A common misconception among college students is that a career begins when college ends. This belief often limits both the quantity and quality of opportunities available to a new graduate. Today’s hiring managers are looking for graduates with experience in addition to a college education. In order to meet this need, you can begin your career navigation strategy your first day on campus!
Engaging a career navigation strategy doesn’t mean that you need to build a resume and an unwavering four-year plan. It does mean, however, that you will make an effort to gain professional experience in an area that interests you. This experience can come in the form of an internship, on-campus employment or a part-time job. Taking the time in college to gain professional experience will make your first post-college job search less stressful and more gratifying.
When it is time to conduct your first professional job search, be mindful of several things:
- What interests you?
- Is a particular industry or position attractive to you?
- Whom do you know?
- Are there people in your area of interest who can assist you in locating employment?
- How do people perceive you?
- Will the impression you made on people in college provide support and references in your search?
Several helpful hints follow to address each of these questions.
Employment opportunities in college afford you two valuable benefits:
The chance to gain some experience in an industry that you find attractive.
The experience you gain will probably not be task-related; in other words, not the same work you will be hired to do after graduation. However, it will introduce you to an industry’s work habits and culture. Two of my summer jobs helped me realize that I had no desire to work in the hospitality or retail sales industries. As I continued the pursuit of my business degree, I avoided courses in those areas.
The chance to meet people who hold a decision-making role in the industry.
You will be much more comfortable initiating a job search if you can send your resume to a list of established contacts. Had I decided to explore a career in the sports world, I would have sent my resume and cover letter to coaches, athletic directors and all of the other contacts I made while completing my internship. While I might not expect employment from those contacts, I certainly would expect leads and recommendations.
A Lasting Impression
It always amazed me how many people in college knew my name or face, even though we had never met. A reputation is truly powerful and can aid or hinder all stages of your career. Every opportunity you accept, whether in college or in the professional ranks, will make an impression on at least one person. The challenge is making the most of the opportunity to maximize the effect on your reputation.
It is difficult to be completely zealous in your pursuit of an opportunity when it fails to interest you. With that in mind, a good practice is to ensure that you complete that opportunity to satisfy at least the minimum level of success. This will limit the likelihood of “Burning a Bridge.” While you may not seek employment from the contact associated with that opportunity, he/she can certainly provide you with a reference or lead in another arena.
When you find an industry attractive, change your approach to always surpass the minimum success level. Also, try to get your hands on as much work as possible without affecting your ability to perform. Taking on additional tasks, or volunteering for work, is a great way to increase your experience range, as well as build a more positive reputation. This attitude, when added to a little determination and drive, will continue to open doors for you. If each success impresses at least one person, you can end up with quite a list of advocates at the end of your college career.
Take advantage of your college years; they are intended to help you determine what you want to do when you graduate. The more experiences you have in college, the better prepared you will be to get the most gratification from your career. Grab every opportunity you can and remember that someone is always watching — so you might as well aim to impress. It can only help you in the future.