Building Begins NOW!
For college seniors, returning to school in September is the beginning of the last hurrah: One last football season in the student section, one last round of fraternity and sorority rush and one last chance to host the epic house party that will be remembered for years to come.
Unfortunately, an impressive keg stand record doesn't count as a hard skill, and adjusting the margins on your resume to make it look beefier won't fool potential employers as easily as it did your Lit 201 professor. In today's competitive job market, now is the time to start thinking about post-grad plans, particularly if your resume is lacking.
While senior year is absolutely a time to milk the most out of the remaining days of college (and concentrate on, you know, class), it's also the time to start considering your long-term path. If the question, "So what are your plans next year?" makes you hyperventilate, we've outlined a few expert tips on how to set yourself up for success.
Maintain contacts from summer internships
Now that school is back in session, try to avoid falling into the trap of "out of sight, out of mind." Stay in touch with the connections you forged during summer internships so that you can use those resources as future references.
Nicole Williams, official career expert for LinkedIn, says that the best course of action is to develop relationships with your superiors over the course of the internship, requesting one-on-one meetings to discuss skills you'd like to develop. "You’ll not only gain invaluable insight, but will also demonstrate your eagerness to learn more about the industry," she says.
By now, you've likely already left your summer internship, but it's not too late to retroactively reach out to those connections. Asking for a recommendation on LinkedIn is one way to stay top-of-mind — though, with these types of requests, it's important to understand that you're asking a favor; you'll want to come across as confidant, but also sincere and grateful. "Be persistent without being pushy," says Williams. "Connect, but understand the boundaries — especially those of busy professionals."
For seniors who haven't yet dipped their toes into the working world, it's worth applying to internships during the school year. "Internships are important for several reasons: You get to work on real projects with real deadlines, build a network, increase your odds of employment after graduation and, if nothing else, add to your resume," says Sanjeev Agrawal, founder of collegefeed.
While the term "professional networking" can be daunting, the opportunities to make valuable connections extend far beyond stuffy industry events. Simply developing rapport with fellow students — particularly those with influential connections or leadership positions — can pay off long down the road. "Nothing is more important than human relationships," says Agrawal. "Break-out opportunities often arise when people take chances on people."
Make an effort to get to know your classmates and members of various campus organizations — being recognizable on campus can leave an impression on all the right people. "Throughout your entire college experience, you should be building your professional profile and network; not just when you are ready to look for a job," says Williams. "The majority of jobs are found through the relationships you develop and cultivate. You never know who may be able to offer you a serendipitous job opportunity."
When it comes to networking, practice makes perfect — and it's often easier to establish a professional relationship with influential contacts while you're still in school. Alex Mooradian, CEO of Readyforce, says that students shouldn't hesitate to reach out to business leaders or alumni at companies and in industries in which they're interested. "Few students actually do this," he says.As for seeking internship opportunities or asking for recommendations and career advice/introductions, students may not have to look too far. "Leverage your existing network," says Carly Keller, marketing associate at Chegg. "This doesn’t mean going around to networking happy hours with strangers; it means connecting with the people that you already know and asking for guidance.""Most people will be willing to meet or talk with you while you are in school, but may be less welcoming once you are in the workforce. Start those relationships now."
Campus involvement: Better late than never
If you've spent the past three years of your college career on the sidelines of campus activities, it may be time to step up your efforts. Getting involved in a variety of organizations not only boosts your resume, but can open doors to surprising connections — and you may discover a discipline that will serve as foundation for your career: Volunteering at a local school may awaken a passion for social work, or running for president of your fraternity may incite an interest in politics.Use your downtime to explore the extracurriculars campus has to offer, or join (or create) a new organization that aligns with your interests. "The idea that only freshman join new clubs is completely a myth, so challenge yourself to try something meaningful," says Keller. "Join an organization in preparation for a particular career field, such as business, project management or engineering — these clubs can help you gauge what skills you'll need to be successful, and can link you to job opportunities with former members.""Now is the time to take some risks. You are young, with no kids and few responsibilities, so don't be afraid to do something unique, because life only gets more complex,"says Mooradian.
If you're already involved on campus, try your hand at leadership. Much like two years at one company looks more impressive on a resume than many short stints at various organizations, a leadership role in one campus activity will impress employers more than minimal involvement in twenty different clubs. "Committing yourself to a leadership position will make real-life scenarios seem less intimidating, and allows you to practice skills you won't learn in class: How to work with someone who doesn’t respond to your emails, how to run an event with moving parts or how to collaborate with someone you just don't like," says Keller. "Understanding which aspects of leading a team you enjoy most can tell you a ton about your professional persona, as well as the environment that fits you best."
