In previous articles, I’ve gone over the importance of building your career while in school and how it can help you stay competitive in a tough job market.
Here are some essential steps I took, and some things Derrick mentioned in my interview with him, to ensure you transition from a successful student into a successful professional:
Step 1: Goal setting and prioritizing—what do you want?
The first, and most often overlooked, step to addressing your career aspirations while you’re a student is to simply ask yourself what you want. It’s about finding your motivation.
As I mentioned in my first article, I was driven by competition with my peers who were moving forward. Finding motivation can be hard for many students, especially if you are in a more general program (social sciences, arts, etc.).
Paying a visit to your school career services or targeted Internet searches in your first or second year may prove to be very useful in discovering what drives you. Once you get an idea of what type of work or projects you want to be doing, only then you can take the appropriate steps to get there.
Step 2: Research
Once you know what you want to do (or at least want to try), it’s then time to do your homework! What I noticed about successful students and young professionals was the knowledge some of them had about the industry they wanted to work before they looked for internships.
For example, during first year, I met a student who took classes to become fluent in Mandarin because his goal was to do international business and he saw China’s economy as an important target. This is an example of what some students are willing to do to ensure they start their careers on the right track.
I’m not necessarily saying, “You have to learn a new language” (but it’s probably not a bad idea in certain fields), but you should do extensive research to find out what kinds of skills and experiences are valued in the field you want to work in.
Step 3: Apply and network
Younger students tend to have the most difficulty with these two aspects because they either don’t know when or where to apply, or they are too intimidated or introverted to network. The good news is all of these obstacles are easy to overcome because of the previous two steps.
Goal-setting allows you to narrow your field so you know where to apply. For example, if you want to work in accounting, start applying to CA firms and attending CA events, or if you want to become a social worker, apply for summer jobs through your city’s social services (they often hire many summer students) or check out not-for-profit sites such as CharityVillage.com.
Research will also help you overcome any hesitations you may have toward networking. While it can be intimidating to talk to professionals, if you do your research, it gives you the chance to impress them and stand out from the crowd.
I got into the telecommunications industry through prior research and networking, so I know first-hand the benefits of completing all three steps.
Step 4: Put it all together and continue to grow
This is the step I am at right now in my own career. Once you’ve set your goals, done your research, and applied and networked appropriately, it is time to put it all together and continue to do it over and over. Everything is constantly changing and, if you want to remain competitive, you should evolve with it as well.
After you land your first internship, try setting new goals, such as, “I will aim to return next term with higher pay or better position,” and do some research about how the position you were in relates to industry trends and where you can go from there.
Two things that never change are applying and networking. Positions and opportunities always open up and you should never stop applying. The same can be said for networking, as you never know who you are going to meet and where that relationship may get you.
Within the next day or two, I encourage you to go out of your normal circle of friends and meet some of the students you never talk to, get to know a senior, a teaching assistant, a professor, or someone outside your program, and I guarantee you will learn something new or gain a new resource to help launch your career!