College to Remote Working

What college students can do to prepare for remote jobs

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I attended a speech recently from futurist Faith Popcorn. Faith Popcorn is a world renowned futurist who has accurately predicted trends and consumer behavioral changes for companies such as MasterCard, P&G, and Coca-Cola since 1974 at an accuracy rate of 95%. 

At this speech, she asserted that the majority of the workforce will be freelancers by 2027. You can already see this happening with the rise of WeWork, UpWork and other remote work enabling platforms.

office workers
Don’t end up stuck in a cubicle farm!

But, as a college student, how can you best prepare yourself to enter the remote working lifestyle so you don’t end up stuck in a cubicle farm?

If the remote working lifestyle appeals to you, read on. Below are the top tips to prepare yourself for the remote working lifestyle after college.

1. Start now by doing work for free

Yes, I said free. 

This isn’t uncommon for young people in college to start off by doing work for free to learn new skills in their area of interest. Think about all of the unpaid internship programs that millions of college students participate in each year. 

Consider taking on pro bono work while you are in college. You can use platforms such as UpWork or Fiverr to find jobs that you can do remotely in your area of interest.

With this, the key is to start small and take jobs that are within your skillset to complete. Your goal is to build a portfolio of work while you are in college. 

The great news about this approach is that you can complete work on these virtual projects between homework assignments and classes. While most students are socializing, taking naps or playing video games, lock yourself in your room and work on your future!

Imagine the average college student entering the workforce for the first time. Most of them will be taking “entry-level” positions at companies (whether physical or remote) while you will have 4 years of experience under your belt.

2. Don’t worry much about your major – use your time in college to learn how to learn

Understanding what you are interested in and where your talents lie is a really tough thing to do. I went through this when I was in college, but I took an approach that I think might be helpful to you.

Trust me when I say this – most people have no clue what they want to do while they’re in college. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 80% of college students end up changing their major at least once.

After college is over and you enter into the new remote working world, it is my opinion that it matters less what you majored in while you were there. Now look, I’m not speaking to people who are looking to get into law school, medical school, or education (although I believe education will be largely remote in the future, too). For these, I agree that your major is important to your career. But for many majors offered by colleges such as business or liberal arts, they’re so broad that it doesn’t matter as much.
What matters more is the value that you can provide others and your ability to solve problems. 

Please let that sink in.

The strategy I took while I was in college was this: learn how to learn FAST.

I was a double major in both music and business and I ended up working in digital marketing & eCommerce as a career for years. I was able to end up in these jobs by teaching myself these topics very quickly. As my career has progressed, my ability to learn skills quickly has helped me keep progressing in my career year after year. Things change so rapidly.

3. Identify your niche

This is difficult to identify while you’re in college, but it’s possible if you have a high-level of self awareness. One of the primary challenges remote workers have today (and will continue to have in the future) is standing out in a crowded field. As the remote workforce becomes more saturated, having a specialization or niche is key.

Find a niche that you can own. Be the best at solving that problem for people and build your business around that. A good example of this is in web design. You can be in a crowded field of general web designers or you can specialize in real estate web design. Or, you can even “niche-down” further to specialize in residential real estate design for Spanish speaking clients.

Make sure you specialize!

I think you get the point.

If you’ve taken economics already, you understand the law of supply and demand. If not, the basic premise is this: when supply is high (availability of general web designers), and demand is low (less people looking to build general websites…whatever that is), then prices will be low (the price general web designers can charge).

If you are specialized, for example, in residential real estate design for Spanish speaking clients niche, you may be in a niche where there is low supply (supply of people who make websites like this) and higher demand (more clients than the available supply of designers). This will allow you to charge more for your service!

Specialization in a niche is key.

4. Learn business skills while in college

As a remote worker, one thing you’ll have to realize is that you may end up being a solopreneur running your own business. 

Learn as much about running your own business as you can while you’re in college.

I can’t stress this enough and business schools don’t always do a great job teaching practical skills around business.

Be sure to focus on accounting, personal finance, investing, project management and marketing. Those areas are important for you to focus on to build your business.

5. Build a virtual network

When I was a college student, I used a lot of my time building my network. I would attend trade shows as a student and connect with leaders as well as fellow college students. But, as an aspiring remote worker, you should concentrate on building a virtual network.

Networking in the remote working lifestyle is quite different than it was 10-15 years ago.

Today’s successful remote workers think more about building an audience.

Ways to network through building an audience:

  • Build a social media following
  • Join Slack communities
  • Start a YouTube channel
  • Start a podcast
  • Attend industry webinars and events
  • Find peer groups that meet locally or online
  • Join a MOOC (massive open online courses) where you learn and network

One other note on networking – the key to networking is GIVING, not RECEIVING. Always approach network building from the standpoint of offering value to your network instead of taking.

6. Get your degree

This may sound obvious, but make sure you finish your degree. In the future world that I describe where remote working is how most people work, setting yourself apart will be very important.

There are countless stories of entrepreneurs who drop out of college and become billionaires launching their startup. Trust me. This isn’t typical. They are a rare breed.

Remember my discussion above about supply and demand? This idea is similar to that. Having your degree (or an advanced degree) could be the difference between you and another candidate competing for the same role. 

Having your degree is only a part of the equation, though. I also recommend you focus on #7 to further set yourself apart.

7. Earn some certifications

Similar to finding your niche that I described in #3, I also believe it is important to certify yourself in as many areas as you can as you grow your remote working career. Today, there are thousands of programs where you can become certified.

Having the right certification(s) can make the difference between you landing the gig versus another remote worker.

I found this massive list of professional certifications by industry if you’re interested in learning more about the types of certifications that are available.

As you are working through your degree, try to become certified in something new related to your desired field once a semester. 

8. Consider an advanced degree

My last piece of advice is to consider an advanced degree such as a Master’s Degree. Just like I explained above, having things to set yourself apart is important. Getting an advanced degree is a really rewarding experience and could be a great investment for some.

As you know, there is a growing trend of Master’s Degree programs being fully online. After you finish your undergraduate program and are establishing yourself in the remote working lifestyle, get an advanced degree. In my personal experience with my online MBA program, I have been able to network with and meet so many great folks who are super talented and like-minded.

Conclusion

If you’re a college student seeking to work remotely after you graduate, you can take these 8 actions.

  1. Do some free work to build your portfolio
  2. Learn how to learn FAST
  3. Identify a niche and specialization
  4. Learn business skills while in college
  5. Build a virtual network
  6. Finish your undergraduate degree
  7. Seek certifications within your industry
  8. Consider an advanced degree

What other tips do you have that can help others achieve their dream of working remotely after college? Let me know in the comments below.

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