get your first job.
The skill of writing—and writing well—fast is huge in PR and marketing. Learn to write well under deadline and you will be imminently employable.
Juggling four jobs at once
I didn’t start working until my senior and “super senior” years. But during that time, it was intense. I had four jobs for most of the time. Two jobs with our student newspaper, one with a computer lab on campus, and another job with a local pizza place. Those gigs, along with a full course load, taught me how to juggle a schedule and competing priorities. I use this skill almost every day, and I learned it during my last two years of college. It’s an invaluable lesson.
Getting my heart broken
This was the biggest “event” in my college career, and it set my life in a new direction. I had been dating a girl for more than four years. We met in high school and followed each other around. During my senior year, we were finally together—and then she broke my heart and started seeing another guy.
At the time, I was crushed—beyond crushed. I didn’t eat for weeks. I didn’t sleep. I wanted to see her all the time. It was horrible, as anyone knows who’s had his or her heart broken. But you know what? It was the best thing that ever happened to me.
It was painful, but it made me so much stronger. That was a valuable lesson I fall back on in my professional and personal life. When there’s pain or failure, I know my strength will carry me through—just as it did during that part of my young life.
That’s what I learned outside of the classroom. What about you? Let me know in the comments section below.
Arik Hanson is principal of ACH Communications. A version of this article originally ran on his blog Communications Conversations.