From College to Career: Taking the First Step

Developing a career strategy for undergraduate students as they anticipate entering the job market is an overlooked step in the preparation process. The assumption is that in your junior year, students have completed an internship. There are several recommendations regarding the internship process: 

  1. Work with career placement at your college or university to secure an internship that is relevant to your major and, more importantly, your career aspirations. This is an important step because the goal should be to convert the internship into a potential first career. While doing the internship, it goes without saying the intern should learn everything they can learn. It is also important to stand out in positive ways:
    • Be proactive with work and assignments that are assigned. 
    • Ask great questions to ensure you understand what is expected. 
    • Do the research and provide feedback as you are working on tasks.
  2. Work to build relationships with peers, managers, and leaders. Companies look forward to working with interns because they can add a new perspective to everyday occurrences. The idea of intern could be the next innovation. 
  3. After you have completed the internship:  
    • Express your interest in returning as a full-time employee if you had a great experience and believe you would excel in that company's culture.
    • Thank the people who created the opportunity for you (professors, career placement advisors, contacts with the employer, etc.). 
    • A follow-up email thanking the group mentioned above is also helpful in ensuring you stand out among your peers. 
  4. You should do your best work. In the first semester of your senior year, I recommend researching using tools such as Glassdoor, LinkedIn, and Handshake to help you analyze potential job opportunities.  There are several factors to consider such as:

    • What type of company and job sector are you interested in? 
    • What part of the country would you like to live in? 
    • What are your salary considerations? 
    • Do you have any colleagues within your network who work there? 
    • Do you want to work remotely, in person, or hybrid? 
    • Understand what benefits are most important to you (401K investment opportunities, Paid Time Off (PTO), tuition reimbursement, health insurance, etc.)
    • Leverage the networks of your professors, career placement, parents and parent's co-workers, and organizations you are affiliated with, such as school clubs, community-based organizations such as the Hispanic Alliance for Career Enhancement (HACE), and more. Connecting with companies through people who already work there is important, and can attest that you will be a good fit. 
    • Creating a LinkedIn profile is something that should be established while you are in college. Your profile represents a "living cover letter" and should be treated as a professional career communication channel that can be set up and checked daily. It is also a great tool for career research and learning about different industries through various news sources and innumerable newsletters and blog posts. 

Several recruiters, I have spoken with expressed that it is necessary to have multiple resumes based on your interest. For example, if you are interested in marketing versus management roles, your resume should be tailored for the role you are applying to. A great way to tailor the resume is to align your skills with the job description. Refining the language in your working experience helps your resume to stand out in a competitive labor force. 

The goal for college seniors is to secure their first career opportunity while in college. Many students do not start their career hunt until they graduate; by that time, many others are already in a competitive workforce. Another tactic helpful to stand out is to acquire industry-specific certifications. Pursuing these additional steps not only differentiates you from other recent alumni with similar degrees but also indicates to recruiters and prospective employers that you understand the idea of continually sharpening your skills. Organizations are looking for top talent who represent high potential and high performance.

Lastly, be resilient in your career search. Do not be afraid of hearing the word "no" or perhaps getting little or no feedback. The job search process is organized and intentional. Stay focused and be flexible; it will help you to land your first career opportunity. 

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