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How to Survive a Group Project

College is supposed to prepare you for the real world, which is why professors are constantly forcing you to work with other people, even though we all know that working with other people is the best way to ruin a project. Groups that you work school projects with & that you’ll end up working with in the real world usually break down like this:

  • 10% Awesome - These people are your new BFF. Start getting close to them now, you’ll need them to keep your sanity while dealing with the bottom 60% of the people you’re stuck working with. In smaller groups, this 10% doesn’t exist. Instead, you are representative of the only awesomeness in the team. In this situation, you’ll have no choice but to rely heavily on the next group…
  • 10% Competent with Minor Prodding - These people can do good work, but they are not the leaders of the group. They take direction well & will do the work you give them, but require affirmation that they’re doing a good job. The work you coax out of them will be usable.
  • 20% Competent but Lazy - These people could do the work, but would really rather be home watching Survivor. Don’t give this group any daunting projects. They need to believe they are doing the least amount of work possible, although you can trick them into doing a decent amount by giving it to them a little bit at a time.
  • 20% Incompetent but Not Lazy - These people can barely write a coherent sentence but they a) think they can & b) really want to help. They are not useless however, since group projects require a tremendous amount of mindless busy work. These people are GREAT at mindless busywork. Put them to work doing that & they’ll mostly stay out of your way while you & the awesome people do the parts of the project the professor will actually read.
  • 30% Incompetent AND Lazy - It’s difficult to understand how these people got into college, since you can’t imagine them either doing the work to get an admission application turned in or putting anything in the application that could possibly convince an admissions committee they are college material. You can only assume these people have very rich families, which is why you must pretend to be nice to them & give them stuff to do.
  • 10% Active Sabotage - This group may or may not do good work, but it’s irrelevant since they are determined to destroy your group & your project. They do this by emitting a continuous string of arguments to any direction your group agrees to go, shooting down any idea that is not theirs, believing that any suggestion or criticism about their work is a personal attack against them, going to the professor behind your back & saying that they’re not being included enough, etc. You know the type.

The way to survive group projects is to team up with the awesome people & forge a bond to get around the uselessness of the rest of your group. If you play your cards right, you can overcome more incompetence than you ever thought you could! Here’s how you do it:

1.) You & the awesome people will do the majority of the real work. Get used to it. This is how it’s going to be for the rest of your life. If you wanted to not do work, you shouldn’t have been so awesome. Live & learn.

2.) You can give a little of real work to the competent with minor prodding people with very specific instructions. Take turns sending them encouraging & over-praising emails. Let these people think they are in with the awesome people. This keeps them happy & semi-productive.

3.) Give things that are kind of important but can be done at the last minute—the works cited, executive summary, appendices, & Power Point slides—to the competent but lazy people. The key is to never give them anything that anyone else in your group will have to wait on to be able to do their part. Make them wait for the rest of you, not the other way around.

4.) Give things that are necessary but time-consuming & hard to mess up—table of contents, charts & graphs, title page with everyone’s names even though not everyone worked on the project—to the incompetent but not lazy people. These are also excellent people to be put in charge of the printing, but someone from one of the competent groups needs to check everything before you turn it in.

5.) Have the incompetent AND lazy people “proofread” everything. Make sure that you save the version you have before they get their hands on it.

6.) Spend the entire semester quietly poisoning the rest of your group’s opinion of the actively sabotaging people behind their back. Chances are, you won’t need to, since these people are annoying enough on their own, but just to be sure, constantly check people’s temperature of them & knock it down even more when you can. When peer evaluations come around, agree with everyone that these people did not make positive contributions to the group. Do NOT do anything unless you are sure the rest of your group agrees to do it together. If you are the only giving a bad peer eval to a person & that person gives you a bad eval too, the professor will have no choice but to assume that the two of you had a personal vendetta. However if everyone in the group gives the person a bad eval & that person gives you a bad eval, the professor will assume that that person is “not a team player.” And that is the sweetest revenge.

