Students, you've seen it more than once. Fellow classmates complete their degrees and then spend their first week of freedom from the library painting the town red and celebrating. Those same classmates pound the pavement the following week with their resumes, new tie, starched slacks and polished shoes – only to find rejection at every turn.
It's sad really – four to eight years working towards their degrees, just to end up managing the night shift at McDonald's. Don't' let this happen to you. Start working towards your entry-level career early in the game. Try these five proactive tips to prepare for your career and prevent an educational disaster.
1. Don't procrastinate
One common misconception is that your professional experience starts after college. This incorrect student career advice can and will cost future opportunities. Start looking for opportunities before you graduate. Don't automatically default to those stereotypical “college student” or minimum wage jobs. Look for work related to your major. For example, journalism students could benefit from working in a print production plant. This provides an inside look at how the business functions. Accounting students may want to work as a receptionist at the local tax office. Art history majors could volunteer or do an internship at a local gallery.
Another option is the universal, federally-supported and funded work study program. All federally accredited colleges and universities offer the work study program. This program matches students with semi-guaranteed jobs. Most of the job opportunities are located on-campus, and counselors try to pick positions closest to your field of study. Jobs offered on and off-campus typically are minimum wage or a little higher. Just be prepared for the hours, Federal law prohibits colleges from assigning more than 30-hours per week. You may need to take a supplemental job to make up the loss.
2. Expand your knowledge
Students learn multiple skills in college. Some are related to your career; others may seem less useful. Open your mind to those so-called “useless” skills. They may come in handy one day. But don't stop there. The key is expansion. Expand your skills and knowledge. Companies look for team members with the ability to work in diverse settings. Look for courses that compliment your major. Anthropology majors can take a few business courses to increase their marketability. Photography students may want to take a few graphic design or art classes to help improve creativity and their “eye” for art. Speak with your academic advisor for help selecting elective courses that compliment your major.
One great skill, and lost art form, is typing. Sadly, most college curriculums don't require, or even offer, basic typing classes. Employers want team members who meet deadlines with little to no errors. If your college doesn't offer typing classes, invest in a good typing software.
3. Stay up-to-date
While some entry-level careers are more competitive than others, all jobs require work and preparation. Staying current on technology and industry trends gives you an advantage over other applicants. Most students are more up-to-date with technology than seasoned professionals, giving them the upper hand. Those same students however, show a lack of knowledge of industry trends. Visit your college library and read professional journals each month. These provide an in-depth look at the changing landscape inside your career and will help better prepare you for what's to come. Google offers a news subscription, customizable to any search word or phrase. Set up an automated search and receive up-to-date news alerts in your inbox each month.
Consider this piece of student career advice: learning new technology or updating your software version knowledge is just as important as industry trends. Most universities and colleges provide, and even require, students to take introductory computer classes. These classes cover basic file creation and editing, operating system quirks, word processing and basic maintenance. Take advantage of the introductory and intermediate classes. But don't forget older software. Some companies haven't upgraded. Read up on the last two versions of Microsoft Office, Windows OS and the standard software used in your industry. Most libraries carry technology books dating back several years. If your school or local library doesn't have these books, Half Price Books, Barnes and Noble, Amazon.com and other retailers may have older books at discount prices.
4. Pay attention in science and math class
STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers represent one of the fastest growing industries. Technology is booming, making it an oil field of wealth. While you don't have to major in math or science to benefit from STEM revenue, learning the basics will help you understand this growing field and impress employers with your analytical side. Visit the science and math Dean's office, and speak with a counselor. Explain to them you aren't majoring in STEM but want to learn more about the field and gain analytical skills. They know the best classes to help you learn.
On the other hand, don't pass up opportunities to learn the arts, including visual and performing arts. Performing arts teaches communication skills. Every professional benefits from communication, especially public speaking. These classes help build self-esteem, teach you how to overcome the fear of speaking and hopefully prepare you for various, spur of the moment scenarios. Taking arts classes (i.e. painting, ceramics, etc.) helps build creativity, teaches structure and discipline, cultivates patience and encourages students to think outside the box.
5. Don't forget about those internships
Internships are the lifeblood of college experience. And rightly so. Nothing beats a hands-on education. Just be careful to select the right internship to help work towards your entry-level career. Academic advisors recommend forgoing those large, competitive internships during your first two years in college. Instead, put more energy into local, small business internships. These businesses need the help and often offer more real-world education than those coffee-fetching, large company versions. Google a few local medium to small-sized companies in your field. Call their human resources department and inquire whether they accept interns and what are the qualifications. Don't forget, your professors are your greatest allies. They probably know a few good companies who will give you a shot.
It's never too late to start
Most of this student career advice requires a few years of planning to become effective. Don't worry though, there is still time for students getting ready to walk the stage. The first step is optimizing your resume. While it is best to plan for your future and have the ammunition ready for your resume, most skills and experience are easily rewritten. Look for transferrable skills (i.e. leadership, communication, team building, etc.) Highlight those attributes and similar accomplishments. Use strong action verbs, and draw attention to what you can achieve for the company. Treat your abilities as merchandise for sale. Make the employer want you.
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