I’ve been coaching this kid who is in college. I like him so much, so I agreed (for a fee, of course) to coach him for junior and senior year to make sure he gets a great job after college. The experience has been eye-opening.

I have done this in the past — it’s actually really easy for me to get kids in their 20s the jobs they want. It’s sort of a resume game. You figure out the job you want, then you figure out how to get the resume you need to get the job you want. Then you get that resume. People think you need permission or something in order to write something on your resume. But you don’t. Just do the job for someone and then put it on the resume.

Commenter alert: This is not lying. Lying is if you don’t do the job. That said, you can do a really bad job of doing a job and still put it in the resume. Like you can write an ad campaign for a startup and track the results of the ad. And you can put that on  your resume. And you can say you did it while you were working at a PR firm that is just you.

Developers have been doing this forever. They write code. And do something cool with the code and then send it to someone who can hire them. Designers do it too: “Here’s a redesign of your website. I’d be great at your company.” I used to get those a lot, when my site was smaller. Now designers know that my site is a mess to redesign and I would never have the budget to do it the way they’d want.

So, anyway. What I’m realizing with this kid is he has no idea what he wants to do. (No surprise there.) But he actually doesn’t even know how to choose how he spends his time. He talks about time management like he’s at a craps table letting the dice decide what comes next. I usually have patience for this talk because it’s how 90% of college kids sound.

But then we started the Big Talk about summer internships. And the conversation turned into something like this.

“I’d feel more secure if I had a summer internship.”


“Because then I’d know what I’m doing.”

“But the whole reason you don’t like school is because they are always telling you what to do.”

“Yeah. That’s true.”

“So why do you want some internship telling you what to do. Don’t worry about your resume. Your resume will say Summer 2017. So you can work one day in summer 2017 or 90 days in summer 2017. The resume won’t show that. So you don’t need an internship. You need someone to write a resume. And you have me. So you need to learn how to manage your time. You have every day in the summer open. What do you want to do.”

“I want someone to tell me what to do.”

“That’s lame, right? You know that?”

“Yeah. I know that.”

See? That’s why I like him. Because at least he admits that after eighteen years of being told what to do every day in school, he can’t face not being told what to do in the summer.

We are dealing with that. Trying to get comfortable with the idea that you have to decide what to do with your days when you’re an adult. But meanwhile, I’m thinking, what should college kids do who are not used to managing their own time?

First I was thinking they shouldn’t go to college. They need to learn to figure out what they want to do with their time. But as a homeschooler I see how hard it is for parents and kids to do that when the kids are six years old. So how can parents and kids start doing it when the kids are 18? It’s so hard.

I am thinking now that if kids have to go to college, they should do something besides just show up for class. There are great opportunities to learn vocational skills outside of college, like building a startup, learning to write code, even making money from your art. Or you can make college an adventure — go abroad for school and then you don’t feel like you have to do that when you graduate.

I guess what I’m saying is that college is going to have to be more than just college. Because that’s not enough to prepare a kid to go get a job. Lucky kids get to have a career coach follow them through college. Lucky kids get to go to an exciting new country for four years of college. But kids don’t need luck to have a great four years at college. They need to have the pluck to force themselves to treat college as a time to explore different jobs, without the repercussions of having to earn (or not earn) a living.

School is a time for self-discovery — but you don’t need to discover what you want to learn. You have been learning your whole life, and there’s nothing stopping you from learning the rest of your life. Use school as a time to learn what you want to do for a job, not by reading about it but doing it. Don’t wait for after school to travel, don’t wait for after school to get a job.

College is not a waiting area. Start living your real life the day you get there.


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35 replies
    • Timothy Spray
      Timothy Spray says:

      I’m too! All that the students need to do – it’s to study how to developing by themselves. So, if you have a goal in front of your and you fully impregnated by it, you need to learn how to reach it by yourself.
      Thanks a lot for the post!

  1. Jim Grey
    Jim Grey says:

    I wonder what my son could do that would show real-world experience in his field. He is studying medical lab sciences and wants to work in the medical lab world. Sure seems hard to do work related to that without actually being in a medical lab.

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      That’s interesting. I met a person recently that sets up labs for a major pharmaceutical company. Well, now he oversees a district. He took the job 10 years ago, when he had a baby on the way and needed to make more $, than typical academic lab research.

      He had an athletic scholarship and an academic scholarship to two different schools. He chose the academic route. He finished his degree, then spent 1 1/2 years volunteering and working part time in the labs at Tulane. He was there so much, they had him write a thesis and granted him a Masters in Chem.

