Dr. D’s Tips for Success

College and Beyond

Commonsensical for many, yet for others–even seasoned professionals–these important guidelines are often neglected.
Suggested additions welcome!: send to Dr. D at delmastromp@cofc.edu.

  • Control what you CAN control: Read “The Only 7 Things You Can Control in Life.” Your diet, exercise, spending habits, organization, preparation, people with whom you maintain relationships, what you say and do to others, how you portray yourself, among other activities, CAN be regulated, so be sure to do so! With so many uncontrollable variables, we should conscientiously manage and control what we can. Many of the suggestions below expand on this notion.
  • Health is a freedom we only appreciate once lost: Read “6 Ways to Take Control of Your Health.” Genetics, many illnesses, and accidents, among other cirumstances, are unavoidable factors that can adversely impact the quality of our lives, but we CAN control consumption and exercise. A consistent, healthy diet and regular exercise will increase your chances for long-term good health, self-esteem and a sustained quality of life. A healthy body complements a successful career and personal life, therefore commit yourself to this important endeavor!
  • CONTROL YOUR FINANCES: Read “How Minimalism Can Make you Wealthier.” Sadly, too many people confuse “needs” and “wants,” which causes unnecessary financial distress for many. Be honest with yourself and determine what you really need vs. what you want. And if you have a limited budget like the majority, you owe it to yourself to make this decision. The following are WANTS: expensive clothing and shoes, excessively large homes, coffee at Starbucks, dining out, leisure trips, jewelry, video games, alcohol, tobacco products, brand-new automobiles. NEEDS: food, basic clothing, shoes (2-3 pairs max), toiletries, health insurance, basic housing, basic transportation, textbooks for classes. NEVER BUY A BRAND-NEW CAR, unless you have $ to burn or don’t care about throwing $ away. One of the biggest financial burdens/wastes is the purchase of a brand-new car; always buy used, and ALWAYS buy with surplus cash. Unless you have unlimited financial resources, avoid spending for WANTS. Burdening yourself with debt because you refuse to distinguish WANTS and NEEDS is not only grossly irresponsible, but also a completely avoidable crisis. Tragically, however, most prefer to burden themselves… break from the pack and control your finances!
  • Confront your fears! Read “13 Tips to Face Your Fear and Enjoy the Ride.” If you are uneasy about a worthwhile activity, and you have related qualifications, do it ! The best way to overcome your fears is to face them.
  • Find and seize the opportunity in every crisis/challenge: Regardless how devastating, debilitating, overwhelming and/or discouraging a crisis/challenge might be, there is always an embedded opportunity for you to learn, grow and advance.  Pay attention to that lesson for your benefit.
  • ALWAYS admit a mistake: Those who cover up their mistakes for fear of repercussions, or feelings of self-inadequacy, inevitably become resented and mistrusted by others because such mistakes are almost always discovered. Better to admit your missteps than hide them.
  • Be honest and up-front. Never lie, even if you believe it puts you at a disadvantage professionally or personally. You can also be truthful without being abrasive or offensive, and always address your “valid” concerns directly yet diplomatically with the person causing them.
  • ALWAYS respect the views/ideas of others, ask questions, and LISTEN. You will not always have the best ideas, and often great ideas emerge from others; so respect and listen to what others have to say, and consider them sincerely and regardless of their experience or lack thereof. You might be surprised by the sources of some of the better ideas generated around you… so be sure to ask questions and listen carefully or you might miss that great idea. But listening does NOT mean you are obliged to adopt those ideas or respond to others’ suggestions. Filter EVERYTHING regardless of the source, and after careful consideration of the perspectives around you, make your own educated decisions.
  • Don’t let anyone out-work you! Sadly, not everyone works to his/her potential. This reality, however, can give you an edge if you actually exert yourself accordingly.
  • Be a planner and stay organized! Many take pride in being “spontaneous” and flying by the seat of their pants, but the reality is that advancements and productivity in our modern, complex society are made possible through the careful planning and organization of our personal and professional lives. Your “spontaneity” might be fun for you, and maybe for your small group of friends during your spare time, but such lack of planning and organization in your personal and professional lives hampers success on multiple levels and erodes others’ confidence in you. Relationships–both personal and professional–are built on mutual confidence and trust, not upon unpredictable and unreliable behavior. Chaotic management of your personal life inevitably carrys over into your professional realm. Be consitently and pervasively organized and a consummate planner. And ALWAYS complete and submit the project well before the deadline. Finishing in the 11th hour tends to leave a bad impression: that you’re a procrastinator and/or disorganized!. Spontaneity is fine as long as it involves your leisure time and does not adversely affect others.
