This blog is written primarily for students entering (or returning to) university or college—and for their parents.
Your university and college years should be a time to learn, have some fun, and make new friends.
But regardless of which courses of study you take, it’s never too early to start thinking about how to prepare yourself for the job market you will be entering 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 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 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.
In some courses, you may be asked to state your strengths, skills, or interests. I sometimes think this is an unfair question as many young people lack the life experience to understand themselves fully.
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 is StrengthsFinders 2.0. There is a cost associated with completing it, but it is very good.
The Personal Values Assessment test is also a great tool. It’s free and I am sure you will find your results 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 an effective way to differentiate yourself from your peers.
The only way to get better at public speaking is through practice. You should take advantage of every opportunity to practise 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. 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 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.
Start building your resume.
Even though these 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 a new technology. 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.