      Both of his kids are currently on academic scholarships to High School. He told them that if they wanted to go private they had to do the work to apply. They applied to 8 schools, on their own. One of his children is also being scouted for athletic scholarships around universities.

      All this to say, If your son wants to do medical lab research have him volunteer at labs, or hang around labs in college. People notice and will help if he starts taking interest and putting in the work.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I agree with everything Jessica says. Also your son should do ANY job in a medical lab, even paper pusher or receptionist. Because when you get your first job out of school there is very little to differentiate you from the other kids who just graduated. So a lot of those early career interviews are just about who the interviewer likes best on a personal level. If you already know the people hiring you are at a huge advantage.


      • Jim Grey
        Jim Grey says:

        Thanks Penelope and Jessica. I feel stupid right now because it only just occurred to me that a past employer had medical labs as many of its customers. I’ve reached out to people I know there to see if they can connect my son.

        • Adrianne
          Adrianne says:

          Late to the game with a caveat.

          If your son wants to go into doing research in his field and wants to be seen as more than a fresh-out-os-school-pair-of-hands, then he should consider seeing if he can find a position in a biosciences or medical research lab at his university. My experience with lab research is that if you want to be regarded as more than a pair of hands for more senior researchers, it helps to have some academic research experience under your belt.

      • Rick
        Rick says:

        I don’t want to sound as if I’m being overly critical, but this is really bad advice for this specific person. While it may be valid for some career paths, it is completely wrong for anything involving work in a science lab. First, all experience is not created equal. You will be interviewed, and you will be asked what specific experience you have and what you can do. Next, hanging around a lab in college is a good way to get arrested. And most labs cannot accept volunteers due to liability issues if there is an accident.

        So what can you do? Many schools have formal research experience courses that can allow you to do work in a lab with faculty. If there is a lab that you are really interested in working in, and you have a class with the person directing that lab, excel and stand out in that class, and then discuss with them the possibility of a formal research internship in their lab during the semester or over the summer. There are also a variety of government labs and agencies that have summer research experience programs for students. Many private sector companies may also be looking for temporary help in one of their labs, so don’t ignore them either when looking for experience.

        The strategy for building you career is not the same for all careers. Make sure you use a strategy compatible with your goals.

  2. Joyce
    Joyce says:

    Thanks for posting. I went to college to read anything I want, although I did try my hand selling airline tickets, campaigning for the environment, and interning at government agencies and non-profit organizations. I still like reading over doing other activities, so I made reading an essential requirement when I look for work.

      • Joyce
        Joyce says:

        Hi Isabelle! I used to work as a writer and a researcher. I work as a lawyer, which is really a highly paid researcher. I’m studying to work as a virtual professional so that I can work part time from home and earn dollars.

        Hi Penelope! What is the Myers Briggs type of your college student client? Is he INFP/ISFP/ENFP/ESFP? Does he have a major already?

      • Bostonian
        Bostonian says:

        Isabelle, I can suggest another few jobs I have done which also require a lot of reading: translator, interpreter, proposal development, logistician, and technical writer.

        Most jobs that require a lot of writing also require a lot of reading.

        • Penelope Trunk
          Penelope Trunk says:

          Friendly warning:The jobs that are reading are only a portion reading and the rest is doing something very difficult/unpleasant. Because really no one gets paid to just read — they would do that for free.

          For example lawyers have to sort through tons of repetitive material, or they have to play tons of golf with potential clients who they don’t like. Interpreters need to be fluent in another language – like, really fluent. A technical writer gets treated like a janitor by the developers they work with… The list is endless. But in general you are better off doing a highly paid job for three hours and going home to read than taking a job “because you like to read” and then spending eight hours a day reading stuff you don’t care about and getting paid very little because people often graduate from 18 years of school and think the only thing they are trained to do is read.

          Look more closely at your personality type. Reading is just a tool for you to get a job that uses your unique perspective in the world. Focus on finding fulfillment, not getting paid to read.


          • Bostonian
            Bostonian says:

            Honestly, that wasn’t my experience, PT. Well, except for the proposal development. That _was_ an ugly bit of sausage making.

            As a translator, I rewrote literary, medical, legal and technical texts into another language; I did not find that part at all unpleasant, or difficult, except insofar as a nice puzzle or piece of craftsmanship is difficult. Nor did I find interpreting very difficult – sometimes that required pre-reading and checking the translation of volumes of material with which I wasn’t familiar, and which was itself quite interesting, but it’s actually fun in the moment to play that sort of linguistic ping-pong.