Why Students Should Be on LinkedIn Sooner Rather Than Later

The moment you entered college, you were told you better get on Facebook toot sweet if you don’t want to become a lonely hermit with no friends. So you did & it’s been great. You’ve got the friends. (And the drunk photos & the Scrabble applications.) But now you’re thinking about life after college, that oblivion known as the real world, & Facebook is unlikely to help with that. If anything, your Facebook profile is a liability. You Google your name, your pics from spring break in Cancun come up.

This might be a good time to join LinkedIn. Contrary to popular belief, LinkedIn is not just for industry veterans who go to parties to network on cells phones, exchange business cards, & arrange power lunches. It’s actually a great tool for students as well. Here’s why:

1.) LinkedIn gets what will get you hired, not what will get you fired, on Google. LinkedIn is highly search optimized. If you have a profile, it will come up on the first page of your Google results, so if a potential employer Googles you, those Cancun pics aren’t the only things they have to judge you by.

2.) LinkedIn is your online resume, which means a.) it’s really easy to set up your profile because you already have all the information you on your paper resume, & b.) there’s more freedom to include all of your experience on LinkedIn, as they are all avenues to potential connections. You can even include internships & volunteer work. You never know what’s going to catch someone’s eye, or what they are searching for.

3.) LinkedIn is a harmless way to stay in touch. Ever leave a job or internship & you feel like you should keep reminding them who you are, just in case 5 years down the line, you need a reference from them? Shoot them an invite to connect. Most people think of it as harmless, since you’re supposed to connect to everyone you’ve ever worked with or know from school & they’re more likely to accept than if, for example, you tried to friend them on Facebook. Also, this way, you can also keep track of them & where they are now. You never know when they might go somewhere you also want to be.

4.) LinkedIn puts your awesome letter of recommendation out there for the world to see. LinkedIn lets you request recommendations from connections, which are displayed on your profile. So in addition to handing over your references, you can point potential employers toward your LinkedIn page. Or even link to your profile in your cover letters so potential employers can see your recommendations before they even ask for references.

5.) LinkedIn lets you job hunt while not really job hunting. It’s basically having your resume out there on the Internet for your dream employer to find, even if you’re still in school & not actively looking for a job quite yet. Passive job hunters also tend to be more valued by employers. More & more recruiters are looking for people like this online.

6.) LinkedIn makes you more connectable. LinkedIn shows not only your direct connections (i.e. “friends”) but also second & third degree connections (people who also know people you know). People are more likely to trust people who know people they know. You can also use this in reverse & get your connection to introduce you to one of their connections that you would like to know.

7.) LinkedIn lets you scout your heroes. Ever wanted to know how someone you admire got to where they are? Have a dream job you don’t know how to get? Check out people who have the job you want on LinkedIn. You can see what their education and experience is like, the path of their careers & what professional organizations they belong to. Get ideas for your own career.

8.) LinkedIn get answers to stuff you want to know. Want to know how much a IT technician makes? Wonder what exactly it is that a CFO does? LinkedIn Answers is a popular, relatively new feature that lets you propose questions to your network or even to all LinkedIn users. You can get a great variety of insightful answers this way.

9.) LinkedIn gives you context for people you know you’re going to meet. Research the people you’re going to be interviewed by. Bring up stuff you have in common, like being fellow alumni or that both of you worked for the same company at one point (mention you saw this information on their LinkedIn profile…no need to seem overly creepy). They might even remember this comment & look up your profile later.

10.) LinkedIn is another place to look for jobs. Many people don’t know that LinkedIn actually has a job bank. Applying for jobs through it means potential employers will be more likely to look at your profile, since it’s linked in your application. They can also immediately see if you are a connection in any way.

Want more reasons? Check out what Guy Kawasaki, Scott Allen, Leo Babauta, & Lindsey Pollak have to say.