If you’re a college student, one of the most intimidating things to consider is what you’ll do after you get your degree! The later in your degree you are, the more likely your peers are to be talking about their dream careers and what they’re doing to try and improve their chances of being hired. If you have an idea what career you want to enter, you can start your career before you even leave college and get a jump-start on those who wait until the last semester or term of their last year.
It’s a great idea to gain work experience that’s related to the field you’re in. This last point can’t be emphasized enough — if you do this, it’s crucial to find a job that will actually contribute to your employability. Jobs at most retail stores or fast food restaurants will likely not contribute much to future employers’ decisions to hire you. On the other hand, if you’re working as a proofreader or junior copyeditor at a newspaper and you want to manage a newspaper later in your career, this can be incredibly valuable experience. Look for jobs that are on campus or close to where you live when possible, to make commuting an easier task. As another bonus, on-campus jobs often come with their own set of perks, possibly including discounts on residence, tuition, or food.
Aside from “experience”, “networking” is probably the word most tossed around by the experts. Everyone seems to think you should network with industry experts to improve your chances of getting a dream job later. Depending on how you go about it, this could be exactly what you need to do, or nothing could be further from the truth. Networking involves some kind of benefits for both parties, and as a student, you realistically probably don’t have any real benefit to provide the expert you approach. With this in mind, never be pushy or over-emphasize your own achievements when approaching people you’d like to network with. Instead, express a genuine interest in what they do and come prepared to ask a few specific questions that emphasize this interest without appearing self-interest. Your goal is to get the other party to ask for your contact information or offer his/hers first, without you having to ask. Make an impression as an engaging, interesting student who isn’t just schmoozing for a good job.
Volunteering and internships are the perfect way to get unpaid experience in your field of interest. Begin looking for them as early as possible — if you want an internship in the summer, begin researching it the fall or winter before, don’t wait until spring when everyone else is looking, too. These can also be great to give you an idea of what life in that career is really like, so take advantage of the insider’s experience if you do land a volunteer job or internship.
Don’t wait until the last moment to start your career, like most other students. Start early and you’ll be rewarded!