CNBC's "College Voices 2020" is a series written by CNBC summer interns from universities across the country about coming of age, launching new careers and job hunting during a global pandemic. They're finding their voices during a time of great social change and hope for a better future. What money issues are they facing? How are they navigating their student loans? How are they getting work experience, networking and applying for jobs when so many opportunities have been canceled or postponed? How important is diversity and a company's values to Gen Z job seekers?
Covid-19 has rocked the economy in ways this world has never seen. Many people have found their lives turned upside-down, including students. I know right now a lot of students are finding themselves in challenging situations. Many are stuck at home, have lost a summer internship or can't find a job. However, even if the path ahead is not clear right now, it's important to remember there is always something you can do to move yourself forward — even when you're stuck at home!
Jennifer Frick, a career consultant in the Career & Professional Development Center at Carnegie Mellon University, suggests using this as an opportunity for students to focus on their professional development. There are many ways for students to go about this. Students can:
- Do remote research or coursework to get ahead on their studies. A good resource for this is LinkedIn Learning.
- Write a blog on a topic you're passionate about — so you become an expert yourself, instead of waiting for someone to offer you a chance to become an expert.
- Start a YouTube channel on something you find interesting or enjoyable.
- Contribute freelance articles to online publications.
- Network in online forums for topics you're passionate about.
For me, the choice was a YouTube channel. I decided when I was a sophomore in high school to make my own path – and not wait for something to be handed to me in college or beyond.
I've always been fascinated by consumer technology. Ever since I was a little kid, I would get extremely excited whenever a new phone or tablet was released, and I would do just about anything I could to get time to interact with them. So the idea to start a YouTube channel where I get to explore all the latest in consumer technology and review it for others to see and learn about, came naturally to me. Especially after seeing other fellow tech enthusiasts like Marques Brownlee and Unbox Therapy find so much success on the platform.
The catalyst was a new printer I received that year as a holiday present. I thought this would be a perfect time to start a YouTube channel where I could talk about the printer and about other future tech I might receive. So I propped up my phone, sat down on my bedroom floor, and walked through the unboxing and setup of this Brother MFC-J450DW printer. You could definitely tell I was a newbie!
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But the more I worked at it, the better I got at making my videos. I saved up money from various little jobs and birthday presents and bought myself new tech to unbox for the channel. I started to get more and more interested in the production aspect of making these videos, and would challenge myself to make each new video better looking and more engaging than the last. I watched hours of YouTube tutorials on lighting, sound, editing and storytelling to try to consistently improve upon my craft. Not only did this allow me to improve my videos, but it also let me build up valuable expertise and experience in the process.
At the same time I improved my production skills, I also improved my SEO (search engine optimization) abilities. I would consistently study the analytics YouTube provided me on my audience. I learned that the vast majority of the people watching my videos were men between 20 and 34 years old, so I started finding products and video ideas that would better suit that demographic's interests. As I did this, I noticed my organic traffic from YouTube's recommendations began to grow. I continued to refine and optimize my videos to garner as much organic traffic as possible.
I finally knew I was on to something after I made an unboxing video of the iPhone 7 that got 100,000 views in the first month it was live! I kept creating more and more content over time, and I've been fortunate to have a few videos perform really well on YouTube's platform. I was super excited when last summer, just 5 years after I started the channel, I hit the 10,000 subscriber milestone.
Not only am I doing something I love, but my YouTube channel has acted as a sort of living portfolio of my work, and has been a major factor in me getting into my dream university, landing an amazing first internship, and acquiring my first video clients when I started my own production company, Boxer Video Productions.
My YouTube channel has also acted as a form of passive income which has given me the flexibility to focus on my studies and other hobbies like music, without having to worry so much about acquiring work to fund the channel. After years of building up YouTube ad revenue, sponsorships, and generating Amazon affiliate links, my channel now pulls in about $15,000 per year that I use to cover the cost of the products I review in the videos as well as reinvest into building an arsenal of film gear that I use to make even more videos for the channel and for my company's clients.
The mechanics behind starting something like this was quite simple and is really a repeatable process for any starting YouTuber. I simply:
- Figured out what I was passionate about and wanted to make content around – new technology.
- Set up accounts with YouTube, Amazon Affiliates, and AdSense.
- Ordered an affordable tripod to start filming videos with my phone (This is a good one for beginners).
- Learned to edit in iMovie (a free piece of editing software included with Mac) through the plethora of free tutorials available on YouTube.
- Shared new videos with my friends and family to get in some initial views, which helped the algorithm pick up my videos and share it with a larger audience.
- Placed Amazon Affiliate links for the products I talked about in the description of the video to generate some income that would fund future videos.
It wasn't until I got really comfortable with this starting setup that I slowly expanded into buying more professional film gear and experimenting with different editing techniques. It was a process that took time, persistence, and dedication. It didn't happen overnight.
The point of all of this is not: "You should go start a channel like I did." What I'm trying to say is that you shouldn't wait for someone to hand you an opportunity. And there is no age limit on when you can start! Don't overthink it. Find something that interests you and just jump in. If it doesn't work out or you don't like it – you can stop anytime. Trying new things and learning in the process is valuable in and of itself. Whatever it is that you decide to do, you never know where it will lead you in the future! At the very least, you have some experience for your resume that you can talk about in a job interview. And it shows you have initiative. That will set you apart from other candidates – and it just might land you a fantastic job.
Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.