THE BRAZEN CAREERIST- Know thyself: What you need to do in college

Many young people want to have their own company, but this doesn't mean they have to build the next Google or Facebook. What can you do in college to pave the way for a career that includes entrepreneurship?

  First, try to hang out with other students who have businesses, or ideas for businesses. Most colleges have a group of students either thinking about entrepreneurship or doing it. These people can teach you how to bounce ideas.  

Entrepreneurs don't have just one good idea. They have a million, and they test the ideas on friends all the time, honing the ideas and thinking critically until they find one that works.

  The best way to come up with an idea is to try to solve problems, says Greg Boesel.  

"I constantly find myself saying, 'There's gotta be a better way to do this,'" he says.

If you think you have a better way, do 20 hours of market research to see if someone else has already tried it.  

Boesel's company, Swaptree, is an example of this process in action. He got the idea from a friend who returned from a visit with his mom with 16 used books. They were good books, but he didn't know what to do with them. Swaptree is a company that tells you what people are willing to trade you for stuff you don't want.  

If you don't have an idea and you need to do something, go to a start-up to get yourself thinking in new directions.  

MIT student James Ngai worked at a Boston music start-up while carrying a full course load. Ngai is well aware that there are no long-term secure jobs in the workforce, so flexibility and broad skills are keys to success.  

"Students want an open path career," he says, "and getting start-up experience is a great way to find it."

  A year after getting his feet wet in someone else's start-up, Ngai launched his own company, Campus Research and Recruiting, which helps companies understand why their recruiting practices fail or succeed and how they can be more effective.  

How do you find a work experience that gives you a jump in starting a company of your own? Use the career center. "This is an underused resource," says author Lindsey Pollak. "There's a perception that career services only help you for the companies that recruit, but career services have connections to tons of industries."  

And it's not just about the networking. "It's free career coaching," says Pollak. And one of the keys to entrepreneurship is knowing your own strengths and how to leverage them.  

Also, if you have your heart set on a start-up of your own, the best route might be the anti-start-up summer job, something in staid, ladder-climbing industries like investment banking or consulting whose business models include spending tons of money training employees. You don't need to enter these industries after doing the summer program, and the education will serve you well when you finally think of a company you want to start.

  The most important advice is to stay confident that things will work out for you. Just because you can't start a company immediately doesn't mean you won't get a fun job immediately. This is a very good job market for young people. In the book Recruit or Die, MIT internship director Chris Resto spends nearly 300 pages telling companies how they can attract top talent.  

The recurring theme of the book is that young people have lots of choices and multiple offers, and only the companies that are smartest about what young people want will get them. What does this tell you, the candidate? That you should aim for a job that meets your needs.

  What else? That the most important thing to do in college is begin to understand what your needs are. Otherwise, you have no idea what you're hunting for.