Students attend college for many reasons; and students gain many things from their college education. One of the primary goals for most students, however, is to find a job after graduation and to begin to build a career. Students today are graduating at one of the most difficult times in recent history for finding that beginning job. Some students will find themselves better prepared than others for the road to their ideal career.
We’d like to suggest eight factors that can help your student take charge and survive the difficult early career building stages. As your student nears graduation, or perhaps well before that, you might share some of these ideas with them. Help them begin to think about their attitude and approach and begin to see the proactive steps that they can take to move toward their ultimate goal.
Goals (and action plans)
It may seem obvious, but your student needs to have clear goals. Help your student think about both their long and short term goals. What do they really want? Will a certain decision in the short term move them toward their ultimate longer term goal? This is a good time to ask your student the ”W” questions. Who would they like to be working for or with? What would they like to be doing? When do they see themselves accomplishing their goals (timetable)? Where do they see themselves working and living? Why do they want to do this? And then, add the ”H”: How will they reach their goals (action plans)?
Your student should be prepared to immerse themselves in their chosen subject or field. They will need to be as knowledgeable as possible in all things related to their career. This may seem obvious once your student has chosen a major, but they will need to go beyond what they have done/learned in the classroom. Your student will need to keep up with the people, companies, trends and latest developments in the field. They will need to know options regarding types of jobs, duties, responsibilities and possibilities. They may take additional training or participate in other educational opportunities, will need to read publications, attend conferences, attend lectures. Your student will be competing for some jobs with seasoned professionals, and they will need to demonstrate that they have outstanding knowledge beyond what can be learned in the classroom.
Employers look for employees who demonstrate a passion for what they are doing. If your student can tap into the heart of what they love about their work or field, it will help them to stand out from others. Your student will need to be able not only to identify that passion, but to articulate and demonstrate it to others. What will drive them to go well beyond the expectations of others?
The more that your student is willing to challenge and drive themselves, the more likely they will be to set themselves apart. If your student takes challenging and difficult courses in college, continually works to learn new things even after graduation, is constantly working to stretch and grow and push their comfort zone, they will demonstrate important personality traits as well as rise to new levels within their field. Help your student identify their strengths and weaknesses and then challenge themselves to improve on those weaker areas.
Internships are becoming increasingly important and expected. Students who have participated in an internship, or multiple internships, will definitely have an advantage. Internships may be paid or unpaid, may be for credit or not, might occur during the school year or during the summer. Not only does an internship give a student important experience in their chosen field, it provides opportunities for networking, learning about the field, mentoring opportunities, and a chance to ”audition” for a job. Many employers will look first to former interns when they have a job opening. If your student has not had a chance to do an internship before they graduate, they might consider an internship as a first job experience. Although this might be an unpaid position, it could yield great benefits.
It is important that your student have a plan. Their plan may need to be flexible, but having a strategy and seeing the path ahead is important. The goals mentioned earlier will only frustrate your student if they do not know how to attain those goals. It is important that your student understand that a plan may begin with baby steps, but having a strategy will help your student to be organized, make important decisions, and know when it is time to stop and reevaluate. They will feel more in control of a sometimes difficult stage.
One survey has suggested that as many as 80% of employees say that networking helped them find their current job. Human Resource departments often receive hundreds of resumes for each opening, and having someone know your student’s name may make a difference. Networking, however, may not lead directly to a job, but may help your student learn more about a field and find another connection. Talking to others may help your student find out about an opening, receive a recommendation, find a lead to the appropriate person to contact. Encourage your student to make use of every opportunity possible to meet with others and to talk with passion and knowledge about their career and field of interest. Your student will need to keep track of their contacts, be sure to write thank you notes, follow up on conversations, do their homework and maintain personal contacts.
Perhaps more important than all other factors is the need for persistence as your student searches for their first job and works to build their career. Your student will need to stay focused on their long term goals and know that it may take time to reach them. Being resilient and maintaining a positive attitude will be essential when the inevitable discouraging days or weeks occur. Your student will need to refuse to give up, even if they need to rethink their direction and strategies. Determination and patience, coupled with actions will pay off eventually.
The task of finding and building a career is a difficult one. It requires that your student see the bigger picture and recognize that it may take time to reach the ultimate goal. They will need to be flexible and determined. Their first job may seem far from where they would like to be ultimately, but might be a step on the way. Coupling passion and vision with hard work and flexibility, your student will move toward their chosen career.