There is an argument raging in this country right now about whether it is the duty of colleges and universities to make young people job-ready. Traditionalists argue that colleges should teach students how to think and help them develop a strong knowledge base, and that career preparation is the purview of career centers and employers. Many others, including President Obama, feel that colleges should take more responsibility for their graduates’ ability to get jobs. They argue that an ivory tower attitude doesn’t work anymore, given the cost of a college education today.
Both sides have a point.
Regardless of your views on this issue, there is one thing that cannot be disputed. And that is that those who graduate from college with some experience in a field of interest will get a job more quickly and easily than those who focus on schoolwork alone. Here are some things you should do while in college that will pay dividends both before and after graduation.
Make Friends with your College Career Center
Ideally you should start this relationship freshman year. Unfortunately it is still highly unusual to find a 4-year college with a required career curriculum, but career centers stand waiting to serve your needs and you will learn more from them—about resumes, on-campus interviews, personal presentation skills and internships–if you go early.
Be Imaginative in Choosing Your Courses
College is a time for exploration and academic resources in a wide variety of subjects are at your disposal. Before you declare a major, typically in the second semester of sophomore year, try taking a few wildcard classes to see what interests you. You’ll never discover your fascination with ornithology or neoclassical music if you don’t check it out now.
Use Freshman and Sophomore Summers to Try New Things
The summer before college and the summer after your freshman year should be used to explore interests that may or may not lead to a career. Try to gain experience in as wide a variety of organizations as you can through internships and volunteer experiences and use your new knowledge to help choose your coursework.
Make Junior to Senior Summer Count
An internship you take as a rising junior could lead to a real job, so be sure to choose wisely. At this point you should have a good resume and LinkedIn profile, and have conducted a thorough internship search starting in late fall of sophomore year. Even if you’re not planning a more traditional career in banking or consulting, this internship will be your most important yet in terms of showing employers what you can do and affirming your interest in a field.
Start Networking Early
The more people you talk to, the better idea you’ll have of what it’s like to work in a specific field. So get in the habit early in college of making contacts and asking for informational interviews. One idea is to start a blog and gain knowledge of an area of interest by conducting more formal interviews with experts for your posts. By the time you’re a junior in college you should have made at least 100 connections on LinkedIn, have joined professional associations and be attending conferences and workshops whenever possible.
If this plan seems ambitious, it is. College is the time to get comfortable dealing with people in a professional way. Once you graduate, it is much too late. Those who can hire you expect you to be polished and at ease and able to communicate articulately and engagingly. They expect you to understand formal and informal communication and when each is most appropriate. They expect you to use proper etiquette, whether it be by phone or in person, in a meeting or over a meal. If these are challenging areas for you, now is the time to get some help.