Lockdowns have caused many people to relax their disciplines and standards, creating opportunities for those willing to intentionally avoid the path of least resistance. This is especially true for college students who can use the dysfunction of the past year to differentiate themselves and gain an edge over their classmates.
It is easy to sit in a dorm room or apartment full of empty beer cans and coast through Zoom University. Grades (Bs, anyway) come easily, cheating is rampant and too many students are missing the most valuable part of a student’s academic life: engaging with professors. Effective communication is a critical skill to succeed in almost any endeavor. Seek out your best professors, particularly the ones who have maintained in-person access. Ask about their stories; seek their counsel. Lockdown makes this harder, which creates even more value for students who overcome the hurdles and seek the wisdom of their teachers.
Online school makes it obvious that students are no longer limited in their instruction. If your only goal is to make a good grade, you simply need to be able to regurgitate Dr. Zoom’s lectures or assigned reading material. But if you want to thoroughly learn a concept, there’s a YouTube video for that. Are you a business student struggling with the Efficient Market Hypothesis? The guy who developed it is a professor at the University of Chicago, with hundreds of videos and interviews on the topic. Harvard offers more than 200 self-paced online classes that anyone can take for free. If you’re going to sit in front of a screen the rest of the semester, don’t limit yourself to the lectures purchased with your tuition. Taking this extra step will impress prospective employers and, more importantly, expand your knowledge.
Quit worrying so much about your passion. It is important to live your life with passion, but when looking for work, it’s important to also consider opportunities. It’s fine to be passionate about 13th century sub-Saharan history, but don’t expect too many employers to share your sense of value about it. If three prospective employers in the same field offer you a $30,000 salary, that’s probably what you’re worth in that field.
Some advice is obvious, but sadly necessary. If your only work experience is as a server at Calhoun’s, don’t fill your resume with bullet points explaining that you “ascertained customers’ dining desires” or how walking chicken wings from the kitchen to the bar is somehow related to your degree in supply chain management. Comb your hair for online interviews. Clean up your social media accounts. Show up early. Iron your clothes. Write thank you and follow up notes, especially to those professors.
David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management. A version of this piece originally appeared in the USA TODAY NETWORK.