If I had a nickel for everyone who has told me over the years they would like a job at Aquascape, I might finally now have enough for a semester at the local community college. That's not for a lack of nickels, mind you, but more so the skyrocketing cost of higher education! Simply put, the current approach of dumping the high cost of a higher education today into the lap of students (and their parents!) is an unsustainable model, especially given that College itself is not necessarily providing you with the "skills" to land a desirable job in the end.
We just hired Michael, a summer intern who is currently pursuing a degree in Environmental Science from the University of Michigan. As hard as it might be for a grad from Ohio State—Michigan's chief intercollegiate rival—to admit, Michigan is truly one of the finest higher learning institutions in America, if not the world today. For the right to earn that degree now though, it will cost this young man and his family over $200,000, when it’s all said and done.
Here's the real kicker, though. Michael didn't land his internship with me because of what he was studying in school or even the prestigious university he was attending. Instead, he landed a summer job with my company because he picked up the phone, set up an appointment to see me, and then proceeded to blow us away in the interview!
Do you know how rare it is in today's college-age generation to see someone have a clear vision of what they want, start taking action toward its achievement and then having the ability to back it up all the way to its fulfillment?!
Rocket science? Apparently!
In full disclosure, and a nod to how it works in the real world, this young man and I had a connection. I was friends with his mother back in both high school and college (scary!). I had met him once before, six years previously, when his mom brought him by Aqualand for a visit. He was wide-eyed and enthusiastic when I gave him a tour of the place. I liked him. When he left, I even gave him one of my pet turtles to take home. Hah!
I guess that visit made an impression on him; too, because he told his mom he'd like to work for me someday. Six years later, he took the initiative to pick up the phone and place the crucial call.
When he came to my office for the interview, Michael made an immediate and positive impression. He looked me in the eye, smiled, and shook my hand firmly.
Mind you, the last time I saw Michael, he was a 14-year-old boy. The man standing in front of me was now a peer, albeit much my junior. Over lunch, he effortlessly conversed with me about a variety of topics, asking me almost as many questions as I was asking him.
Wow! (Are you starting to see a pattern here?!)
After lunch, knowing he had played high school soccer, I asked him if he wanted to play soccer with me and the guys in the warehouse. Not only did he jump at the chance to do so, he proceeded to hold his own and even score two goals, as well!
It was becoming increasingly apparent to me that, unlike most 20-something's (and sadly, many 30-, 40-, or 50-somethings), Michael was very comfortable in his own skin.
Before he left, I introduced Michael to the HR Manager, thanked him for his interest in our business, wished him luck and said goodbye. Nobody gets offered a job at Aquascape just by impressing me (like anyone, and maybe even more so, I can sometimes be fooled), and certainly not because I knew that person’s mother.
But you do land an opportunity at Aquascape by being proactive, personable and comfortable in your own skin.
I wonder how many of those traits Michael learned at school versus outside the classroom?!
I learned more about the importance and value of being proactive, personable and comfortable in my own skin by being a member of a fraternity and living, playing and serving with my fraternity's 80 other guys, than I did in any college class I ever took. Through playing sports, I also got to practice developing these traits while experiencing firsthand what leadership looked like and what creating a winning culture felt like.
Back then it only cost my parents $50k to send me away to school to grow up. (And that was for the six glorious years it took me to earn my undergrad degree. Hah!)
Someday, Michael told me, he has a dream of being an entrepreneur. Certainly what he learned earning his degree from the University of Michigan won't hurt his chances to succeed on his own. But something tells me the traits that will be far more valuable for Michael's success in business—and certainly in life—won't have necessarily come from what he's learning in the classroom.
Continuing to be proactive, personable and comfortable in his own skin, though, is bound to take him places. It already has!