Start exploring passions
Hand in hand with student involvement comes the opportunity to explore your passions. If you participated in your sorority's group dance competition as part of Greek Week and loved it, or volunteered with a local cause that awakened a thirst for philanthropy, make note of these discoveries — there may be a way to incorporate them into your post-grad career plans, even if they are completely unrelated to your major.With the job market increasingly focused on the "maker movement," showing initiative and an entrepreneurial spirit can have professional benefits as well — and these endeavors don't necessarily need to coincide with your major. Have you always enjoyed arts and crafts? Try your hand at jewelry making. Considering learning to code? Take a class on Ruby, and gain some experience building an app from scratch. These types of "hobbies turned potential businesses opportunities" can make impressive additions to your resume, and showcase diverse skills and thirst for knowledge."Having a job that you are passionate about makes work feel like a hobby," says Mooradian. "It makes hard days easier, and your efforts and successes will be a hundred times more satisfying."
Agrawal suggests that now is the time for college seniors to start doing some soul-searching about their future path: Students should consider the "macro question" of priorities — learning vs. earning. "'Learning' happens in post-grad programs, startup jobs, starting a company on your own or when working with really smart people, just for the sake of learning from them. 'Earning' inevitably happens in all the above cases, but may [take longer]." Agrawal warns against being swayed by dollar signs when searching for your first post-grad job. "If your passion is writing code and you get a job at a bank because it pays more, you're being short-sighted," he says.
Students who think that a 4.0 GPA is enough to land a highly competitive job straight out of school may be in for a rude awakening. "Good grades are just not enough anymore," says Mooradian. In addition to doing well in class and getting involved on campus, well prepared students will enter the job force equipped with tangible skills.
"Learn the skills employers desperately need," says Keller. "Take the time to research the expertise you'll need for your first job, and then act on it.According to a recent study conducted by Chegg, there's a significant disconnect between what students believe are important skills for landing a job and the experiences hiring managers are actually looking for. While 50% of students rate themselves as "completely" or "very" ready for a job in their given field of study, fewer than two in five hiring managers agree. The skills with the most significant discrepancies are soft skills, readiness to prioritize work, ability to manage projects, written communication skills and organizational skills.
To get a grasp on what employers expect, Williams suggests setting up informational interviews with potential employers, even well before graduation season rolls around. "Use the summer and winter breaks before graduation wisely," she suggests.
Taking advantage of online resources can also help students learn hard skills they may not be able to fully master in one semester. "If you’re a STEM major, try and build something that you can showcase with a demo and code base hosted on GitHub. Post questions — or better yet, answer questions — on Stack Overflow. Take coding challenges at sites like topcoder,InterviewStreet, etc., or maybe take some specialization courses on Coursera," he suggests. For non-STEM majors, he recommends writing blog posts on Medium or familiarizing yourself with WordPress, taking or teaching classes on Skillshare or Udemy, or poking around on Quora to give and receive insight. "There's an ocean of topics out there; there are so many avenues to showcase yourself," he says.
As for your physical resume, it's a good idea to have one in the works by senior year, if not before. While the rules of the traditional resume are changing, your experience — and how you convey it on paper — is still the first impression you give potential employers. "It doesn’t have to be one page. It doesn’t have to look like those thousands of samples. Write your own story. Be creative," says Agrawal.
Take advantage of school resources
The career center you've walked by every day for the past three years (but never set foot in) is around for a reason: Most colleges have a vested interest in helping their students succeed, and will go to great lengths to do so. (Successful alumni = more money, higher rankings and a better reputation.)
Professors can also be helpful connections or references, particularly for a first job, suggests Keller. Since they typically watch hundreds of students graduate year after year, they have the expertise to offer sage advice. "They've probably heard your same concerns of 'I don’t know what I want to do with this degree,' 'I’m not sure if I should go to grad school,' or 'how do I apply what I learned in class to the real world?'" She suggests developing authentic relationships with professors, advisors and — if possible — administrators. "Professors are often tasked with writing job recommendations, and the better they know you, the stronger the letter," she adds."Take advantage of these tools while you still have unlimited access."
Williams suggests asking professors for recommendations on LinkedIn, as well. "It's a common misconception that these recommendations must come from a previous employer. A recommendation from a professor or academic advisor — especially one with experience in your industry or with whom you worked closely — speaks volumes to your ability to stand out among the masses," she says.
In addition to your school's internal career network, the following platforms can also be hugely helpful for seeking internships and general career advice: InternMatch, Career Sushi (formerly Intern Sushi), The Muse, collegefeed, and Readyforce's new "Explore Your Options" platform, which promotes transparency between companies and internship candidates.
When it comes to prosperity during senior year — and afterward — Agrawal says success isn't limited to one group or person: "Never underestimate yourself. With grit and persistence, you can achieve anything."
See full article: http://mashable.com/2014/09/14/senior-year-career-prep/