  • Avoid arrogance regardless how talented, smart or beautiful you think you are. Arrogance drives others away and inhibits the impact of your hard work. Strive for the balance between self-confidence, which is also important, and humility and grace. Self confidence does NOT need to be arrogant. And remember: no one likes, respects or is attracted to a know-it-all…
  • Resist going over people’s heads: Sometimes it’s absolutely necessary to speak with the supervisor, department head, etc., but often you can resolve the issue calmly and directly with the person in question, and they deserve that courtesy.  If you are quick to go over someone’s head, especially in your place of employment, you make a clear statement that you prefer complaining to the supervisor instead of trying to solve the matter directly with the person in question; and this can erode confidence with your peers, and supervisors, as well as damage opportunities for productive collaboration.
  • Follow this motto in your class, workplace, organizations, clubs and family: “Don’t envy, but admire; don’t resent, but appreciate; when out-done, applaud and follow the example, as the excellence of others benefits us all.” Appreciation goes a long way, and regardless how jealous you might feel about another’s accomplishments, overcome envy conscientiously by going out of your way to applaud the achievements of your colleagues. And regardless of your efforts, do NOT expect the same in return. If such appreciation and praise is reciprocated, accept it gracefully and humbly. But if no one appropriately recognizes your important work, be sure to self-advocate and publicize while avoiding arrogance. It is important that your own productive, noteworthy efforts are not overlooked!Send a “thank you” on a hand-written note instead of via e-mail, text or social media. The extra gesture of a paper missive makes a more meaningful impact.
  • Try to identify the positive in everything you encounter, and avoid whining, complaining and criticizing. Perpetual whiners are always miserable because they single-handedly craft dark worlds, and their pessimist outlooks always impact detrimentally their environments. Counter such negativity with your conscientious optimism, regardless of the circumstances. You can always find the silver lining, just choose to do so. Identifying the positive points will change your attitude about everything you approach in life, and it draw people into your inner circle and positive influence. Remember: people are drawn to sunshine.
  • Study abroad!!! There are few academic activities that rival a study abroad experience for bolstering your language proficiency, expanding your global outlook and further developing your overall personal philsophy. To date, my own most profoundly impacting academic experience was my junior year, spring semester abroad in Salamanca, Spain. Make every effort to study abroad for a semester, or at the very least for a summer. Once you graduate, you will likely never again have have the time or opportunity to study abroad.
  • Hide and silence your cell phone when in a meeting, important discussion, during class, or ANY time your attention is required or desired. When you interrupt to answer a call or check your text messages, you are telling the other person(s) in your presence: “Whoever is texting/calling me is more important “; obviously an inappropriate and discourteous message that you wish to avoid. If an incoming phone call is important, the caller will leave a message… this is the purpose of voicemail!
  • Dress appropriately for the context, and think about what really matters in the long run: your individual freedom of expression or the permanent impression you wish to make on others who might assist you with your advancement? For a class presentation? Wear business attire: coat and tie for men; dress or equivalent for women For a meeting with your professor? Avoid the extremely casual look: no revealing clothing, no ball caps, no flip-flops, etc. Simple attendance to class? Decide what impression you wish to give your professor and classmates… For a job interview? Coat and tie for men, dress or equivalent for women.
  • Always deliver a firm handshake (but don’t crush the other’s hand!) when greeting, meeting or leaving someone (regardless of your gender!), and always look directly in a person’s eyes when speaking or listening.
  • For letters and e-mail messages:
    The greetings “Dear,” “Good morning/afternoon/evening” are always appropriate, whether in a formal or informal missive. Do NOT use the informal greeting “Hi,” “Hey” or other inappropriate written salutations with professors, employers, people you do not know, or anyone in a position of respect and/or authority. When in doubt, ALWAYS use “Dear,” “Good morning/afternoon/evening” or the person’s name with the appropriate title as necessary. Do NOT address a person by his/her first name unless asked to do so OR if you already know the person . “Mr.,” “Mrs.,” “Ms.,” “Dr.,” “Professor,” etc., are all standard and acceptable titles to use in the greeting.
    The closing: Do not simply sign/write your name. “Sincerely,” “Best,” “Regards,” etc. are appropriate options, especially for formal missives.  For informal messages, closings will vary widely depending upon your relationship with the recipient. Use your best judgement…

