It’s finally spooky season, friend-o’s, and I have something that’ll freak you out more than any Michael Meyers impersonation: your fuuuture. However, it doesn’t have to chill your soul as much as you previously feared. While nothing necessarily needs to be set in stone, you can at least have a loose plan in mind to get your senior year spooks out of the picture. Even if you’ve just started undergrad, read on for the perspective of both alumni and career advisor to set your goals.
Check out these wise words to setting stellar career goals.
1. Ask for Advice
As reluctant as college students seem to admit it, we often need help figuring out our lives. “Most young adults, including me, want to be able to fend for themselves and not have to rely on their parents after they leave home. But if I had to give one piece of advice, it would be to ask your role models for help. Whoever it is, they have been where you are and can really help guide you,” University of Iowa 2017 Alumni Madyson Boardman said. Anyone can fill this role, a friend who graduated last year, a career advisor or anyone you trust to help you make the right direction. While you control where your life leads, every so often you need a quick nudge to get you there in a way that works for you. Plus, a resume’s first draft should never be tackled alone.
2. Keep an Open Mind
More often than not, the idea of something never really plays out the way we think. When another door closes, however, another almost instantaneously opens for us. “I was originally admitted as a Biochemistry major and I quickly found out that I could do the chemistry, but it was the math that kept me up at night. To make matters worse, I lived on The Iowa Writer’s Living Learning Community, which put me in the same living space as some of the most creative, like-minded and wonderful humans,” University of Iowa 2018 Alumni Harrison Cook said. “Later that year, I received a grant to attend AWP, which is the largest gathering of artists, presses, publishers and writers in the world. I remember walking through the book fair, seeing all of the people who dedicated their lives to writing and publishing the work of others. Flash-forward: I switched to an English and Creative Writing major.” Growing pains may seem like just regular pain at the time, but you can look back and realize how much you’ve changed. Your surroundings can certainly influence you for the better, and life tends to have as many unpredictable twists as a Gillian Flynn novel. The best advice is to roll with it, and see the incredible places you end up in.
3. Follow Your Happiness
Try to set out college following your heart instead of your head (difficult as that may seem). “I started out undergrad thinking it wasn’t realistic to want to go into medicine, and I thought business was more of a reachable goal. Towards the end of my first semester, I realized I wasn’t going to be happy going into something purely on the basis of practicality/safety,” University of Iowa 2017 Alumni Olivia Atari said. As terrifying as the road looks, following the path that you find the most interest in will be worthwhile. “I knew what I wanted in a career was something I could be curious about, passionate about and challenged throughout. I knew this was medicine, not business.” If you find a calling that you can’t ignore, go for it. You can figure out how to get there along the way.
4. Funnel Your Passions
Because we’re all only human, we inevitably feel the impact from all the chaos life throws at us. Life happens. And from life, we grow and find new passions to strive for. “During my undergraduate career I made it a point to shadow my professors doing research on [accessibility issues,]” said University of Iowa 2018 Alumni Brandy Sanders. “My friend’s spinal cord injury really impacted my life. It’s something I think about every day. A few months after her injury happened, I knew that I wanted to help make these changes in technology that would further help people. Knowing that these technologies dealing with accessibility exist, as well as helping humans interact better with technology in general made me become an advocate within the UX Design world.” Turning a situation into something that can help other people in the long run feels incredible. You don’t have to feel doubt if you find yourself diverting from a path you thought you were meant for. If anything, that’s likely the path you were meant to take.
5. Stand Out from the Pack
Given our current climate regarding higher education (yikes), getting a college degree alone won’t necessarily get you into the professions and career paths you want. Thankfully though, you have options during undergrad. “To get into the pharmacy programs that I applied to, I had to first make sure that I had fulfilled all the prerequisite criteria for each program that I was interested in. There are thousands of good students with great GPAs and test scores. It was imperative that I had something extra to my resume that made me stand out,” University of Iowa 2017 Alumni Jasmine Forrest said. “For this I used my study abroad volunteering experiences, as well as the volunteering experiences that I participated in while on campus.” It sounds wild to consider, too, but so many resume-building experiences don’t require intensive applications or interviews. You can do anything from volunteering at your local library or shelter to joining clubs on campus. The more experience you build, the more likely you’ll stand out to potential employers.
