Brace yourself for the horror of staring at an application for a job you desperately want but don’t know how to get. Nothing makes that gaping hole in your bank account called student loans ache more. No matter what you plan to do with your degree, everyone from bright-eyed freshmen to fifth-year seniors should think about following the next big trend: career development. Career development basically covers everything between networking to cover letters—every dream job’s requirements and every college student’s nightmares. We did the college community a solid by getting into contact with career counselors across campuses.
These tips for career development basically shine and place your nameplate in the corner office for you.
1. Take it one step at a time
First things first, let’s clear up one thing: you are not planning out the rest of your life. Career development is one of those daunting terms (similar to declaring your major) that makes you think you’ve locked yourself into a specific path until the day you retire. “When you develop your career and future goals, know that you are planning for what you think you want to do now, not for your lifetime,” said Pacific Lutheran University career counselor Dawn Mikalatos. Understand that while you’ll definitely get your dream job someday, you probably won’t land that job right out of college. Realistically, you’ll probably start out in an entry-level job and then work your way up. Mikalatos advised students to figure out what they want early on. “Look for your dream job and find ways to gain the experience [and] skills you need to do that job, so you can be ready when an opportunity opens up,” said Mikalatos.
2. Be SMART about it
SMART is the new YOLO. Okay, not really, but the SMART motto definitely works better in the workplace. “You want your goals to be specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic and time-specific. It is also good to realize you may need several small goals to reach the larger goal,” said Mikatalos. In other words, have a plan ready and prepare to meet smaller achievements before getting the gold. Start by seeking out internships ahead of time, and making a list of the ones you’re interested in applying for not just this summer, but next summer and the summer after that. Even just a short-term plan will get you way ahead of the game come application season—and you won’t have to waste your time scrolling past endless internships to find one that actually fits.
3. Freshman are welcome
Who hasn’t felt a shudder of terror when someone asks you where you think you’ll be in five years? Thinking ahead can make your already college-stressed brain hurt, but don’t procrastinate. Take a second to sit and ask yourself one simple question: “When should I start?” The answer: as early as possible. You can even start as early as your freshman year.
4. Pad up that resume
As a freshman, you may not qualify for internships just yet. But part-time jobs and extracurricular experiences can build up your resume too. “Any volunteer or job experience can also be as valuable as an internship,” said University of Washington career counselor Andrea Solis. When you apply for your summer job, don’t just go for the first job you see. Instead, try to find something that works with your future plan. For example, get a foot in the door by volunteering at a local school for teaching experience. Or if you’re looking for lab experience you can easily e-mail your favorite professor and ask for any open opportunities. When looking for leadership in your fave student org, go for something semi-related to your future career field. Future accountants, put on your treasurer hat. Future HR managers, try out operations or secretary.
5. Net-WORK it
In a world connected by LinkedIn, you need to stand out. Networking is vital; professionals will most likely tell you that a huge percentage of their colleagues found their jobs via networking. Don’t get tunnel vision, either. Cast your net over an industry you might be interested in. “One of my favorite recommendations to students is to conduct informational interviews,” Solis says. “This is an opportunity for students to connect with professionals in a position or industry that they are interested in learning more about.” And while it’s all about who you know, that doesn’t mean family connections. It can be absolutely anyone. Whether you reach out to the executive you met at a Woman In Business conference or your neighbor who happens to know a doctor you can shadow, you just need a connection. “The alumni network at your institution is always a great place to start networking as well… Another wonderful tool for networking is LinkedIn. You can see alumni at companies you want to work for or in industries you would like to be in,” said Mikatalos.