by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., and Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.
It may seem like just a short time ago you were first arriving on campus, ready to make the transition from high school to college… and now you stand ready to make the even bigger transition from college to the workforce. You’ve spent three (or more) years getting to this point, so it’s time to party and savor your senior year, right? There’s no harm in enjoying your senior year, but if you want — or need — to have a job waiting for you upon graduation, you need to begin preparing yourself now. This article will help you by guiding you through 15 activities that are absolutely pivotal to your job-search success.
While these 15 activities are somewhat in chronological order, you don’t necessarily have to complete one activity before moving on to the next. The key is to accomplish all of these activities sometime during your senior year.
1. Start Your Job-Search Early.
Why start your job-search as soon as you begin your senior year? Don’t you have nine months until graduation? First, you’ll be absolutely amazed at how fast your senior year flies by. And second, it’s always best to prepare ahead of time instead of scrambling to get things done at the very end. We can almost guarantee that the earlier you start, the more job-search success you’ll have.
2. Explore Career Paths.
If you have yet to fine-tune the exact types of jobs you want to seek, now is the time to develop a list. Schedule a meeting with your faculty adviser or a favorite professor and discuss job titles and career paths. You should also consider scheduling a few informational interviews with key professionals in your field so you can pick their brains about different types of jobs and careers. You need direction if you want to find a job that you will enjoy; just having an idea of “something in marketing” will lead to a frustrating job-search.
3. Consider Your Options After Graduation.
One of the major considerations at this point, and the subject of a short sidebar, is whether you plan to seek additional studies by applying to graduate school rather than enter the job market. Assuming you are in the job-hunt, your other options include issues such as where you want to work and live (if you have preferences at all), the type of companies you want to work for (size, culture, ownership type), and specific industries you prefer.
4. Gain Work Experience.
You absolutely need some type of work experience before you graduate, and your senior year is a good time to get that final bit of job experience. It’s especially vital to gain experience at this point if you’ve neglected to obtain any before your senior year. Consider getting an internship, working part-time, or volunteering to get the experience you need. Don’t fret if you can’t get experience in the exact field or job you want. Get the experience — and then articulate the key transferable skills you acquired.
5. Take a Leadership Position.
Employers like to see that college grads have held at least one leadership position. Being a leader adds a whole other dimension of key skills and abilities that are vital to the workforce, such as delegating, motivating, inspiring, problem-solving, conflict-managing, and others. You don’t have to be a leader of multiple organizations, but if you haven’t stepped up, your senior year is the time to do it.
6. Register with Career Services Office.
One hopes that you have long ago discovered the wonderful professionals in your college’s career services office. If you haven’t yet, now is the time to meet with the career services folks, register for their resume and on-campus recruiting programs, and take advantage of their career development knowledge to empower your job-search. Read more.
7. Develop a Job-Search Plan.
By far, not having a job-search plan is the biggest weakness we see in all job-seekers. You may still land a job without spending the effort to develop a plan, but with a plan, you should end up with multiple job offers. A job-search plan maps out everything you need to do between now and graduation and ideally sets specific goals you need to accomplish along the way to keep you on track.
8. Hone Key Job-Search Correspondence.
Now is the time to develop — or polish — your key job-search correspondence. Work on one or more versions of your resume, a cover letter, and a thank-you letter now, while the pressure is minimal so that when you need one or more of these documents in a hurry, you’re ready to go with professional precision. Get help with your resumes, cover letters, or thank you letters.
9. Consider Developing a Job-Search Portfolio.
Most college students complete a number of big projects in school. Whether it’s a detailed review of the works of Shakespeare, a strategic analysis of Coca-Cola, or an independent research project is irrelevant. What’s critical is that you have written (or contributed to) a detailed and organized document about a specific subject. Rather than just mentioning it on your resume, consider compiling your projects and job-search documents into a career portfolio. Read more.
10. Prepare for and Practice Interviewing.
Once the job-hunt is in full-gear, the most important skill you’ll need to master is preparing for job interviews. Become acquainted with the types of interviews you can expect and learn about the importance of first impressions and dress-for-success, but most important of all, learn how to answer various types of job interview questions — and then practice, practice, practice. Go back to your college’s career service office and inquire about mock interviews. And check out our amazing interviewing resources.