6. Start Exploring Early
I’ll try not to sound like a gross adult here, but I can almost guarantee you won’t graduate with the major you start with. Even if you think you know what you want to do for the rest of your life, you likely don’t know how to do it. After all, why do we come to college in the first place? “It really helps to start early (first and second year) and to work with others to help you explore. Your friends and family can point out your strengths and skills. Academic advisors can help you create a plan for graduation and keep you on track with classes that fit your interests. Career advisors can help you explore options, find job shadows or those working in fields of interest for informational interviews,” University of Iowa Senior Career Advisor Lynne Sebille-White said. Whether by blood or by occupation, people have a place on this earth for the sole purpose of helping you find your way, and you should definitely take advantage of that. “The takeaway here is not to wait until senior year to talk with a career advisor. Breaking the career development process down into chunks (explore, experience, prepare, achieve) and working on things a little at a time can make it less daunting and overwhelming.” With all of these options ahead of you, you can actually get a feel of “the real world” without it seeming so spooky.
7. Motivate with the Big Picture
Oftentimes, it feels like the busy work and stress just keep coming, with no end in sight. When you start feeling the weight of school on your back, think of why you’re doing this in the first place. “One of my friends experienced a spinal cord injury and there was nothing more that I wanted to do than to help her. That was when I realized that with having a degree in physical therapy, I could provide ore tangible help for people who experience a spinal cord injury, or other life-changing events, in the future,” University of Iowa 2018 Alumni Julia Lerman said. While it may feel like you’ve passed up an opportunity to relax so you can finish more homework or fill out another application, think of all this as a stepping stone to obtaining your dream career.
8. Apply Your Skills to Your Career
Gain resume experience as well as prepare you for a career you’re passionate about? Win-win. “You can be strategic in gaining skills from your major and deliberately seeking and obtaining experiences outside of classes to build your resume for future employability. As you take classes and get involved, you learn more about your likes and dislikes as well as your strengths and abilities. Gaining experience and developing skills for your field of interest are critical,” Sebille-White said. This comes in handy a whole lot when it comes to applying for the jobs you want. While your professor or your advisor might know your passions, a potential employer can only know you from a single piece of paper. You want to make sure that piece of paper can represent you at your best. “At UI, our annual first destination study shows that those who do internships, or related experiences, find a job more quickly and have a higher starting salary than those who don’t.” With this kind of experience, you will impress with all the best applicants.
9. Create a Career Blueprint
When you have an outline in mind for a certain career path, it feels as though everything else can fall into the place you so desire. “Career questions that I invite students to make: 1) Be able to clearly articulate what matters to you: interests, skills, experiences, and other things that motivate and inspire. 2) Ask: Who needs what I can do? 3) Decide: Am I ready for a career or do I need to try some stuff out? 4) Build a fan base. Everybody needs help getting started, who do you want to help you? 5) What will you be okay doing or being for a paycheck?” Senior Career Advisor Garry Klein said. It almost feels like a questionnaire, and it makes everything so much less overwhelming. As complicated as everyone wants to make deciding a career path sound, it doesn’t have to cause you so much stress. And you can of course apply this to practically any career you want to set your mind to, a one-size-fits-all model that you don’t feel uncomfortable fitting into.
10. Apply to Everything
This may go against the old saying, but the time comes where you have to take precedent of quantity, in order to achieve that eventual quality. “There is this horrible myth out there that pegs those studying English and Creative Writing as ‘unemployable,’ which is simply not true,” Cook said. “With my time at the University of Iowa, I oversaw and or had a hand in taking 11 manuscripts and making them into magazines, which is simply nuts. But I knew I had to make up for lost time and make something of myself in this beyond competitive market. I ended up having one internship, out of submitting 25 internship applications to literary presses and publishing houses. Granted, I wouldn’t change anything about my time at The Iowa Review—it freaking rocked! But please keep in mind that if you want to work in the world of publishing you have to make that bulk effort. Apply for anything and everything you can. What’s the worst they can say? No?” If you get used to rejection, you honestly conquer the damn world. With each application, you can dedicate the precise amount of time needed to get it done, and let yourself forget about it. Move on to the next one. See what rejections you can laugh off, and what jobs you’ll feel pleasantly surprised about when accepted.