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 him. Help him begin to think about his attitude and approach and begin to see the proactive steps that he can take to move toward his ultimate goal.
Goals (and action plans)
It may seem obvious, but your student needs to have clear goals. Help your student think about both her long and short term goals. What does she really want? Will a certain decision in the short term move her toward her ultimate longer term goal? This is a good time to ask your student the ”W” questions. Who would she like to be working for or with? What would she like to be doing? When does she see herself accomplishing her goals (timetable)? Where does she see herself working and living? Why does she want to do this? And then, add the ”H”: How will she reach her goals (action plans)?
Your student should be prepared to immerse himself in his chosen subject or field. He will need to be as knowledgeable as possible in all things related to his career. This may seem obvious once your student has chosen a major, but he will need to go beyond what he has done/learned in the classroom. He will need to keep up with the people, companies, trends and latest developments in the field. He will need to know his options regarding types of jobs, duties, responsibilities and possibilities. He may take additional training or participate in other educational opportunities. He will need to read publications, attend conferences, attend lectures. Your student will be competing for some jobs with seasoned professionals, and he will need to demonstrate that he has outstanding knowledge.
Employers look for employees who demonstrate a passion for what they are doing. If your student can tap into the heart of what she loves about her work or her field, it will help her to stand out from others. She will need to be able not only to identify that passion, but to articulate and demonstrate it to others. What will drive her to go well beyond the expectations of others?
The more that your student is willing to challenge himself and drive himself, the more likely he will be to set himself 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 his comfort zone, he will demonstrate important personality traits as well as rise to new levels within his field. Help your student identify his strengths and weaknesses and then challenge himself 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 his 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 he graduates, he 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. Her 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 she does not know how she will attain those goals. It is important that your student understand that a plan may begin with baby steps, but having a strategy will help her to be organized, make important decisions, and know when it is time to stop and reevaluate. She 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 his career and field of interest. He will need to keep track of his contacts, be sure to write thank you notes, follow up on conversations, do his homework and maintain personal contacts.
Perhaps more important than all other factors is the need for persistence as your student searches for her first job and works to build her career. She will need to stay focused on her 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. She will need to refuse to give up, even if she needs to rethink her directions 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. He will need to be flexible and determined. His first job may seem far from where he 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 his chosen career.