11. Network, Network, Network!
The strongest and most important element of your job-search is your network of contacts. The majority of all job leads will come from your network. You’ve heard the expression, “it’s not what you know, but who you know,” right? That’s networking. Your network includes your family, your friends, your friends’ families, former bosses and coworkers, your professors, alumni, and anyone else that has a personal connection to you or someone you know. Learn now how to grow, manage, and use (and not abuse) your network. Read: Networking Timetable For College Students.
12. Attend Career Fairs and Other Career Events.
Career fairs are great places to not only find job opportunities, but to conduct research and build your network. Most colleges have at least one career fair a year, and regional and national career fairs, as well as online career fairs, also are available. If you have a geographic preference following graduation, attend career fairs for that region. Learn more about getting the most out of career fairs.
13. Use all Available Job-Search Resources.
We’ll say it again for emphasis. Networking is your best job-search resource. That said, be sure to spend some of your time using the other key job-search resources. If you have a list of companies you want to work for, go directly to those companies’ career centers and search available openings. Consider posting your resume on some of the major job boards, such as CollegeRecruiter.com and CareerBuilder — but don’t count on this method. (See our top 10 best job boards for job-seekers.) Better, consider an older — but still excellent — method of job-hunting: the cold-contact method, in which you send targeted cover letters and resumes to a select group of employers. Read more about the cold-calling method.
14. Organize Key Job References.
You’ll need a select group of individuals who can speak of your skills, abilities, and accomplishments to potential employers — and it’s better to contemplate and cultivate this list now than wait until an employer ask for them. At this stage in your career, you’ll probably have a mix of personal (character) and professional (current/former boss, co-workers, professors) references. Read more about references.
15. Follow-up All Leads.
Always remember that your efforts are not complete once you’ve applied for a position or had an interview. One of the biggest mistakes job-seekers make is not taking the time to follow-up every single job lead. Following-up with employers shows your continued interest in the position and the organization. Following-up, as some students seem to think, is not a source of annoyance for employers — unless you go overboard. Remember the old adage: The squeaky wheel gets the oil. Be sure and call or email the employer regularly to check on the progress of the hiring decision. Read more.
Final Thoughts on Senior Year Success for College Students
Believe it or not, following the advice in this article will actually make your senior year more enjoyable because you’ll be under less stress than if you waited until the last minute to begin your job-search.
Other Key Job Resources for College Seniors
We also have two job-search tutorials that are of great help to college seniors and recent grads:
- Job Search 101: The 10 Things You Need to Know and Do to Land Your First Job
- A Student’s Guide to Job-Hunting on the Internet
Other articles of interest to job-hunting college seniors:
- 15 Myths and Misconceptions About Job-Hunting
- Mastering the On-Site Interview: A Guide to Company Visits
- Powerful New Grad Resumes and Cover Letters: 10 Things They Have in Common
- So You’ve Graduated College… What’s Next for You? Eight Critical Issues Facing New Grads
And if you’ve already graduated but are having a hard time finding a job? Read: Ten Questions to Ask Yourself if You Still Haven’t Found a Job.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., creative director and associate publisher of Quintessential Careers, is an educator, author, and blogger who provides content for Quintessential Careers, edits QuintZine, an electronic newsletter for jobseekers, and blogs about storytelling in the job search at A Storied Career. Katharine, who earned her PhD in organizational behavior from Union Institute & University, Cincinnati, OH, is author of Dynamic Cover Letters for New Graduates and A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market (both published by Ten Speed Press), as well as Top Notch Executive Resumes (Career Press); and with Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., Dynamic Cover Letters, Write Your Way to a Higher GPA (Ten Speed), and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Study Skills (Alpha). Visit her personal Website or reach her by e-mail at kathy(at)quintcareers.com. Check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.
Dr. Randall S. Hansen is founder of Quintessential Careers, one of the oldest and most comprehensive career development sites on the Web, as w ll CEO of EmpoweringSites.com. He is also founder of MyCollegeSuccessStory.com an EnhanceMyVocabulary.com. He is publisher of Quintessential Careers Press, including the Quintessential Careers electronic newsletter, QuintZine. Dr. Hansen is also a published author, with several books, chapters in books, and hundreds of articles. He’s often quoted in the media and conducts empowering workshops around the country. Finally, Dr. Hansen is also an educator, having taught at the college level for more than 15 years. Visit his personal Website or reach him by email at randall(at)quintcareers.com. Check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.