Career Steps to Success
College is a wonderful time in a young person’s life, full of new freedoms, friendships, all-nighters, projects, papers, and many more unique experiences you will probably only encounter during this season of life. Particularly during the first few years, it is easy to forget that you are ultimately in college to prepare yourself for a professional career. It is important to remember that your desire for a bright future is the reason you are attending college in the first place. Your goal is to gain an education and become successful in the world, not just collect crazy stories to tell your children.
Most universities have some form of campus career center to help students prepare for starting a career after college. They help students take active steps to achieve their career goals beginning the moment students arrive at school. As a student at East Carolina University, I especially like ECU’s Career Center’s freshman to senior year guide packet, which I’ve included the URL to at the bottom of the blog. This document allows students to look at a checklist of different things they should strive to accomplish during each year of college. So while you are a freshman, it is a good idea to go talk with your school’s career center and see if they can provide similar advice.
The Career Exploration and Research packet from ECU’s Career Center has a variety of different recommendations for first-year students. Some of these include experiencing new things through your courses and studies. Other suggestions include tips for resume writing, interviews, and general professional behavior. However, don’t feel like you have to come to college knowing exactly what you want to do. Your freshman year is a great time to explore different types of majors and career paths through a variety of intro level courses, which will help you see where your natural strengths and interests fall. This first year of college is also a prime time to improve both your oral and written communication skills. Whether they come naturally to you or not, they are important and even vital for being successful in many professions. Supervisors in internships and first jobs do not have time to teach new employees these skills and will therefore more likely hire someone who shows competency in communication already. So take the opportunity to learn as much as you can from your required English courses.
Freshman year is a wonderful time to explore not only academic interests, but also service experiences. Through volunteer opportunities, students become even more aware of their likes and dislikes outside of the classroom. After you start accumulating these different experiences, it is a good idea to meet with a career counselor and begin the process of putting together a running resume, which is basically a list of all your various activities and involvement. It may seem early to start developing a resume as a college freshman, but you might be surprised at how many experiences you have the chance to accumulate once in college. Many employers will want to see what kind of student involvement their job candidates have demonstrated outside of their academic studies. Even on-campus student jobs often request a resume from applicants.
As your sophomore year begins, you return to school with a sense of belonging and, hopefully, the maturity that comes with no longer being brand new to college. You now need to decide what career path you are interested in pursuing. Professors and others in your field of interest not only can give you guidance and advice from years of experiences, but they are also your fist connections to your professional career. The Career Exploration and Research packet from the ECU’s Career Center explains how important it is to begin building relationships with those in your field as a sophomore, because it can lead to two or three solid years of guidance and resources during your undergraduate years. Now is also the time to transform your running resume into a professional one. Once again, you should utilize your campus’s career center or services. That is what they are there for! Then after you have put together a professional resume, begin attending events through the career center such as career fairs or professional development seminars.
Wow! You have now made it through your first two years of college. It may be bittersweet, but it is now time to put the pedal to the medal and continue developing those professional skills. Junior year is the time to put into practice the skills you have been learning. Hopefully you have obtained some sort of leadership position(s) in extra-curricular organizations and clubs by this point in the game and can use these roles to apply your developing skills. As far as academics go, this is usually the year you really start getting into the upper level courses in your major. Just make sure to continue taking classes that will help you gain the cutting edge skills for your field of study, even if that means you have to take classes that are more difficult, or not as fun, as other options. This might include electives of specific interest or courses in areas you want to continue to improve. Also, don’t forget to keep strengthening your resume and updating it often.
On top of everything else, your junior year is the time to take the next big career-building step by creating an electronic portfolio or website. Some majors will require this, but you should do this regardless of whether or not it is mandatory, especially since there are free sites online for you to use. This is a time to highlight all the hard work you have done since your freshman year in a creative way for potential employers to view. The Career Exploration and Research packet also encourages students to start scheduling practice interviews at the career center. Again, some classes will require this, but regardless, you should take advantage of this great service if your campus offers it. If not, you may want to explore setting this up with someone who has interviewing experience (e.g. employer) in the field you are pursuing. I scheduled a practice interview during the fall of my junior year, and it was incredibly helpful and better prepared me to apply for summer internships the following spring. And as scary as it may seem, it is not too early to begin looking at job opportunities or graduate schools during your junior year. Furthermore, it is really time to attend fall and spring career fairs if you haven’t before. They can aid in your networking, help you become comfortable talking with professionals, allow you to put into practice your skills and knowledge, and most importantly, teach you how best to acquire a job. Junior year is busy and can be stressful, but remember the point of college is to prepare you for a job and being the best you, you can be after graduation.
As your senior year approaches, the stresses of college continue and a bitter sweetness begins to loom, but graduation and starting a career is the goal! It is now time to begin searching for a job. There are many elements to consider, including location, salary, job benefits, health insurance, and other personal preferences or deciding factors, so be sure to have a game plan. Again, your school’s career service team can help guide you in the right direction. Through researching companies/agencies/etc. and meeting with professionals at events such as career fairs, you can become more comfortable and informed about the career path you are seeking. Regularly use websites that post job opportunities and stay in close contact with your career counselors. Continue updating your resume, online portfolio, and professional websites such as LinkedIn (a professional version of Facebook) to keep yourself up-to-date and appealing to future employers. Don’t forget the purpose of the career fairs is to help students network and hopefully land a job. Use this to your advantage. You are a senior, and it is your time to shine! Some students will still be unsure of where life will take them after they graduate while others will have jobs lined up. Everyone is different, and you may not need to do all of these different steps. However, don’t ignore them simply because you don’t want to worry about it now.
College is a unique time in your life and will hopefully be filled with exciting new experiences. However, don’t forget to always keep your career goals in mind. By utilizing tips like these given from career center professionals, the process of building your career credentials and skills can become more manageable. The key is starting the process during your freshman year and setting yourself up for a bright college career through involvement and continual improvement of your abilities. But whatever you do, don’t wait until the end of your senior year to begin building a resume!