You’re on your way. You’ve made the challenging choice of which college to attend, and selected your major and emphasis. Along the way, you’ve evaluated your skills, talents and interests to determine what career you’re hoping to pursue once you graduate. Now you just need to attend classes, get good grades, and sail off into the sunset of the happily employed… right?
Well now, not so fast. The work to land a satisfying job after graduation doesn’t simply start after you’re handed your diploma. The most competitive, marketable candidates have been thoughtfully building their resumes long before they fill out their first job application.
So, what things should you be doing while still in school to prep for your dream career? Read on for insider information on the efforts you can start today to enhance your future earning potential for years to come.
Employers want experience
As we’ve discussed in recent articles, a college education is as important as ever in today’s evolving job market. That said, never discount the value of hard and soft skills. A degree communicates to a potential employer that you have the persistence and reliability to see a complex project through to completion. Along the way, you also acquired some hands-on skills for an entry-level position.
However, more than ever, hiring managers have their eyes out for applicants who have work experience. A job-related internship or even volunteer work will equip you with coveted hard skills specific to your field of study. Interviewers will identify you as a candidate who requires little start-up training, saving them time and money.
Can’t find a job in your chosen career field during school? No worries. Prospective employers screen for graduates with work experience, period. Why? Because every job provides you opportunities to hone your soft skills, including:
- Time management
… just to name a few. A college job can also help you get to know yourself better, so you’re better equipped to select the right career later on.
Network, network, network
Building a professional network while in college is one of the single most important things you can do to prepare for a career after school. In a job market filled with qualified applicants, connections are that distinguishing factor that can get your resume in front of the right people. The more people you know in your industry, the better your chances of finding that referral that will get you in the door.
Some tips for building a solid professional network:
- Get to know your professors on a first name basis. Not only do your teachers know the ins and outs of your industry, but many of them have or are currently working in your field.
- Interact with other faculty and staff. Attend school events, introduce yourself to other professors in your department and ask them questions about their chosen professions and possible internship opportunities.
- Meet with recent graduates in your line of work. Get their perspectives and tips, ask them to keep you in mind if job openings come up at their companies.
- Attend networking events. Alumni events, job fairs, professional conferences. Take advantage of every opportunity you can to build your network of friends and contacts.
Visit career services sooner rather than later
Every college offers some type of free career services. However, many students make the mistake of waiting to visit career services until the end of their time in college. Don’t wait!
The sooner you connect with career services, the more time you’ll have to build your resume. They offer excellent advice on how to obtain the skills and experience employers are looking for, as well as direction on cover letters, applications, and even strength assessments. Many of the tips they provide you may take time to implement, so aim to set an appointment within your first few months of school.
One thing that always sets excellent applicants apart from the pack is community involvement. Extracurricular activities provide students with personal development opportunities that they can’t get any other way. Consider joining a campus organization such as the school paper, sports team, or environmental club. Getting involved helps you build valuable interpersonal and leadership skills, and shapes you into a more flexible and mature individual.
Whether you volunteer at the local food bank or start a school chess club, stepping outside of your comfort zone shows potential employers that you have passion, follow through, and drive. The skills you gain while serving or participating in student organizations will transfer to your future work environment, making you significantly more marketable.
The final word
Gaining experience to make yourself a valuable employee is an ongoing task, and not one you’ll just blaze through in a few weeks. Having an improvement mindset is the best way to ensure you’re prepared for whatever career you’re chasing.
One thing to remember, though. Employers want candidates who can demonstrate achievement, not just list what they’ve learned. What does that mean, exactly?
Well, if you’ve participated in several clubs or organizations, detail how those experiences improved your ability to manage complex tasks, collaborate with a variety of people, and accomplish goals on a tight budget. Your potential employer will jump at the chance to hire a results-driven individual with a proven track record of success.