            As a technical writer… well, you see where this is going. If a person likes reading a lot, I expect they usually like writing as well. I do. I can tell you that I was very well respected by the engineers I worked with, because I could turn their napkin scribbles into nice-looking reports, and I’ve a dab hand with statistics. I was quickly promoted in that job.

            It seems to me that you are assuming that jobs you wouldn’t like are unlikeable. I would argue that if one enjoys a job others find unlikeable, he is very lucky.

            For people who love to read, and want to do so in their jobs, I’d say they should focus on learning to write well, because they will almost certainly be digesting all that material for someone else’s use. Now, that analysis and writing practice may be a good use of college for others, as it was for me. After two theses and a dissertation, digesting a pile of data and rolling off a twenty page report was nothing for me.

          • Joyce
            Joyce says:

            How can new college graduates get highly paid jobs where they can work for three hours a day?

            Maybe Penelope can list highly paid jobs that are easy to learn. For example, making and testing Facebook ads can earn people USD40 per hour.

          • Deidre
            Deidre says:

            I’ve had some similar experiences, Bostonian. I would say that what these jobs have in common is the ability to sift through A LOT of information and come up with something useful/pretty at the end. I find that most people stay away from jobs like that.

  3. Aquinas Heard
    Aquinas Heard says:

    I’m surprised you have not suggested Praxis for this gentleman. You’ve linked to articles by its founders, Isaac Morehouse and Zak Slayback, a couple of times in the past. Zak Slayback also wrote the book, The End of School, and he is currently running the Libertarian Homeschooler facebook page.

  4. Jana
    Jana says:

    And if you don’t figure out what you want to do without someone telling you. You retire early like me and don’t have a clue what to do with your time. And then you end up feeling guilty about it.

  5. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    I feel like this kid is going to be one of those people who have some bland random job and then go home and do something else that they actually like doing. Like most people. He sounds like any college kid, with a dash of (so far mostly useless) extra self-awareness.

    Hopefully he’s just working on being punctual and agreeable and likable so he can hold down whatever random job he ends up with. If he isn’t passionate about any particular field or practice, it probably doesn’t matter what he does as long as it pays the bills. I’m sure he can get any job just fine, especially with your help, Penelope, but he sounds like the type who would have a much harder time actually keeping one.

    To be honest, I’m surprised you didn’t say anything about coaching him to find a good wife. Though maybe that would just be another article entirely… Come to think of it, you’ve written a lot about women who don’t really want to work; it would be interesting to see you write about men who aren’t cut out for full time work.

    On another note, I hope you never change your blog layout. It’s easy to navigate, and so many people with Asperger’s read your blog that it would unhinge us all to come here one day and see everything has changed.

  6. Jeremy
    Jeremy says:

    When I was in college honestly I don;t even know what I should do, I just enjoy the ride, thankfully I got thru and doing just fine.

    Thanks for sharing.

  7. Stephanie Ko
    Stephanie Ko says:

    When I was 17, thanks to my dad’s connections I worked in an extremely short-staffed division of a company for six weeks. I was given a lot of responsibilities that shouldn’t have been given to a person with no work experience at all. From this short stint I learned a lot about what it was like to have a real job.

    College started, I had no idea what I wanted to do, but I knew what I didn’t like. So I forced myself to try jobs that I wasn’t sure if I would like. At least I would get paid. I observed myself, learned from each experience, and mentally kept track of what I liked and didn’t like about each job, with the goal of pinning down the types of jobs that I would possibly enjoy. I went through at least five jobs in operations, academic research and sales. I decided that I didn’t like the jobs themselves, but I identified the elements of them that I did. For example I liked the intellectual gratification from doing research, but the process itself was too tedious and structured I couldn’t see myself doing it full-time.

    Then came graduation and I still wasn’t sure about what I wanted. After a short backpacking trip and enjoying my last summer break I landed a job in an industry I had never thought I would work in, thinking that it would give me the highest flexibility and steepest learning curve compared to other job offers. I traveled out of the country for work on a regular basis, and it led me to the realization that location independence/work-remotely-while-travelling, which I thought about doing, wasn’t what I was looking for. What I was looking for was challenging problems to solve, constant learning, and sense of achievement. I decided that I wanted a job at a startup. So I took Penelope’s course on finding a job at a startup, quit my own job six months ago, and moved to a new country that would facilitate the career change. Now at 23 I finally feel that I’m in a place where I can thrive.

    I enjoyed the intellectual and social parts of my college experience. At the same time, I had internalized advice from career blogs (in large part from Penelope’s) before I even got into college, so in the back of my mind I knew I had to make use of this window of time to experiment. Looking back, it was self-awareness, honesty, and determination to build a life that I wanted (with a small dose of middle-class privilege), that got me to where I am. The path ahead is still uncertain but I trust myself that I will stick it out.