    The signature: After your closing, write your full name for formal messages, and use your best judgement for informal correspondence.

    Your response: At the very least, always send an acknowledgement to the sender within 24 hours (or preferably less) of receipt of the message in question. Such attentiveness reflects well on your efficiency, professionalism and reliability. Even if the sender is asking for your decision on an important issue, a simple acknowledgement of receipt within 24 hours at least lets the originator know you are working on it. You can simply communicate that you have received the sender’s message and that you will have a final answer within a certain time period: and be sure to specify when that person can expect your subsequent decision! For example: “Good morning, Lee. Thanks so much for your message. I plan to have a final answer for you within the week. Thanks for your patience.”

    Avoid e-mail or any electronically generated messages for all sensitive/controversial issues. Instead of responding electronically (e-mail, text, Facebook, etc.), call or meet with the person(s) directly to address accordingly. Texts and other electronic messages often foster misinterpretations and misunderstandings that can be eliminated with a simple, direct conversation in person; and because of the speed of such electronic messaging, often a quick response to a sensitive issue is often too emotionally charged. If bothered by an e-mail message, and you are convinced that the most appropriate response is via e-mail (especially for “paper-trail” purposes), wait at least 24 hours before responding.

  • Strive for the best academic record (GPA) possible. Remember that your grades reflect your work ethic and talent for potential employers.
  • Engage in worthwhile extra-curricular activities, and LEAD and INITIATE whenever possible. Assuming the role of an active and responsible student officer in your organization will serve you well in gaining important experience and impressing prospective employers. But also beware NOT to volunteer for something for which you are completely unqualified to manage. Avoid being “stupidly over-enthusiastic.” And reject those activities that do not render a worthwhile return on your time-investment. If it adversely impacts your work (school or job), avoid it. Period.
  • Prepare for your first post-college job. “The students who succeed are those who proactively put themselves out there and build relationships by networking with professors, working closely with university career centers, actively connecting with alumni, and capitalizing on real-world job experience through internships and temporary work.” Joyce Russell, EVP and President of Adecco Staffing USTreat your “job-search as if it were a full time job” Joyce Russell, EVP and President of Adecco Staffing USCompose your résumé now, preferably both an English and Spanish version, and update both versions regularly. If someone were to ask you for your updated résumé today, would you have one available? The answer to this question should ALWAYS be YES, so prepare accordingly.Network widely and appropriately.
    The use of select social media can be very useful tools in networking to identify possible job opportunities, but only publish information you would feel comfortable allowing your professor, parents, employer, etc., to see. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc., should NOT be used as unfiltered personal blogs/diaries. People you don’t expect are always looking at your social media posts, so engage responsibly.
  • Internships
    In addition to providing you with useful work experience, internships acquaint students with prospective employers. Internships also serve as an invaluable platform for networking.
  • Interview preparations
    Take full advantage of any workshops and other resources your college’s career services department provides students to prepare for interviews. Mock interviews, guidelines on appropriate dress, behavior, résumé writing, etc., are all useful and often available through your colleges career services and its staff.