College can play an important role in your preparation for a professional career. From the transferrable knowledge and skills gained from your classes and seminars to the countless networking opportunities offered in your chosen field of study, college can be the springboard that launches you into a successful career in the workplace.
While attending college can be an invaluable way to help you develop professional skills, there are a few additional steps that you can take now that’ll help you land a job after graduation.
Even if graduation seems far off in the future, follow these steps now to set yourself up for future success in the workplace.
Spruce Up Your Résumé
It’s never too early to create a professional résumé – even if you don’t have an extensive job history or experience.
A traditional résumé will include:
- Relevant work experience
- Skills and abilities
- Extracurricular activities
However, that’s not always the case for some first- and second-year college students just out of high school.
“Many college students worry that it will be tough to find a job after they graduate because they don’t have enough experience,” explained Martha Schmitz, senior adviser with Mentat, an organization with decades of experience hiring, managing and mentoring prospective job candidates and employees.
In response to this concern, Schmitz suggests highlighting “transferrable skills” that can be used in a professional environment and discussing any particular accomplishments that put you above and beyond the rest. This can include participation in intramural sports clubs, school organizations, volunteer events and school-related activities as well as leadership positions.
After you’ve written up your résumé, Valerie Streif, senior adviser with Mentat, suggests having it checked over in the writing center at your school. Many times, colleges will offer free writing center resources that will guide you through professional writing projects, such as résumés, cover letters and so on.
Streif also suggests talking with a professor you’ve gotten to know through classes and asking if they’ll write a letter of recommendation on your behalf. Potential employers will likely appreciate the insight from a person who can speak to your skills and strengths.
Utilize Career Services
One of the most valuable aspects of college is the experience and expertise the staff and faculty have in helping students transition from the world of higher education to the professional world. Most campuses offer free career services, including:
- Reviewing your résumé
- Testing your interviewing skills
- Providing career assessments
Brandon Armstrong, career coach and employment outreach coordinator at the school of business at Southern Utah University, recommends early-year students take advantage of meeting with a career counselor who can administer interest, personality and career assessments to help students decide which major to declare and which industries to keep their eye on.
“Meeting and engaging with these individuals to learn more about the employment recruitment landscape could be advantageous for students as they explore career options and focus their search,” Armstrong explained.
He further suggests researching and exploring career center websites, opting in to email lists, and staying informed of the campus events and recruiting activities the centers typically facilitate.
By staying up to date on all the resources your college offers (career fairs, networking opportunities, etc.), you’ll be able to get a head start on your search for internships and full-time job opportunities.
Attend College Career Fairs
Attending a career fair might be the easiest way to jump-start your professional career, as most colleges regularly host events on campus where businesses are encouraged to interact with students, discuss qualifications for potential internships and recruit students and soon-to-be-graduates for full-time positions in the future.
Armstrong recommends that students view this as a time to network with employers of particular disciplines, regardless of where they are in their college careers.
“Apart from helping students within these disciplines obtain internships and career opportunities, these events can be useful for first and second year students, who have not yet declared their majors, to explore with, and learn from, individuals in these industries,” he explained.
Before you attend the event:
- Make copies of your résumé to hand out to employers
- Dress to impress by putting on your most professional clothing
- Prepare to talk about your major, campus involvement and professional goals
Whether you’re a first- or second-year student looking to familiarize yourself with organizations and companies, a third-year student seeking an internship with an employer of interest or a senior that’s looking for full-time employment after graduation, come prepared with a smile, a confident handshake, and an elevator pitch summarizing your education history and career goals.
Apply for an Internship
Internships are a great way to gain relevant work experience, possibly obtain college credit and, in some cases, secure a full-time job offer from an employer. As a student in college, you have the opportunity to receive real training and experience that can be applied to future careers down the road.
“Many of these formal internship programs are crucial recruiting pipelines for the companies who provide them,” added Armstrong. “After a successful internship for both parties, and based on future staffing needs, a student may receive a full-time job offer from the internship employer.”
Not to mention, internships provide opportunities to expand your network by allowing you to meet and interact with new people on a daily basis. This can prove to be valuable down the road should you seek full-time employment with the company where you’re interning or another one.
Across the board, most professionals and school advisers recommend applying for internships early, as most companies will recruit for summer internships two seasons ahead of time. Armstrong recommends learning more about the companies that offer internships (at career fairs, company webpages, career services offices, etc.).
Attend Professional Development Seminars
Professional development isn’t just for professionals. In fact, there are some great ways many colleges facilitate this for students at the early stages of their career.
Armstrong suggests that students can enroll in orientation or career exploration courses offered by specific departments and designed to help first- and second-year students become familiar with the degree paths and resources within those departments.
College departments often sponsor a lecture or speaker series throughout each semester where experts and professionals speak to students on campus about topics of relevance and interest. In many cases, these events are free.
Armstrong encourages students to take advantage of these opportunities while in college, because professional development events and seminars can be expensive for post-graduates and aren’t always paid for by employers.
Join a Club
While student clubs can be a great way to engage, network and learn from fellow students and career advisers, you can also gain connections with career professionals, depending on the mission or nature of the club.
For example, clubs like Toastmasters International help students improve their communication, public speaking and leadership skills. These skills are an invaluable asset when you’re seeking a job after graduation.
In addition, joining organizations on campus can enrich the extracurricular activities section of your résumé and show that your interest in furthering your education and skillsets extends beyond your college classes and courses.
Build and Maintain Your Network
“Networking is essential in the current job market, especially in the social sciences fields,” said Jennifer Magas, vice president, Magas Media Consultants and clinical associate professor of public relations at Pace University. “Students should be taking every available opportunity to meet people in their field of interest and ask for cards, contact numbers and ways to keep in touch.”
There are a few easy ways to start building your network while you’re still in college, such as attending alumni events, which are a great way to make contacts and find out about possible employment opportunities.
Armstrong also offered some other ways you can network, such as:
- Create and maintain a LinkedIn account
- Keep and organize contact information for future reference and follow-up
- Stay in contact with people by checking in and following up periodically, updating them on your progress toward graduation
Maintaining your network is just as important, if not more so, than building it. Make sure you stay in contact with people in your career fields of interest and check in with them for personal and professional updates, as well as inquiring about future employment opportunities.
You don’t have to be a college graduate to start preparing for your future career. By following these steps today, you’ll set yourself up for future success in the workplace.
If so, subscribe now for tips on home, money, and life delivered straight to your inbox.