Incoming freshmen: listen up. If you think a college degree is a surefire way to land your dream job, you’re in for a rude awakening. When you graduate in 2020 with a B.S. in total BS (e.g. Art History), good luck paying back those student loans. College may teach you the knowledge you need for a future job, but it won’t necessarily teach you how to do it. You need skills and some experience to snag even an entry-level gig, and right now is the perfect time to start building your career. If you spent this past summer working the drive-thru at Chic-fil-a, you’re already ahead of the game (“my pleasure” customer service skills on point). For those of you who haven’t done s*%! since you entered the universe, here’s your four-year chance to make up for it.
- Go to class. Show up and listen. You might learn somethin’ (especially if you’re an audible learner). Participate; ask questions; make an effort in your assignments (crucial for kinesthetic learners). Develop relationships with your professors; you will absolutely need a professional reference once you start applying for jobs, and most professors are willing to vouch for those students who showed initiative in class.
- Pledge. A sorority (or fraternity) is insta-friends and insta-networking opportunities long after graduation. The parties and socials will be lit; however, the philanthropy efforts will provide you with event management skills that will boost your resume and skill set. Aside from the experience and leadership opportunities, you can always call on a sister for a job lead or referral later in life.
- Join a campus club. There are a bajillion on-campus organizations, clubs, student chapters, etc. that you need to be involved in. Sign up, pay your dues, and attend one meeting at the very least. Choose a group that relates to your major or career interest, such as PRSSA, SHRM, or AMA. You can list that affiliate on your resume, but to really benefit, actively participate in the group and their student projects. That experience will translate well to your first “big girl“ job, and you won’t feel completely lost on your first day.
- Intern. This is a no brainer – you’ve got to list internship experience on your resume (most degree programs require at least one internship just to graduate). In my opinion, you should line up an internship every summer that you’re in college. If it’s with the same company, that shows future employers that you were invited back and someone thought you were worth the investment. If it’s different companies each time, that’s cool too. The important thing is to gain real work experience in a real place of business. This is invaluable. Even if it sucks, you learn what you don’t want in your next job.
- Lead in student government. This is where future U.S. presidents get their start (I’m guessing). Participation in student government will develop your leadership, governance, and decision making skills – you’re basically running the school, sort of. Listening to students and implementing strategies to improve your campus sounds like a day in the life of a CEO, so a position on student council provides the ultimate #girlboss experience.
- Become a Residence Assistant. RAs enforce policies and hold people accountable – in other words, mini managers. RAs serve as an advocate and resource for students; coordinate activities; handle emergencies and conflicts; and so much more. That level of responsibility will prep you for actual employment, plus you get paid and you get your own room. Score!
- Get a part-time job. Whether on-campus in the dean’s office or as a Starbucks barista, a part-time job puts money in your pocket and experience under your belt. The ability to manage a full course load, plus part-time employment tells a future hiring manager that you’re disciplined and can handle multiple responsibilities.
- Volunteer. Donating your time to a cause you care about will make you feel good and look good. Corporate social responsibility is a big deal now, and an employer will be super impressed by your commitment to sustainability and community enrichment. Volunteerism, such as disaster relief or serving in a soup kitchen, will reveal your compassion for others and the ability to handle pressure and/or less than ideal situations (a daily occurrence in a real job).
- Play club sports. Sports teach you so much about life, leadership, and how to work as a team. A weekly schedule of ultimate Frisbee will hold you accountable to your teammates, which forces you to manage your time and other commitments effectively aka how to be a future employee. It also keeps off the freshmen 15 (a very real thing).
- Become an event planner. If this sounds like your dream job, hook up with the Student Activities department ASAP. You can assist in planning on-campus events such as concerts, game day traditions, and special guests speakers – all the fun stuff that make your school the best school ever – you can be a part of that! This experience looks great on a resume, you get the chance to meet campus bigwigs and potentially a few celebrities. Tim Tebow spoke at my university, and while he no longer plays professional football, look at him. Thank you.
Trust me, child; this list is not all-inclusive, but do any or all of the above to truly experience all that college can offer (margaritas and marijuana are not the only extra-curriculars). Such activities are going to develop you professionally and personally. Get a jumpstart on your career starting today, and you’re well on your way to the life of your dreams. Work while they sleep; learn while they party; save while they spend; live like they dream (“they” being those who coast through college and wake up when it’s time to “adult” with no skills or experience). Real talk.
Contact me to learn more about my mentor and career strategist services. I would love to help you explore your career interests and options, so you can skip the hot mess phase and start building your dream career right now. I’d love to hear from you over at firstname.lastname@example.org.