How do you boost your chances of finding that dream job or graduate program right out of college? Learn from career experts at Connecticut College, recently recognized by The Princeton Review for having one of the top 20 career programs in North America. Use our strategy to maximize your career opportunities starting your first day on campus.
1. Begin thinking about your career from the moment you arrive on campus
Begin by scoping out available resources and making as many connections as you can. At Connecticut College we start career preparation during Orientation, and all entering students meet with the career office staff and have big-picture discussions even before attending their first class or party.
But even if your college doesn't offer this level of access, you can still reach out on your own and begin shaping your path from Day One. If you have free time between orientation activities, take a few minutes to drop by your college's career services office. You'll leave an impression (and make your parents proud).
2. Be okay with making mistakes, and learn from them
You've been told this a million times, and it's true: Use every mistake, failure or wrong choice you make to inform your future decisions. If something goes wrong, try to understand why. Maybe your job shadow program didn't meet your learning style? Maybe you bit off more than you could chew? Take a moment and debrief, then tweak and try again.
"If you don't take risks, there's no opportunity for big outcomes," explains Noel Garrett, dean of academic support and director of the Academic Resource Center at Connecticut College. "It might not be the career or internship you thought it would be, but are you learning something in the process? Is there something else you can bring back?"
3. Connect your classwork to real-world ideas, and then present this work (and yourself) at every opportunity
If you're studying something cool, find a chance to talk about it on campus and in the community, present at an academic conference, or discuss it over coffee with a local business leader. Public speaking courses are great, but in today's professional world, you need to know how to think on your feet. You'll establish yourself on campus and off, share what interests you, and get the chance to converse about what excites you instead of presenting next to a PowerPoint and reading from a script or flash cards.
Connecticut College's Academic Resource Center hosts regular poster sessions for and across different academic disciplines, and all students and faculty are invited. Students showcase their work and hone their ability to explain ideas in an off-the-cuff way. Often, they find themselves answering and thinking about their work in different and surprising ways.
4. Find a big way to tie your whole college experience together
When you enter the job market or begin searching for graduate programs, reflecting on your college experience can seem difficult. A capstone project lets successful students tie together and articulate four years of study in a clear way. It's not just a report of what you did, but a synthesis of what you gained. "A really important thing for us to do," Garrett explains, "is to teach students, from the moment they get here, how to make these connections. We start with 'connect with your faculty, connect with your classes, connect with your fellow students.'"
A capstone could be a traditional thesis, performance or interactive exhibition. When given the chance to reflect in a job interview situation, this project should excite you and allow you to bring together different aspects of your college experience. (It will also show you're not afraid to tackle a big project and see it through, from conception to execution.)
5. Go wide — and deep
While college students often find themselves focused on one main academic area, having a broad range of interests will serve you well in the job market, and in life. If you only have one major, consider adding a minor or taking a few high-level courses in other areas. The best thing you can do is gain a wide array of skills and experiences, but also remember to get more than just a shallow overview. Make every class worth your time and energy; dive into every course. If you find yourself enrolled in something just because you have to, find a way to connect the class to a bigger goal that interests you.
6. Identify your advocates
Your college or university exists for its students, and almost every person on campus is a potential resource. Make friends with the career services staff and visit often. Reach out to professors by dropping by during office hours. Noel Garrett gives this advice to each student: "Find at least one professor to know on a substantive level every semester you're here. By the time you're done, you'll have eight different people who can speak about you in eight different ways."
Don't forget about your school's alumni. They are filled with pride, and want to help you succeed. Alumni can connect you to people in their industries or at their organizations.
Keep an eye out for opportunities to meet alumni at campus events. At Connecticut College, alumni return to campus for our Sundays with Alumni panels to discuss different career fields, and faculty often invite successful alumni to give lectures and meet with students.
7. Think of every experience as an internship
Helping a professor do research? Internship. Working in the college's photography department? Internship. Spending the summer making business plans for a local company? Internship. When you bring a work mentality to everything you do, you'll see results as well as meaningful additions to a resume. While you're at it, push your own initiatives, take ownership of your work and make suggestions for how to make a difference in the jobs you hold.
As you proceed, catalog your work and outcomes -- a free blog, website or portfolio can be a great showcase -- so that you can share your successes at a moment's notice.
8. Internships: Dream big, dream far and find funding
Internships are a great way to get your feet wet, find out what you really love doing, and help you identify passions you want to pursue throughout your life. Julia Browne, director of career development at Connecticut College, explains that internships help you "gain concrete professional skills, learn about workplace culture and engage in networking with those in different career fields. All of these experiences provide career preparation and make you more marketable and successful as you transition to the world of work."
Even if a paid internship is your goal, look into alternate sources of funding to prevent money from being a barrier. We use this strategy at Connecticut College, where every student is eligible to receive $3,000 to help them score the perfect internship. That $3,000 makes a summer internship financially feasible, both for the student and the company or organization. It might even give students access to employers that may not have otherwise been able to support interns.
So, what’s next?
Don't delay! It doesn't matter if you're looking at college, enrolled, or the parent of a college student. Every day of each semester is a chance to optimize your career development. Finding a job is so much more than cover letters, resumes, interviews and joining LinkedIn. Starting from your first day at college, make the most of every course you take, every project you work on and every career advocate you meet.
Bonus tip: Keep your team close after college
You'll spend years building a network of supporters and advocates, so even after you head off to a job or graduate study, be sure and stay connected. You'll thank yourself when it's time to search for a new job or make a career move. Connecticut College career services are available to alumni, no matter how long ago they graduated, and the staff provide career advice, hone interview skills and connect you to other alumni in career areas of interest to you. Former professors are always pleased to speak on your behalf, and the alumni network will always be there to lend a hand.
Connecticut College is a highly selective private liberal arts college with 1900 students from all across the country and throughout the world. On the college's 750-acre arboretum campus overlooking Long Island Sound, students and faculty create a vibrant social, cultural and intellectual community enriched by diverse perspectives. The college, founded in 1911, is known for its unique combination of interdisciplinary studies, international programs, funded internships, student-faculty research and service learning. Connecticut College was recently recognized as having a top 20 career program by The Princeton Review.