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Part 2 of Marc Andreessen’s blog series on career planning

<figcaption class="wp-caption-text">via flickr/wonderlane</figcaption></figure>

What college or university should I go to?

Try very very hard to go to one of the best colleges or universities [or any other place] in the world for your chosen field.

Don’t worry about being a small fish in a big pond — you want to always be in the best pond possible, because that’s how you will get exposed to the best people and the best opportunities in your field.

How should I think about skills development once I’m out of school?

You should view graduating from school as just the beginning of your development of a whole portfolio of useful skills. One of the single best ways you can maximize the impact you will have on the world and the success you will have in your career is by continuously developing and broadening your base of skills.

Seek to be a double/triple/quadruple threat.

Scott Adams — the create of Dilbert — nails it:

If you want an average successful life, it doesn’t take much planning. Just stay out of trouble, go to school, and apply for jobs you might like. But if you want something extraordinary, you have two paths:

  • Become the best at one specific thing.
  • Become very good (top 25%) at two or more things

The first strategy is difficult to the point of near impossibility.

The second strategy is fairly easy.

Capitalism rewards things that are both rare and valuable. You make yourself rare by combining two or more “pretty goods” until no one else has your mix.

It sounds like generic advice, but you’d be hard pressed to find any successful person who didn’t have about three skills in the top 25%

Let me cite, as examples, five skills that you can develop once you leave school that, in combination with your degree or degrees and your other skills, can help maximize your potential:

First, communication.

Back to Scott Adams:

I always advice young people to become good public speakers (top 25%). Anyone can do it with practice. If you add that talent to any other, suddenly you’re the boss of the people who have only one skill…

At least one of the skills in your mixture should involve communication, either written or verbal.

The great thing about communication is that most people are terrible at it, because they never take it seriously as a skill to develop.

Second, management.

If at all possible, learn how to manage people.

The best way is to learn from a great manager. Early in your career, make sure you are working for a great manager — you’ll know her when you see her in action — and then ask her to teach you how to do it.

And then give it a shot — ask for and get responsibility for a team of people whom you manage.

Third, sales.

Learn how to convince people that something is in their best interest to do, even when they don’t realize it up front.

Fourth, finance.

A strong level of financial literacy — financial theory, understanding financial statements, budgeting and planning, corporate structure, how equity and debt markets work — will be a huge boost for almost any career.

Fifth, international.

Time spent on the ground in other countries and in other cultures will pay off in many different ways throughout your career.

You will know how to think more broadly than the average American. Having a global perspective can only help you maximize your future opportunities.

Any final thoughts on education?

If you have lived an orchestrated existence, gone to great schools, participated in lots of extracurricular activities, had parents who really concentrated hard on developing you broadly and exposing you to lots of cultural experiences, and graduated from an elite university in the first 22 or more years of your life, you are in danger of entering the real world, being smacked hard across the face by reality, and never recovering.

What do I mean? It’s possible you got all the way through those first 22 or more years and are now entering the workforce without ever really challenging yourself. This sounds silly because you’ve been working hard your whole life, but working hard is not what I’m talking about. You’ve been continuously surrounded by a state of the art parental and educational support structure — a safety net — and you have yet to make tough decisions, by yourself, in the absence of good information, and to live with the consequences of screwing up.

In my opinion, it’s now critically important to get into the real world and really challenge yourself — expose yourself to risk — put yourself in situations where you will succeed or fail by your own decisions and actions, and where the success or failure will be highly visible.

By failure I don’t mean getting a B or even a C, but rather: having your boss yell at you in front of your peers for screwing up a project, launching a product and seeing it tank, being unable to meet a ship date, missing a critical piece of information in a financial report, or getting fired.

Why? If you’re going to be a high achiever, you’re going to be in lots of situations where you’re going to be quickly making decisions in the presence of incomplete or incorrect information, under intense time pressure, and often under intense political pressure. You’re going to screw up — frequently — and the screwups will have serious consequences, and you’ll feel incredibly stupid every time. It can’t faze you — you have to be able to just get right back up and keep on going.

That may be the most valuable skill you can ever learn. Make sure you start learning it early.