There are many reality checkpoints that students, parents and professors miss during each year of a student's journey from college to a career.
Abraham Lincoln said, the best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time. Yet as each year of life progresses those days seem to come more quickly. Most career services professionals suggest a few things that college students, parents and anyone advising them should spend time doing each year of college to prepare for the future:
FRESHMAN: Explore careers and discover your strengths. Even if you have decided on a career, take personality, skill and interest assessments that your university or college offers. This may include: Myers-Briggs, Strengthsquest or FOCUS, to name a few. This will help you better understand what strengths you possess early in life.
Besides getting good grades, involvement on campus or in your community is important. Students should meet new people and participate in student government, clubs, non-profit events, academic organizations or a sorority/fraternity. The self awareness and leadership skills gained from thesse activities may help decide or confirm a career choice. These activities also give you confidence to interact with new people and are valuable in establishing contacts for later on in life.
SOPHOMORE: A good grade point average is important but find time to get practical experience to build your resume. Internships, externships, leadership in campus clubs/organizations, mission work, community service or part-time jobs matter. Gain transferable skills that are valuable in any profession such as public speaking, writing, analyzing, planning and organizing. Now is a good time to evaluate your social media footprint on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. What themes and messages are you putting out there?
Get to know the career service professionals on your campus. I have to admit, the quality of career services professionals varies widely across university campuses. Be sure to notice if your campus career service office does the following: 1)Participates in national organizations and conferences to stay abreast of 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 based on what employers want. Set-up informational interviews or shadow people to find out what they do, even if its a profession you think you know, such as: accounting, law, marketing, banking, medicine or education. The actual work may differ from what you've read and can vary by industry or specialty. It is no longer enough to be a student with a 4.0 grade point average but zero campus/community involvement and no real life experience or activities.
JUNIOR: Network with family, friends, professors. If someone asks you to email your resume to them...do it! Even if there are no openings, they may pass it along to a colleague or someone who will consider you for future openings. 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 the skills they offer, how they can help an employer solve a probelm or are just socially awkward and unable to verbally describe transferable skills during an interview. Practice interviewing with a career services professional.
SENIOR: Continue to cast a wider net(work). Yes, you do have one. Remember those informational interviews you conducted? part-time job you had? community service or friends of your parents? Let them know you are graduating,tell them what you are looking for, email your resume. Re-evaluate your social media footprint. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn; use them wisely and review what you say or have said thinking about the impression it makes on someone who does not know you.70% of recruiters will Google your name, what will they find?
Avoid relying solely on online job boards. Use a variety of resources and do not just wait for someone to contact you. Talk to people. Ask questions about what they do and how they got there. Networking remains the most effective way to find a job. Schedule lunches. Ask professionals in your network if you can send them your awesome resume. 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 and anyone who helps you along the way. Verbally and in writing.
No matter who you are, if you are conducting a job search in today's economy it's necessary to: Be flexible. The more limitations(location, salary, etc.)you place on your job search, the less options you have. Talk to people, ask intelligent questions and be willing to try or learn new things. Be faithful. Don't give up too soon, don't get negative or blame the economy. if you are curious about the status of a job or need someone's help--contact them. Follow-up on every lead or inquiry and stay consistent. Searching for a job is your job.
Today's reality is that the entire approach to gain professional employment has changed. I'm convinced most universities and colleges (and even parents) 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 few years, yet many in academia(and even some parents)continue to advise students to use highly traditional, outdated approaches when creating resumes and searching for 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 find ways to 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. Oh yeah, I work in Career Services NOT the "placement office." Don't call us the placement office. That's so 1970.
If you are a student and you choose to do none of the aforementioned before your senior year of college. I'll still try to help. It's my calling. It's my passion. What's yours?