Your college student has made it through the first years of college! Congratulations! They’ve survived the transition to college and weathered the sophomore slump. Now in their junior year, they’ve passed some big hurdles, but they’re not yet in that final lap toward graduation.
Junior year can be a difficult one. It is the time when most students are deep into the work of their major. They’re hitting difficult courses, and they know they’re running out of time to learn all they need to know and do all they need to do before they graduate, but the finish line isn’t quite in sight yet.
By senior year many students will have one foot out of the door. They anticipate working on their resume, visiting the Career Office, interviewing, and aiming for that first job.
But students who wait until senior year will already be behind on their career preparation. Junior year is an ideal time for the work of preparing for the job market.
What should my student do during this important year?
Here are 10 things that your student can do during the junior year of college to take some important first steps toward finding and landing the best possible job once they graduate.
- Establish a relationship with a mentor – If your student hasn’t already found someone to serve as their mentor, this is an ideal time. A student may turn to their advisor, a valued professor, or someone outside of school. A good mentor will give your student life and career guidance, support and encouragement, and can be one of the best keys to success and fulfillment.
- Use the services of the college Career Office — If your student began to work with the Career Office in their first or second year, good for them! They already have a head start. But if they haven’t visited before now, it’s time. Career Offices offer information about careers, help with resume and cover letter preparation, familiarity with job boards, and interview practice. Regular use of the Career Office also means that staff will get to know your student and may keep them front of mind when potential opportunities come along.
- Polish a resume and cover letter. Putting together a stand-out resume and cover letter is not easy. While both documents should be dynamic and may change as your student adds new skills and experiences, by junior year your student should have a resume that’s ready to circulate immediately. Opportunities can arise unexpectedly your student will be able to move quickly.
- Conduct informational interviews — One of the best ways for students to learn details about their intended career is to talk to people who do the work. Encourage your student to reach out and request informational interviews with people in the field. Your student asks only for 20-30 minutes of the person’s time (even easier online than in person) to talk about what the person does. Your student can ask about what a typical day is like, what the person likes best or least about what they do, what skills are important, and whether there are any particular courses they would recommend.
- Set up some shadowing experiences — While this might not work in every field, your student might try to set up some opportunities to shadow someone for a day to give your student the chance to experience what the daily job is like, see a typical workplace, and get to know the kinds of people who work there. Your student might find that they love the hustle and bustle of a large busy office or that they prefer the lower-key atmosphere of a smaller workspace. They may realize that the job entails hours of detail work that they dislike or realize that they are inspired and excited by the variety of responsibilities.
- Prepare a skills list — Based on information your student gathers through informational interviews and shadowing experiences, they can begin to put together a list of the key skills necessary for their career. They can identify the skills they have as well as those they still need to acquire or perfect. This will enable your student to create a plan for how they can work on gaining the skills they may not yet have. Your student will then be ready to talk about these skills in any upcoming interviews.
- Work on improving business communication skills. Many job recruiters and hiring managers identify communication skills as one of the most important characteristics of the candidates they hire. It takes practice to develop good communication skills and the earlier your student gets started the better. Encourage your student to practice careful listening, participate in mock interviews, learn to write professional emails, hone their writing skills, and learn and work on good meeting etiquette (whether in person or online).
- Participate in as many internships as possible — Depending on your student’s major and college situation, your student may be able to participate in one or several internships. Some schools encourage internships as part of a regular semester and others encourage students to participate in internships over the summer or winter terms. Many schools can help your student find internship opportunities, but your student should expect to search for options as well. Future employers may look for internship experience, and the more internships your student can do the stronger their resume will be.
- Join a professional association — Whether or not your student is sure what they want to do, joining a professional association in their field will give them the opportunity explore. Many associations have student membership rates. Your student can take advantage of journals and articles to stay current on developments in the field, attend conferences and seminars, learn about professional practices, internships, networking opportunities, and placement services.
- Take advantage of all networking options available — Whether through online sources such as LinkedIn or in person events, your student should make use of every opportunity to connect and network with those in the field. This will not only allow your student to practice good communication skills but will help develop those connections that can ultimately lead to interviews, internships, and other professional opportunities.
Some students may not realize how many of the puzzle pieces of launching their career take significant time to develop. Your student doesn’t need to wait until junior year to work on building their skills and resume, but if they have not already begun, junior year is an ideal time to get started to proactively prepare for the more active job hunt in senior year.