Are you a college senior getting ready to take on the professional world in 2015? As your summer break wraps up this month and you head back to campus, I would like to share 5 tips to help you make the most of your final year as an undergraduate and be best prepared for the next step in your career path.
Create your personal brand.
Whether you have a bachelor’s degree in business or English, want to pursue a career in IT or healthcare, use your senior year to reflect on everything you’ve learned about yourself so far and define your personal brand. Know your values, strengths and weaknesses, what you’re passionate about, and what you can bring to any work environment. Defining your personal brand at the beginning of the year will give you a jump-start on creating the professional materials and experiences you need once you start searching for career opportunities. You can then use the rest of your time to improve upon anything you would like to change. Need more concrete examples of leadership skills? Now is the time to find – or create – those opportunities for yourself so you can showcase them to your future employer.
This is also an ideal time to clean up your social media sites and rebrand them for your professional aspirations. Build your LinkedIn profile and start networking as soon as you’re ready. Expanding your network – both real world and digital – can help you with your short and long-term career goals.
Join meaningful groups and/or volunteer.
It’s not too late this year to carve out time in your schedule to get involved or take your involvement to the next level in a campus or young professional organization. If you don’t have a lot of work experience from your high school or college years, your participation in clubs, groups, and organizations will help your first “serious” employer know more about you. Not only are you building up your resume, but you’ll also be contributing to a good cause and making new friends. Talk to your career counselors about groups like Enactus USA or Habitat for Humanity to see how you can get involved this year.
Research companies you’d like to work for based on culture and values that match yours.
When you’re ready to start applying to your first “out-of-college” job, narrow down your options based on companies that match your values. Rather than focus on who is hiring, focus on for whom you would like to work. Most people leave jobs because of a cultural mismatch. And while there’s nothing wrong with changing jobs in the beginning of your career, it would be ideal to stay for at least 3 years before making your next move. Write down a list of what you need to secure an interview (even if informational) or internship and start reaching out sooner than later. Some hiring processes are quick, while others can take up to 3-6 months. Get on their radar before you graduate!
Apply for internships, co-ops, and fellowships as soon as possible.
Go to all the career fairs and free workshops that you can this year to meet, greet, network and get your elevator pitch and resume ready! If you take these opportunities seriously, you will be in great shape to hit the job market after graduation day. Our Management Fellowship team is already recruiting for next year’s Fellows, for example, and we’re not the only ones out there! Don’t wait until the last minute. Many of these programs interview and hire 6 months – 1 year in advance.
There’s a lot of coverage about the job market being challenging, especially for Millennials and recent graduates. Don’t get caught up in the negative talk, which can decrease your drive and spark. Focus your time and energy on preparing yourself and how you will approach your ideal companies.