By Gerald Walsh ©
This blog is written primarily for students entering (or returning to) university or college, and for their parents.
University is a time to learn, have some fun, and make new friends.
It’s true – your course selection is important. But regardless of which academic route you take, it’s never too early to start thinking about how to prepare yourself for the inevitable job market you will be joining when you graduate.
Rather than waiting until you’re near graduation, here are a few steps you should take now to get started:
Think about how you present yourself to others.
Some will call this “branding” – a term normally reserved for businesses or products. But the concept applies equally to individuals. Personal branding is the image or impression that you form in the eyes of others. Some say it is “what people say about you when you leave the room.”
Your personal brand is influenced by many things including your actions, how you dress, and your social media presence. Here is a great article on the subject from Forbes magazine called 7 Things You Can Do To Build An Awesome Personal Brand . You might also want to check out www.DorieClark.com who is considered the personal branding expert and has published several good books on the topic.
Complete online assessment tests.
Often, young people are asked to state their strengths, skills, or interests. I sometimes think this is an unfair question as many young people simply lack the experience to understand themselves fully. Interestingly, most people have a sense of their weaknesses but they don’t know what they’re good at.
Nevertheless, assessment testing is a worthwhile process to go through as it can be a great way to discover interests or skills you didn’t know you have. It can also be useful in helping with course selection and directing you toward a career path.
There are many tests available online and your school’s career services area might have some available to you. One popular test that I like is StrengthsFinders 2.0. There is a cost associated with completing it, but it is very good.
There’s a lot of talk also about personal values. A few weeks ago, I came across this Personal Values Assessment test. It’s free and I am sure you will find your results quite informative.
Take advantage of public speaking opportunities.
Public speaking is one of the most important skills for the workplace yet it is feared by so many people. If you are good at public speaking you will project confidence and this is most certainly a way to differentiate yourself from your peers. This is important for your career development.
The only way to get better at public speaking is through practice. You should take advantage of every opportunity to practise your public speaking, such as making presentations in class, volunteering to introduce guest speakers, and offering to be the spokesperson for your team.
You might want to check out Toastmasters or Dale Carnegie programs. Both are well-established organizations that help people improve their public speaking. There should be chapters in your community. You can also visit www.TED.com to watch great speakers in action.
Visit the career centre on campus.
Every university and community college has a career centre. You should visit early and take advantage of the numerous resources available to you. The career counsellors are there to help you learn about different career options, tell you about permanent and summer-time job opportunities, and help prepare your resume and cover letter. You should be on a first-name basis with the staff in your career center.
Get to know the employers in your area of interest.
Many schools have partnerships with local employers. In some instances, the company sends guest speakers into the classroom or invites students to tour their plant or office. Occasionally staff from the employer offer to be mentors. These often result in job opportunities or a chance to job shadow.
You should also get to know your professors and teachers and learn about their backgrounds. Depending on the area of study, they may come from the private sector and can provide additional insights and contacts for you.
Start building your resume.
Even though your university years should be fun, you should start thinking about activities that will strengthen your resume. Clearly, the best strategy is to gain practical work experience – related to your career interests – through part-time, summer-time, or co-op work
But you should also think about how you might use your university years to diversify your skills. Perhaps you might learn a new language or study artificial intelligence. Not only will these new skills make you a more interesting person, they might be the deciding factor for an employer when it comes down to deciding between two otherwise equally-qualified candidates.
To share your thoughts on this blog post, please write me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Gerald Walsh is an executive recruiter, career coach, public speaker and author. During a 25+ year career, he has interviewed more than 15,000 job candidates, completed hundreds of successful searches for a range of organizations and guided many individuals – from young professionals to senior executives – to successful career change. He is the author of “PINNACLE: How to Land the Right Job and Find Fulfillment in Your Career.” You can follow Gerry on Twitter @Gerald_Walsh and LinkedIn.