    I think the college kid Penelope’s coaching has self-awareness and honesty, but probably needs a kick in the butt for some motivation. I imagine that self-drive is encouraged and cultivated in homeschooled kids or self-directed learners. It’s the mentality that we have the autonomy and responsibility to find our own paths in life, instead of surrendering the control to parents, schools, companies, or social norms—a mentality that self-directed learners have got at a young age, ideally.

  8. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    This is so interesting! I like that this student hired a career coach to coach him through college. What is his personality type?

    Regarding the question, what should kids do in college, I suspect will have different answers for everyone. My oldest has wanted to be an engineer forever now, and everything she does, every class she takes, every activity she chooses to participate in is to get her entry into a good engineering school. Reaching out to female mentors who are engineers or executive level business women has already been so helpful. So for her, since she is already so ambitious and organized, I would hope that college would give her more non-academic opportunities and help her find a path to adulthood while making amazing lifelong friends along the way.

    As a parent, I don’t know that I would want to financially help out a kid who had no idea what to do and only went to college because they were told to. I’d rather wait until they had some direction, but obviously I feel that homeschooling will help my own kids find their path before then. This is of course a very personal decision that each family I’m sure will make on their own according to what they can afford at the time.

  9. Ashley
    Ashley says:

    I suggest some sort of volunteer work with a program that take you to another country. (Maybe I am projecting – I have never done this, but now I am thinking I should!) You get stories, experience, perspective, people think you are benevolent and it’s not that serious because you are doing it for free. Isn’t that what we want young adults to have. Stories, experience and perspective?

  10. edesign
    edesign says:

    I’m also! Everything that the particular pupils should do – it’s to examine the way to creating independently. Thus, when you have a target facing the and you also totally impregnated by it, you should discover ways to attain that all on your own.
    Thank you a whole lot for your submit!

  11. Shawn Dsouza
    Shawn Dsouza says:

    This is a great post! School definitely helped in it’s own way. But most of my success had come from the skills I achieved through self-learning.

    After achieiving my goals quicker than I expected, I was faced with doing my MBA or skipping it. I decided to skip it and self-learn again. But to make it more “practical” I decided to start a free learning website ( http://www.skipmba.com ) where fellow autodidacts can join me on this journey!

    It’s proven more valuable than I expected. I’ve built a huge community around it and made strong connections!

  12. Jessica
    Jessica says:

    Answer for the kid you’re coaching: Get a job! Washing dishes or restocking the bookstore or anything. It’ll give some structure and accountability to his life. I met my husband working at the cafeteria, and also worked in a research lab for my degree. I can’t imagine ONLY taking classes in college-too much time on your hands!

  13. Kathleen
    Kathleen says:

    “Start your real life the day you get there .” I find that scary to do every day as an adult, much less as a college student.

  14. micheal
    micheal says:

    I am paying for all of my own college. I am 23 and haven’t lived at home since I was 18. I have no problem paying for school myself, but it is almost impossible. I am still considered a dependent, so after my measly loan pays for my classes I have about 230 bucks left for books, fees, food, rent etc….. My parents contribute nothing, and no other aid is available to me through the school due to my parents (divorced and remarried) incomes. The school takes none of this into consideration and gives me the same amount of loans as they would someone living at home rent free. FAFSA is a broken system. Too many people took advantage of it in the past, now they screw everyone who is under 24 and trying to pay for school on their own.

  15. Mosaddek
    Mosaddek says:

    “I guess what I’m saying is that college is going to have to be more than just college. Because that’s not enough to prepare a kid to go get a job. ”
    Yeas. It’s really true. At least 20 year’s with our potential time, full time effort and money we are spending to buildup our kids from any School/college. No School or college can’t giving assurance that the student of last bench will get a job after complete his 1st Degree. That student of last bench was a student of that School/College and of course those teachers are responsible for our 20 Year’s of EFFORT.

  16. Ian K
    Ian K says:

    There is a talent to writing a resume and looking for a job. I don’t have that talent. I thought getting an MBA would help. It didn’t. My MBA was a stepping stone to a $6/hour retail job. Nice, I know. But that was long ago and these days I provide a service that people need and it’s okay. We all want our kids to have more of the pleasant successes and less of the crushing daily defeats.

  17. Rita
    Rita says:

    Hi Penelope,
    I’ve missed your writing. Hope you are ok. Sometimes obligations must wait while you attend to your well being… xx

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