Tuesday, I shared things college sophomores could do to start gathering information and preparing for their after-graduation career launch. Today, I’ll share information about what college juniors and seniors can do to sharpen career tools as they prepare to graduate and venture into their chosen professions.
For college juniors and seniors:
As you advance in your studies and gain focus, you’ll be able to take all the data gathered while volunteering, completing class projects or even working a part-time job and build a solid presentation of skills for a potential employer. Research what they seek and demonstrate how you can deliver. You’re not “just a student”. You’re someone who has __________ (fill in the blank with all the accomplishments you’ve been documenting) while attending classes full- or part-time. Don’t discount what you’ve done.
If you think flipping burgers at the local gathering spot is no big deal; think again. Didn’t you learn teamwork, how to provide stellar customer service, follow procedures, resolve difficulties and get to work on time? Mundane and inconsequential is in the eye of the beholder. Sell what you did boldly and proudly. A potential employer will not take time to extrapolate what you’ve done and figure out how it fits into their organization. Know what skills pique an employer’s interest and present them in a way that demonstrates how you can benefit the organization. A job search is “all about them”, not you. Prepare career documents with that in mind.
Take advantage of internship opportunities – paid or unpaid. Regardless the compensation, don’t just phone it in. Take them seriously. It’s part of your education and you get out of it what you put into it. I read recently, an internship is like a long interview. “They” are watching you. Go the extra mile and you may end up employed at the company when you graduate or impress someone enough to gain a referral to a friend of a friend. You never know.
Showing up five minutes late and skipping out early because your perception is, “I’m not getting paid. What does it matter?” is wrong-headed. That approach closes more doors than an intern opportunity will ever open. Add to your growing professional network and seek out individuals willing to mentor you during the assignment and beyond. And don’t pick only like-minded individuals. Sometimes a difference in opinions stretches you in ways you never thought possible. You may never completely agree with someone, but disagreements help solidify your own passions and beliefs. Embrace it all.
As you start to sell your skills to potential employers, think about your overall presentation. Target determines focus. Focus determines design, content and presentation. Sometimes your degree carries more weight than your skill set with a potential employer; put it first. Sometimes skills outweigh your degree; then put them first. Knowing what sells in a particular industry enables you to highlight what they seek.
Don’t let anyone tell you “this is the only way to do it”. Study advertising; there are a million ways to sell things. Effective advertising knows it’s demographic and does what it needs to do to appeal to that demographic. The same approach doesn’t work for every audience any more than the same resume format works for every industry or every company. Get to know your “buyer”, target your resume to what they’re “buying” and the effort will reward greatly.
While you’re selling skills to your audience pay attention to details. An email address of “qtpie” or “partyanimal” may be fine for personal correspondence, but not when trying to brand yourself as an up and coming professional. Same with emails addresses that end in “.edu” – you’re advertising student while trying to convince professional. Get a .gmail account or buy a domain with your own name and use it. Sounds trite, but it all pertains to your overall image and demonstrates your ability to pay attention to detail more than a fluff resume entry like “detail-oriented” ever will.
And one more thing as you develop your skills and build your network: don’t forget to say thank you. Taking a moment to follow up with thank you not only proves “mama reared a polite child”; it’s a great marketing tool. It helps someone remember you and differentiates you from the rest of the non-thanking crowd. It also demonstrates, in a very powerful way, your ability to see a project through to end. Standout professionals get the opportunities. Invest the time and energy in standing out and you’ll be in charge of your career path from day one; not hoping and dreaming something comes along.