Go Out and Get a Job!

The Value of Real Work Experience

As the MIT Career Fair approaches, the sound of my classmates polishing their résumés becomes a constant roar, and the semester’s worries are temporarily replaced by career anxieties. It is that time of year when students are already thinking about the next one, and undergraduates and graduates alike try to determine where their stepping stone into the “real world” is. As someone who has been through both an undergraduate and graduate job hunt, there is just one important tidbit of advice I would like to impart.

(But before I begin, if you haven’t submitted your resume to the MIT Career Fair, you’re already too late — the deadline was last Thursday. And even if you have, you better haul your ass this Thursday to Johnson Athletic Center with a fistful of resumes. Be prepared to stand in line and look pretty to get your chance to hobnob with bored, tired company representatives. It may not sound exciting, but school is by far the best place to find a job. Business schools, including Sloan, are packed like sardines with people who are looking for that opportunity only found at school.)

My only pearl of wisdom: do what you want to do. The whole purpose of books like “What Color is Your Parachute?” and those nauseating Myers-Briggs personality tests is to provide some structured self-reflection, something that is admittedly given short shrift during the semester. If you know what your values are, whether it’s to rake in the dough or to perform public service, gun for it. If you have some idea of what you want to do, then at least try it. And, well, if you haven’t a clue …

Which leads me to the undergraduate corollary — so-called since undergraduates are usually the students unsure about their future — and that is: If you don’t know what you want to do, just do something, anything.

You ever wonder why your parents stopped bugging you at the end of college about your grades or what your next step is going to be? That’s because they can’t help you anymore and they know it. Your parents pushed you to study for the SATs in high school and bugged you to death to make sure that all that money going to MITPAY wasn’t being wasted. Instead of crying when they dropped you off at your dorm freshman year, they should be weeping at the end of college because they can’t provide you with guidance on your life in any meaningful way.

And if you, the wandering senior, haven’t a whiff of a direction, just go somewhere and do something. It may well be that you’re trying to rake in the dough or you’re attempting to be a menial public servant. Either way, like it or hate it, you will acquire experience and knowledge that your hosed years at MIT never could. That experience will guide you more than your p-sets, your parents, and the Careers Office ever could.

Gary Shu is a graduate student in the Engineering Systems Division.