personal development

Challenges Students Face: Issue #1: Finding Meaningful Work

Contributed by Dr. Michael Edmondson President at MEAPA
October 03, 2011
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In his July 12, 2011 editorial "The Start-Up of You," New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman spoke directly to college students and wrote:

Whatever you may be thinking when you apply for a job today, you can be sure the employer is asking this: Can this person add value every hour, every day — more than a worker in India, a robot or a computer? Can he or she help my company adapt by not only doing the job today but also reinventing the job for tomorrow? And can he or she adapt with all the change, so my company can adapt and export more into the fastest-growing global markets? In today's hyper-connected world, more and more companies cannot and will not hire people who don't fulfill those criteria.

As students launch careers and seek to create value for companies, the goal of finding meaningful work is of primary concern.  While it is true that many students need a job to pay the bills, it is also true that finding meaningful work is a critically important component of life.  The following list provides a few ideas on how students can better understand the options available to them as they begin to think about ways to create meaningful work:

a)Intern - Students should intern at one or more placements in order to gain a better understanding of the types of jobs available.  Being exposed to different work environments allows students to develop their professional skills and gain first hand knowledge about what types of work they may consider meaningful.  Internships that involve substantial amounts of time (20 hours or more a week) and supervised learning usually offer the most insight for students. 

b)Bottom - Students should apply for entry level positions, even if an employment position does not require a college degree.  Doing so can provide insight often overlooked by those who started higher up in the organizational chart.  Starting at the bottom also often provides opportunities for promotion into more meaningful work.

c) Start - Despite today's challenging economy, students can create meaningful work by launching their own venture.  Instead of waiting for that perfect full-time job, which usually is a mirage by the way, students should consider creating multiple revenue streams (MRS) that combine working for wages (working for someone else) and working for profit (working for themselves).  This MRS approach to life allows students to take a proactive approach and intentionally create a variety of meaningful work opportunities. 

d)Job Shadow - Unlike an internship that requires a substantial amount of time, students should also identify a variety of people who can they spend a day or two with in order to gain a better understanding of that specific position.  Job shadowing is tremendously valuable if for no other reason then to see first hand what is involved with a typical day in that company or position.  No amount of reading can compare to tagging along with a professional.

In their 2010 publication Rework, authors Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson discuss the need to create meaningful work.  Nothing the dynamics and new tools driving today's hyper-connected and ever changing global marketplace, Fried and Hansson suggest that everyone be a 'starter' and launch their own small business.  They argue that "There's a new reality.  Today anyone can be in business.  Tools that used to be out of reach are now easily accessible."  The best part of creating meaningful work is that all you need is 10-40 hours a week, very little money and a desire to create meaningful work.  Rework makes a compelling case for people to have multiple revenue streams in order to develop their talents, generate supplemental income and challenge themselves to grow as professionals.  Doing so can help individuals create meaningful work with intention and purpose in today’s hyper-competitive global economy. 

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Michael Edmondson, Ph.D. is the co-founder of MEAPA a professional development company for the 21st century.   He is the co-author, along with Dr. Peter Abramo, of several publications including The ABCs of Marketing Yourself: A Workbook for College Students and How To Succeed With A Liberal Arts Degree.  He is also the Director of Marketing and Recruiting and Adjunct Faculty for Marketing and Entrepreneurship at The Philadelphia Center, one of the nation's oldest experiential education off-campus programs. 

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