Conventional wisdom states that earning a college degree is required to land a great job, but the degree itself is only part of the story. Employers don’t hire degrees, they hire people, and when you can demonstrate that you’ve made the most of your college years to build marketable skills, you have a major advantage over other applicants who just completed the basic requirements.
Not sure what to do? Here are five things that every college student must do during their four years on campus to ensure that they hear “You’re hired!” after they receive their diplomas.
1. Start Building Your Network
You’ll hear it again and again: Networking is the key to a long and successful career. Most people who have landed their dream jobs did so via networking, and even those who didn’t find out about an open position via their circle of contacts probably had to rely on others to help them get a job. After all, if you don’t have a network, who will you call upon for references? Start building your network during your college years by getting to know your classmates, professors, internship advisors, and even alumni from your program who can help you navigate the waters of your first years out of school. Attend alumni networking receptions, invite someone to coffee to talk about the industry and ask for advice, and keep in touch with professors even when you’re not in the classroom.
2. Start Establishing Your Brand
How do you want to be perceived when you first start looking for a job? Do you want people to see you as a bright but inexperienced newbie? Or a promising young professional with the skills to hit the ground running? Part of landing a great job after graduation is presenting an accomplished and professional persona. It’s as simple as keeping your social media profiles free of questionable material and showing up to class on time and doing your best work, so your professors (who will be providing references) associate you with reliability and quality. You can take your personal brand a step further though, by building a name for yourself in your field early on. Start a blog or write for the campus newspaper to share your knowledge and ideas, or get involved in organizations related to your major and career goals to build contacts and a positive reputation.
3. Practice Strategic Thinking
Employers in every field want people who can think analytically and strategically to predict logical outcomes and respond accordingly. While those skills are generally honed in the classroom, especially in graduate business programs, you can begin applying the principles of strategic thinking to your career by developing a specific plan for your college years before you even set foot on campus.
While you don’t need to plan out every aspect of your college career to the nth degree — you want to leave room for exploration — thinking strategically about your ultimate goal allows you to choose the right courses, get involved in the right activities, and seek out the right mentors to put you that much closer to your goals upon graduation.
4. Use the Resources Available to You
Colleges and universities provide a wealth of resources to help students succeed, both during and after school. Few students do more than scratch the surface of these resources while in school though, depriving themselves of a wealth of opportunities. For example, the career services office is not only for seniors who are interviewing for jobs. Underclassmen can usually access aptitude and counseling resources, participate in job search workshops, and work with career counselors to develop long-range plans. Outside of career services, though, check out your school’s options for enrichment. Most have chapters of major professional associations and societies that students can join, giving them access to leaders in their fields, conferences, and publishing opportunities. In most cases, these services are free or low cost, but the benefits are priceless.
5. Document Your Accomplishments
When it comes time to apply for jobs, you’ll need evidence of your accomplishments. If everything you do is documented in a career portfolio, you won’t waste time searching for documents or trying to remember your professor’s exact words about your work. Keep track of your accomplishments electronically (try using LinkedIn or creating a personal website) or just use a folder — the point is to keep everything in one place.
Of course, it’s still important to take your coursework seriously, and perform as well as you can in the classroom. If you do that and work toward your career goals outside of the classroom, you shouldn’t have any trouble getting attention from employers.
My name is Derek, and I have my Bachelors Degree in Finance from Grand Valley State University. After graduation, I was not able to find a job that fully utilized my degree, but I still had a passion for Finance! So, I decided to focus my passion in the stock market. I studied Cash Flows, Balance Sheets, and Income Statements, put some money into the market and saw a good return on my investment. As satisfying as this was, I still felt that something was missing. I have a passion for Finance, but I also have a passion for people. If you have a willingness to learn, I will continue to teach.