January 6, 2009

Career Tips for College Seniors

If you are a college senior, you are entering the most glorious semester of your educational career. You are riding high, about to graduate and start the next chapter of your life.

And in the meantime, you get to enjoy enough collegiate-style entertainment to last a lifetime.

Perhaps you know you are going to graduate school and are just waiting on your final acceptance notices. But statistics tell us that most of you will be looking for a job come May — and given the current economic climate, that might feel like a pretty daunting task right about now. Here are some tips for starting your career search off on the right foot.

The early bird catches the worm.
It might be a bit cliche, but it’s also true. Don’t wait until you have your diploma in your hand to start your search. In fact, you might just find you are competing with juniors who are getting a jump start on their competition. Start your research at your school’s career planning office. Set up an appointment with a career counselor, who can help you identify compatible career paths and clarify your career goals. And do it now, while there is still snow on the ground.

Start networking.
Make a list of all the people you know who might be able to be helpful to you in your job search. Have you worked on or off campus? Volunteered? Interned? What about your college professors? Friends of your parents? Distant relatives? Once you have your list, start emailing or calling each person and setting up face-to-face meetings (when possible).  Tell them what kind of career you are interested in and ask if and how they can be helpful. Bring a pen and paper, so you can write down the names and numbers of anyone that they suggest you talk to.  That’s how networking works! Be sure to follow up with a thank you note right after your meeting. Even if nothing pans out, touch base again after a few months; your gentle reminder may just jog their memory about a company that they heard was hiring.

Do your homework.
Before you attend a single job fair or interview for a single job, make sure you know everything you can about the companies/organizations you are dealing with.  Google them and their employees. Talk to people who work in the field. Read industry publications. You want to learn all you can about the work place environment, the company’s values, the experience and background of the people working there… and more. Your preparation will pay off when it comes to interviewing because you will know what each company is looking for — and you will be able to tell them why you are their best choice!

Practice makes perfect.
When your school participates in job fairs or hosts on-campus interviews, sign up to attend. Even if the niche is not exactly what you are looking for, the more practice you have talking to employers, the better you will be at it.  And then, when your dream opportunity does pop up, you will be confident in your ability to ace the interview. Most college career planning offices (also called career placement offices) offer practice interview sessions.  Sign up for those, too!

Shine up your resume.
You should spend as much time on writing your resume as you do writing a 5-7 page term paper.  If you don’t know where to start, attend a resume writing workshop on campus. Once you have a rough skeleton, set up a meeting with a career counselor so that he or she can help you review your resume. The more input you get, the better your resume will be. And remember: Employers are looking for content not style.

Your resume should be neat and presentable, but fancy fonts and colored paper do not impress anyone.

Create a cover letter template.
While you are meeting with a career counselor about your resume, spend a few minutes talking about cover letters, too.  A cover letter should entice a potential employer to glance at your resume.  It should pique interest with a highlighted list of your (measurable) accomplishments and a glimpse into your shining personality. By creating a standard template, you will have a head start on applications for new job opportunities. Just remember, your cover letter must still be customized for different gig.

Volunteer or get an internship.
I’m not saying there are not plenty of worthwhile (well, questionable worthwhile at least) activities for you to pursue your last semester of college.  But if you really want to get a leg up on your competition, spend at least 10-20 hours a week working on your future by volunteering or interning. Look for opportunities in the career paths that most interest and excite you. Also look for opportunities that will allow you to develop new skills and hone those you are already have. If you impress your supervisor, you might even get a job offer out of it come May. Either way, you will gain invaluable experience — and probably add a couple of stellar contacts to your networking list.

Those are my suggestions, but what about you? Are you a college senior? What’s in store for you this May?

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