In my last post 10 Secrets of Job Search Success, I talk about the importance of attitude and determination when you’re looking for a new job. The same goes for your career.
Laying the groundwork for career success while you’re still in school – whether college or grad school or even if you’re still in high school – can make later job searches and career change a whole lot easier! You may be surprised how much of a difference you can make in your college years!
Won’t good college grades alone get me the jobs I want?
Unfortunately, the simple answer to that question is “no”. With about 2 1/2 million people expected to graduate with bachelor’s or master’s degrees in 2014, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, even if your grades are in the top 1%, that’s 25,000 graduates you’ll be competing with.
And my guess is that the percent of college students getting at least somewhere near to a 4.0 is way higher than that. Plus, if you’re just playing the grade game, a 3.0 from an Ivy League or other highly-regarded school will probably trump a 3.5 from a less prestigious school.
But with a hesitant economy and all the intense competition out there, as well as people with far more experience competing for some of the same jobs you’ll be going for, it’s not just a grade game any more.
What you also need to be doing with your college years
I don’t want to leave the impression that grades don’t matter. They still do for quite a few employers. So get the best grades you can, especially in the subject areas that mean most to you. You can always highlight this higher subject-matter grade average during your job hunt, in case your other grades bring your GPA down a bit.
But in order to stand out from the competing hordes when you graduate and are looking for work, you can greatly help your chances by doing at least some of the following:
- Take leadership roles in extra-curricular activities where possible.
- Volunteer in a place where you can use skills you want to work with.
- Work part-time in your chosen field. Even a few hours a week can help.
- Start a business as part of a school project or on your own.
- Practice your people skills, too. A huge part of successful careers!
- Build solid 2-way relationships with people in your volunteer & paid experiences.
- Do informational interviews with people in your preferred field(s).
- Check out LinkedIn for people to connect with and explore fields.
- Explore fields you’re interested in. It’s how you narrow things down.
- Build relationships with professors. (Don’t be afraid; most don’t bite.)
- Find mentors in your chosen field, once you know.
- Attend conferences and events related to your field. Make connections.
- Perhaps start a blog about things in your field.
- Participate in social media, including groups in your field.
SMALL NOTE OF CAUTION: Social media is great. But please be careful of spending too much time there. It can totally suck you in. (Also remember anything you put online can be found later by potential employers.)
As much fun as social media may be and as helpful as it is in making career connections, in-person contacts can go far toward helping you later on.
A real-world example of why these things matter
When you graduate, you and maybe thousands like you will be out there applying for the same jobs. You need to be able to show a potential employer how special you are. A particular aptitude and strong interest in the field. Experience – even volunteer or intern experience – that helps them know you have some idea of what the work might entail.
While in school, you should be building a resume of things that are not part of a pre-planned curriculum. Employers love to see some evidence that you are resourceful, determined, and go above and beyond to make things happen for yourself – and for those you work for!
I know a young woman who did NOT have great SAT scores, and did not go to an Ivy League school. But she still got herself good jobs in top marketing firms based on her rich college years, where she did get good grades, but where she also added lots of relevant experience and recommendations from professors, who later helped her network for jobs.
While she is a bright person and still incredibly resourceful, what still helps get her these jobs is the strong foundation of experience and relationships she built for herself while in college.
Some final advice for college students
I tell you all this not to keep you from having any fun. College is great – and offers much more than a mere place to launch your career. By all means, take advantage of the rich personal experiences there, too. I sure did!
But college also provides a wonderful opportunity to build lifelong relationships, and create opportunities for yourself that will open doors you never imagined. College is a lot more than a bunch of classes. Keep your eyes and ears open for possibilities … and make your time there count!