Sunday, April 25, 2010

4 years of college, now what?

I've been thinking a lot about the future lately. As I look into the eyes of college students preparing to graduate in May, I typically ask what's your plan or what do you want to do? Many answer with a blank stare. Their eyes seem to silently say, I have a degree, now will you just get me a job? Perhaps no one ever asked them about their career plans before now or they may have found ways to avoid answering these question due to other priorities during college. Now they are here staring at me, some even a bit annoyed that their new degree does automatically or magically equal getting a job. I absolutely love working with college students and always try to find a way to encourage and inspire them no matter where they are in their job search or career development plan. However, I can do far more to help the student who has put some small effort into thinking about their skills, abilities, calling and interests or is willing to spend the time now needed to explore their definition of a meaningful career. I'm convinced there are many reality checkpoints students, parents and professors miss during each year of the academic journey.

Abraham Lincoln once said, the best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time. It may also be said that those days seem to pass more quickly, especially if you are a senior in college. Here are a few things that college students, parents and anyone advising them should spend time doing each year in college to prepare for the future:

Freshman: Explore careers and discover your strengths. Even if you have decided on a career, take any personality, skills and interests assessments that your university or college offers. This may include: Myers-Briggs, Strengthsquest or FOCUS to name a few. Getting good grades and involvement on campus or in your community are important in the first year of college. Students should participate in student government, clubs, non-profit events, academic organizations or a sorority/fraternity to gain basic experiences. The skills and self awareness you gain may help you decide or confirm a career choice. These activities also give you confidence to inteact with new people and are valuable in meeting contacts for networking later on in life.

Sophomore: A good grade point average is important but make time to get practical experience to build your resume. Internships, externships, campus clubs/organizations, mission work, community service or part-time jobs matter. Think about gaining transferable skills that are valuable in any profession such as public speaking, writing, analyzing, planning and organizing. Take an active role in learning about careers and networking. Get to know the career service professionals on your campus. I have to admit, the quality of career services professionals varies widely across campuses and states. Be sure to notice if your campus career services office does the following: 1)Participates with national organizations to track the latest employment and recruitment trends (i.e. NACE, SHRM, etc.), 2) Has active local/national contact with recruiters (beyond campus visits), 3)Offers relevant life/work preparation events and, 4)Provides up-to-date interview coaching and resume services. Set-up informational interviews to ask professionals about what they do, even if its a profession where you think you know, such as: accounting, law, marketing, banking, medicine or education. The actual work may differ from what you think and can vary by industry or specialty. It is no longer enough to be a 4.0 student with zero campus/community involvement and no part-time work experience on your resume.

Junior: Network with family, friends, professors. Make sure you have created a good resume. Ditch the job objective. No one reads them because too many are poorly written. Create a few bulleted statements under a "Summary" section on your resume. If someone asks you to email your resume to it! Even if there are no openings, they may pass it along to a colleague or someone who will consider you for future openings. Re-take any personality, interests or skills assessments. You may have changed a bit since your Freshman year. Enhance your interpersonal communication skills by texting less and talking to people more. Recruiters continue to tell me about students who fail to articulate effectively what they are looking for, are socially awkward or are unable to verbally make connections to transferable skills during an interview.

Senior: Continue to cast a wider net(work). Yes, you do have one. Remember the informational interviews you conducted? part-time job? community service or friends of your friends parents? Let them know you are graduating and tell them what you are looking for. Avoid relying solely on job boards. Use all resources available to you and do not just wait for someone to contact you. Networking remains the most effective way to find a job. Schedule lunches. Talk to people. Ask professionals in your network if you can send them your awesome resume. Always include an email or cover letter highlighting what you have to offer an employer. Avoid focusing on what you want from an employer (i.e. experience). Show how you can add value or solve a business problem they may have. Identify companies that you are interested in and ask people in your network for the name of someone who works there. Send a resume and letter of inquiry to that specific individual(not Human Resources). And don't forget to thank everyone who helps you along the way.

Not matter who you are, if you are conducting a job search in today's economy it's necessary to: Be flexible. The more parameters(location, salary, etc.)you place on your job search the less options you have. Be fearless. Talk to people and be willing try or learn new things. Be faithful. Don't give up too soon, don't get negative or blame the economy, if you are curisou about the status of a job or need someone's help contact them. Follow-up on every lead or inquiry and stay consistent.

Today's reality is that the entire approach and process of gaining professional employment has changed. I'm sure I will upset many in academia but I'm convinced most universities and colleges are doing a huge dis-service to hundreds of thousands of students by not having early, often and practical career conversations. Resumes, interviews, salary levels and recruiting tactics have changed dramatically over the past five years, yet many in academia(and even some parents)continue to advise students to use highly traditional, outdated approaches to creating resumes and finding employment. We are experiencing a highly unique, still recovering economy, and it requires us to re-think our approach to career planning and finding employment. Parents, professors and career services professionals must have fresh, frequent and relevant discussions about the future long before the Senior year of college. If that doesn't happen, I'm here to help. I'll always try to help. It's my calling. It's my passion. It's possible!

So what do you think? Leave your comments below, I want to hear from you.