Small Changes, Big Results: How Undergrads can Invest in Themselves

Public-Speaking“Competition is mighty steep… 40 hours a week.”  This is a widely used quotation to basically say that there isn’t any traffic on the extra mile. The more persistent and willing you are, the more unique you become, standing out simply for your dedication.  In a way it could be seen as working hard as oppose it working smart… but I don’t see it that way!  By putting in the extra time, you are smart, because when less and less people are around, it becomes easier to differentiate yourself.

This article is not for me to wave my flag about some times I worked late at the office and got rewarded, quite the contrary.  I did not put in that 41st hour at the office, but it was precisely my professional persistence away the office which helped me so much.  I want to talk about 2 things that I have achieved as an undergrad that have helped me beyond my wildest beliefs personally and professionally.  It’s so simple its almost criminal, but it stands out, because of the fact that not many of my peers have put in the time to pursue and achieve these distinctions.  Maybe because they don’t know about them (in which case this article is informational), or maybe they are too busy (in which case this article can be motivational).

toastmastersThere is a group that I have been a part of called Toastmasters International.  It is a public speaking group designed to improve both planned and impromptu talks.  The more informal definition should be called, stage-fright anonymous because it is typically a room filled with very nervous public speakers.  It is a safe environment where everyone is encouraged to get up in front of the room and give a talk.  There are mini-games (table topics), and there is a manual with 10 planned speeches done over time to reach the Competent Communicator award.

Toastmasters is something like 30 dollars a year for weekly meetings!  There are clubs everywhere, it’s scheduled for professionals, it’s great networking with a variety of industries and seniority levels, it’s a safe environment … need I say more?!  I have often said that it is the best money I have ever spent on myself.  There is no bang-for-your-buck better than Toastmasters and there is no excuse for not trying it.

I have gotten so much out of toastmasters I do not even know how to begin.  First of all, it has clearly helped me with confidence in front of a crowd.  Something I used to be mildly bothered by is now something I embrace and even … enjoy.  Second, it affects your personality and aura.  There is no ecstasy in the world like knocking a speech out of the park, and knowing you can do it again!  You simply can’t go to the meetings, try hard, and NOT see massive personal improvement in speaking and confidence!

logo-MOS-grandeThe second thing that I did was my Microsoft Office Master Certification.  This certification includes Excel and Word expert exams, and PowerPoint and Outlook Specialist exams.  It is amazing for two reasons, the first of which is the certification itself and the credibility it provides.  I have discussed this distinction in every single interview I have had since getting the certification.  It is a huge part of my value proposition because employers know how important MS Word, Excel, and PowerPoint are, and they like knowing that I know it!

The next part of the certification is that it really did make me learn things better and learn things right. In the beginning it was my father that suggested I do it, and I was skeptical.  I looked as some online info and tutorials and it felt like it was a big gimmicky.  It couldn’t be farther from it!  The expert exams are challenging and really give you a great foundation for the massive amount of entry level work that takes place in this software.

Check my blog for a step by step on how I did it!

downloadLastly with the certification (particularly Excel), it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  People ask for help because you are good at Excel, and you get good at Excel because people are always asking you about it… it feeds on itself!  For those of us who have been frustrated in Excel, we know it can be a case-by-case basis with a lot of quirky solutions, and the best way to learn is to experiment and to do.  Even if I had to fiddle with it, troubleshoot, or even go back to my desk to figure it out (shout out to Greg Smith at RPA), I was able to figure it out… and remember it!  Without my Excel certification, I would probably not have been put in that spot to be exposed to these problems and solutions.

Take these two examples of mine for what you will.  Not everyone brings value in the same way, and these are simply two early career value adds that I went for.  The bigger lesson is my opening quote that life can be competitive, but a lot less so if you put in the time.  It’s not an order to put your nose to the grind; it’s totally the opposite.  Seek things outside of the workday, which develop your personal value proposition both in and out of the office.  Not once working on my certification or in a toastmasters meeting did I ever feel that I was overworked, stressed, burnt out, etc, I was happy to be doing simple things that few others choose to do, so that I could later do big things that few others could do.

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