Each month I receive questions relating to the field of website makery and/vs. post-secondary education. Instead of replying privately, as I have for years, these inquiries will be posted publicly. Here is the first:

What happens when you feel like you’re stuck at a place who refuses to go beyond what was done five years ago. However, you’re still in college, about to graduate, trying to find some experience, but worry that you won’t get work that will get you out of this place.”

Well for starters, count your lucky stars that you got to go to college instead of an indefinite camping trip inside a place called the Green Zone.

If you’re really just getting out of school I wouldn’t worry too much about not having enough experience. Recognize that college is more about developing personal responsibility and improving your analytical and creative thinking skills. Going to school is not about resume building.

College is about learning theory (how to go beyond this place in time) and history (how we got to this place in time) in a well-balanced array of subjects. This knowledge gives you depth and helps develop character. Learn how to transpose solutions from one discipline or event to another in order to solve a problem or create an opportunity.

Universities will always be “behind the curve” because their business model is not about being in the now. That’s more the job of vocational schools–which I would argue do not provide one-fifth of the quality of education and life experience that you receive while attending university, state or otherwise. The job of the educational institution is to get you to the point where you can go and make something of yourself, but not to the point of limiting you, necessarily, to only working in one industry or another. More than half my friends went to school for X but ended up doing Y or C. Hell, I studied journalism, advertising, and history, and yet I’m in my fourteenth year of designing and developing websites.

The subject of your email demonstrates that you have some level of ambition. All of my best employees were the best not because of where they went to school or because they had a lot of prior experience. They were the best because they had the ambition to learn new skills, methods, applications, etc. I’ve seen more resume crafty-crap from people who never skipped a class, turned in A+ homework, printed their resume on fancy paper–just like the books say to do–and every one of those documents went right into the trash.

Ambition generates motivation, which will provide opportunities to gain experience. Experience with a proper education will foster confidence. Repeat that cycle over and over again and you’ll never have to worry about getting out of any small town.

Sure, if you’re applying for a job to build websites then you ought to know a thing or two about HTML, Photoshop, whatever, but don’t get caught up with a lack of experience. Employers want to know that if they hire you–go the trouble of filling out all that paperwork, add you to the payroll, put you through training, get you a parking permit–that you’re going to be able to do the tasks they hired you to do. They want to know that you’re going to show up for work on time and be productive without requiring micromanagement. That’s worth more to them than how much experience you gained while attending college.

Oh, and it’s tremendously important to dress appropriately. Never dress for the job you have, dress for the job you want (just ask the Podcast Pickle guy).