Career Insights #1: 3 Career Mistakes College Students Make

By: Shriram Shanmugham, Founder – – The People Empowerment Platform

Reading time: 4 minutes


“Students unfortunately lack the perception on the advantages associated with joining smaller companies in the formative years”


Ask anyone with more than 10 years of work experience, and most of them will acknowledge their ignorance of “work-in-the-real-world” when they began their career. It is also fact that knowledge acquired in colleges find few applications in career growth. Because in reality, every company has a unique objective, and to achieve this requires team work with special knowledge expertise. These expertise have to be learned ad hoc or continuously along the project life cycle.

College education provides broad knowledge in a chosen subject, while your career requires deep-dive expertise of a specific subject. No college can provide this deep-dive expertise to students. As a rule of thumb, new college graduates need to understand that learning is a continuous process throughout their careers. While the importance of continuous learning and upskilling may sound like a no-brainer, the depth and significance of such realization does not dawn upon candidates until 4 to 5 years into their career. In most cases, many people become complacent and their career growth reaches stagnation.

Without provocative insights on how career growth happens in work places, several college students are making the following 3 mistakes:

  1. Ignoring small companies for their first job: This is a disappointing trend noticed among current generation college students. There is nothing wrong in ignoring smaller companies when they get placed in a reputed enterprise. However, there are those who prefer to wait despite an offer from smaller firms, owing to a mind-set fixated on joining highly reputed companies. This predicament largely stems from a comparative attitude, and highly evident in the Indian subcontinent especially.

Students unfortunately lack the perception on the advantages associated with joining smaller companies in the formative years. Larger work responsibilities, decision making, direct interaction with clients, and managing projects under stringent timelines are few examples that students can never experience at early stage in joining a big company. Moreover, through a smaller company, students stand a better chance of instilling the ‘continuous-learning’ attitude that will accelerate their career growth in the long run.

  1. Underestimating the importance of oral and written communication: More than half the time in the work place is spent communicating – be it meetings, brainstorming, work delegation, presentations or project management. Either there is a direct verbal interaction or communication exchanged in the form of emails, PowerPoint presentations, and written agendas. So ideally, half of work hours is spent on verbal and written communication.

This skill is highly underrated because effective communications can make or break a team’s success – eventually impacting the company’s progress. Unfortunately, our education curriculum doesn’t prioritize communication skills. Students who actively participate in extra-curricular activities, and supplement their education through voluntary communication enhancement workshops, have phenomenal career growth over a short period of time.

  1. Pursuing Master’s Degree without work experience: Majority of students pursue post-graduation because they spent more than a year looking for jobs and nothing materialized in their favour. Hence, their justification – combined with unsolicited advice from friends and family – to pursue a Master’s Degree is increasing their chances of finding a job. This will become detrimental to their career progress for 2 reasons:

 Corporates don’t choose a fresher over an experienced candidate, just by the virtue of the former’s masters degree, despite the latter not having one. Experience carries higher weightage because (for reasons mentioned in the previous point) it justifies a candidate’s communication skills across many levels

  1. Masters degree is specialization in a narrow field. The probability of finding a job role that requires unique specialization is lower. This can become a double edged sword for students, implying that if they end up in a career that does not require their specialization, the company that hires them won’t necessarily compensate them financially for the advanced degree acquired.

What can students should do instead?

For starters, students must avoid the 3 major mistakes mentioned above. During their final term in college, they must devote time to research the general industrial makeup, not just on the career that inspires them, but in general, the overall makeup of various industry and service sectors. Here are some background work that students can work on:

  • Speak with experienced professionals – through friends and family – on how career progresses in the chosen field of study. Notes on market demand for this profession can also be assessed which would also hint about growth in financial compensation.
  • Do a feasibility on whether the work they perform at a company can invariably be replaced by Artificial Intelligence (AI) application or automation in the near future. They need to Instil a flexible mind-set that they can supplement their incomes with multiple part-time jobs or freelance opportunities than just one full-time work position. We are moving into a future where full-time positions will eventually become obsolete. More insights on full-time jobs disappearing owing to AI and automation can be found here
  • Find out what their core super-skills are because it is these skills that will empower their career growth in the age of automation. More insights on the significance and definition of super-skills can be found here
  • Instil the attitude of continuous learning. This would imply that students need to know the difference between a broad degree and specialized subject expertise. More insights on degree vs. subject expertise can be found here