Between cramming for finals and editing capstones, it's easy to get caught up in the excitement leading up to graduation. The real world is just around the corner, and you're likely thinking about how you're going to secure your first permanent job while in college.
Judy Hopkins, Washington State University's Internship Development and Career Coach/Advisor, says it all comes down to taking the initiative. Follow Hopkins' seven tips on how to get a job in college, and you could be cashing your first paycheck soon after you have your diploma in hand.
Step 1: Take a professional development class
More and more colleges are realizing that a liberal arts foundation isn't enough to enter the working world. Take a hard look at your strengths, weaknesses, values and goals. Evaluating these traits, along with guidance from a career counselor, can be instrumental in locking down a job. In her course at WSU, Hopkins has students assess themselves to decide what they're looking for in a career.
"I have them start by understanding who they are as individuals," says Hopkins. "Research shows that it's important to demonstrate what internally motivates us because if we choose to do something in life that we love, guess what? There's a higher degree of satisfaction."
Self-assessment can steer a student in the right career direction. Once students have a better idea of what their goals are, Hopkins has them develop a personal mission statement, which they can apply to their resume and upcoming interviews.
Step 2: Develop an elevator pitch
Your elevator pitch will be useful in a variety of situations, including a phone interview with a recruiter, at a networking event, or even as the answer to "Tell me about yourself" at the beginning of a face-to-face interview. Your elevator pitch should consist of a couple of quick sentences that outline your goals. Practice your elevator pitch on a few friends and peers and ask for their honest feedback.
Here's an example for a new graduate hoping to break into a digital marketing position:
"I just graduated with a degree in marketing and a focus on digital marketing. I am passionate about the connections between technology and marketing, and how telling a compelling story can influence people to purchase. I even completed an internship where I developed an omni-channel campaign that generated 120 percent ROI for my employer."
It may sound daunting, but Hopkins says creating a solid elevator pitch is essential to communicating who you are and the kind of job you're seeking.
Step 3: Create a robust LinkedIn profile
"Robust" is the key here. Your name, photo and a couple of past jobs do not make a standout LinkedIn profile. Add context to your employment background by filling in specific details. Ask previous supervisors for recommendations. And don't forget to include extracurricular activities and achievements. Pay particularly close attention to what you add to the "About" section of your LinkedIn profile. Use this section to succinctly profile who you are and what you are looking for in a career and first job.
Step 4: Don't wait to network
"Students need to be willing to put themselves out there in a professional setting, ask questions, and pursue opportunities that are in front of them," says Hopkins. Don't wait until you've graduated to get face time with prospective employers. Sure, school can be stressful, but Hopkins cautions students not to overlook opportunities that could be happening both on and off campus in the weeks and months leading up to graduation.
If you haven't set up a LinkedIn profile, now's the time. Be sure to connect with classmates, those you have met through projects and internships, and your professors while you're still in school or soon after. The majority of jobs are never advertised, so having a strong network of connections can help you learn of openings you wouldn't otherwise be aware of. You can also know if someone you know works for a company you're interested in — or knows someone who does. Then you can ask for an informational interview or for them to refer you to HR. Sometimes they even get a finder's fee for helping identify strong talent.
Step 5: Go to career fairs
Schools like WSU offer two huge career expos each year, one in the fall and another in the spring. These expos attract 225 employers from across the state. "Especially for students in a small college town like Pullman," Hopkins says, "it behooves them to take advantage." Most universities offer career days, and these are perfect opportunities to gain face time with employers seeking new talent.
Most career offices will provide lists or online apps that include details on all the companies in attendance. This gives students the chance to research the companies they're interested in before meeting face to face. There’s no reason to wait to apply to jobs before graduation. The opportunities that come from career fairs can be good jobs to apply for while in college because you're already a step ahead of other potential candidates.
Step 6: Attain an internship
According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, those who have attained internships "in general, are more likely than students without those experiences to find employment upon graduation." So, what are you waiting for? Concerned about fitting unpaid work into a packed schedule? Speak to your career guidance office about your options.
Hopkins points out a process WSU recently unrolled to encourage more paid internships. "If a campus employer wants to offer an internship for credit, they can work with our financial aid office to create a stipend to assist with the cost of the course," she says. Hopkins adds that the program has received a positive response from professors and students. Talk to your school's career office to see what types of support and initiatives are available to you. Keep in mind that an internship on your resume before graduation makes prospective employers take notice.
Step 7: Arrange an informational interview
Don't let the word "interview" scare you. Hopkins says an informational interview is a more casual way to get your foot in the door and your face in front of recruiters. "This is one of my favorite tools," she says. Hopkins suggests that students reach out to a professional working in an industry or field they see themselves in. The student should prepare up to eight questions to learn more about the professional's career trajectory, what they love about the work they do, and what their typical day looks like. If that particular job isn't a good fit, they can ask, "Is there someone else in your organization who may more closely fit the type of role I'm interested in pursuing?"
This initiative and informal introduction lay the groundwork for networking. This networking gives you a head start on securing a job while in college. And the professional contacts you make are stepping stones to future positions.
As you're considering how to find a job before graduation, think about ways you can present your unique skills and attributes. When tailoring your resume and cover letter to a position, study the job description carefully and match your skills to the language the company uses. Today, many companies use automated applicant tracking systems (ATS) to scan resumes for specific keywords from the job description.