You are on your way! At least you think you are on your way? After all, you worked hard in high school, received good grades, nailed that college acceptance, and now you can attend class and let your university transform you into a professional, right? Wrong! There is much more to getting a leg up on the competition than fulfilling that check-list your advisor gave you to earn your degree. Completing required courses is the first step, but there are many other considerations during college to help you land that first job after graduation. Start the following steps as early as your freshman year:
- Network NOW. If you don’t have a LinkedIn account yet, you need to make one pronto. Don’t worry if you don’t have a job or a career yet, you can be a “student” or an “intern” for the time being. Connect with those you already know or have had any contact with. It doesn’t matter if they are studying something that has no relevance to you, eventually it might. Network and develop strong relationships with your university professionals and professors! They are experts in their fields! Network with your fellow students; they will soon be experts and you can have a whole set of industry experts at your disposal.
- Build your references. Make sure you have a way to contact any and all possible references, even if you don’t think you will need them until later. Get a PERSONAL email and phone from them if possible, because in two years when you need them, they may have changed positions and that work or school email may no longer be valid. (If you’ve connected with them on LinkedIn, you can easily reach them no matter where they’ve moved or what new job they have accepted.) Keep a list of references in a file so you are always able to access them. You will need references for job or internship applications, and in many cases, letters of recommendation. Do not let these key relationships disintegrate!
- Make it a goal to become an expert at something. It can be anything of value to a company, but become an expert. Even if you eventually become an expert at multiple things, have at least one thing you immerse yourself in and stick with it throughout your life. You never know when you are going to need it. Whatever you pick, stay up on the topic and remain an expert! Do continuing education seminars, online seminars, etc to stay current. It doesn’t take much time or money to stay current, even if you change careers.
- While in college, take full advantage of all the free seminars and speakers that come to campus, especially those focused on career building! Not only can you expand your knowledge or learn a new topic or skill, but you have the opportunity for another high achieving contact or potential reference! These seminars often cost money once you are no longer a student.
- Take advantage of your career services office. It is full of free professional help on resumes, cover letters, job-seeking, internships and more. These services are quite pricey for those of us who are no longer students, or who live over 1000 miles away from our Alma mater. Start early on your resume! I recommend you take your college resume and revamp it each summer to reflect what you achieved the previous year in college. Visit the career office on a regular basis, and develop a relationship with at least one career advisor. They can help you more effectively when they know you well.
- Work part time. For those who can get a job in their chosen field, kudos to you! But the idea is to get a job, any job, and KEEP IT. Keep that job for at least a year. Working part time exposes you basic skills that may seem meaningless at the time, but build a foundation for all future jobs to come. Learn to handle a cash register. Learn to have great customer service. Learn to cook. Learn to merchandise or stock. Just learn and stick with it! If you want to take a few jobs during college that is fine, but your future employer doesn’t want to see you held 10 different jobs in 4 years. Job jumping makes you a liability to a future company; it’s a risk to spend the time and money to train you if you leave in 3 months.
- Degrees don’t mean much without experience in today’s job market. I will say it again: degrees don’t mean much without experience! Do whatever you can do gain experience NOW. Volunteer, study abroad, join relevant clubs, intern. Do not wait until you are a senior to start trying to gain experience. Most entry-level jobs aren’t entry-level at all and request at least 1 or more years of experience! Make it a goal to have at least a year of consecutive experience in your chosen field by the time you are applying for your first position out of college. More than a year of experience opens you up to even more opportunities so get moving right away.
- Start acquiring relevant, resume-ready job skills now. Take classes that end with a skill certification. This is particularly important for software and web applications. Become proficient at Microsoft Office Suite! I cannot emphasize this enough! Make sure you understand all social media platforms. Look for certifications that are applicable in your chosen industry and work towards them as part of your class schedule, or on your own during college breaks. If you are in the medical field, get CPR certified or become a medical assistant or a nurse’s aide, etc. The possibilities are endless!
I fully believe that many college graduates struggle to find a job right out of college because they fail to prepare themselves beyond their classes. The takeaway message is to spend your college years learning the necessary content for your degree, while also developing yourself as a valuable contributor to your future company. Now go get ’em!
Have more ideas to become career-ready in college? Share them in the comments!