It’s that time of year! Everyone is headed back to college and university. It’s time for pumpkin spice everything... and for new books and a fresh roster of classes.
For all you university students, here are a few things to do to make the most of those four years. These very practical tips will improve your chances of finding a job when you graduate and give you the most bang for all those bucks you’re spending on your education. I wish I had done more of these!
- Lernen Sie eine zweite Sprache. Learn a second language. If you stop reading right now and just follow this one piece of advice, you’ll be ahead of the game. Study abroad if possible and do language immersion. Don’t just take the intro class and quit. Join the Spanish Immersion Club or the Mandarin Group. Become fluent in another language. That ability alone can put you miles ahead of other job applicants. In Canada, many jobs require fluency in both English and French. You’re already paying for the classes. Take advantage of the opportunity to learn a real skill that will make you stand out in the job market.
- Get to know your professors. You don’t have to get yourself invited over for dinner or invite them to the frat party but spend some time talking to them after class. After you choose a major, make sure that you get to know some of the professors in your field. Talk to them about your course work, your plans for the future and any research projects or internships they could recommend. Professors can be cool people and the pay off can be personal letters of recommendation and introductions to internship opportunities and even employers.
- Take advantage of the university career office. It’s FREE. Your university career office will offer personality and career assessments to help you choose a career that’s right for you. They can teach you how to write a resume and cover letter. Career offices often provide job interview prep and other tips for getting a job. But the most important reason to connect with the school career office is the alumni database. That’s a network of alumni from your university who work in different fields. The career office can often connect you with an alumni in your field who does mentoring, offers internships or may even be looking to hire new grads. That is a NETWORK! And that’s how you get a job. Remember, all this is FREE. Take advantage of it. Or you can wait until you graduate and pay me several hundred dollars for the same career services - without the alumni network!
- Do research. Volunteer to work with your professors on research studies and papers. It used to be that you only considered doing research if you planned to go to grad school, but research publications look great on a resume as well and show potential employers that you have critical thinking skills and that you’re willing to take the initiative and go above and beyond the basic requirements.
- Take a personal finance class. Too often, students graduate with a superior knowledge of psychological theories but no understanding of the real world of 401K’s, investments and basic personal accounting. Again, you’re already paying for the classes. Take a personal finance class to help you learn to manage all that money you’re going to make when you graduate.
- Upgrade your computer skills. Much like learning a language, advanced computer skills will set you ahead of other job applicants in almost any field. Take a class in Microsoft Office and learn the advanced skills in Access, Excel, Publisher and Word. Take it a step further and begin learning basic macros like Excel VBA. Learn to type proficiently. Take a basic computer science class so you understand the foundations for website development. Almost every office uses these programs. If you have advanced skills, they will think you are a wizard.
- Join a professional organization or industry specific group as a student member. Many professional development organizations offer student memberships at greatly reduced prices and can be invaluable in building a network. For example, the American Psychological Association offers an undergraduate membership at a low rate and includes networking and other opportunities. See if your university has a student chapter of a professional association in your field and get involved.
- Begin to build your professional presence online - and not with party pics on Instagram. Start a niche blog in your field. Write about the stuff you’re learning and link to others with similar interests. Create a LinkedIn profile. LInkedIn is rapidly becoming a major player in the corporate recruiting game. Build a profile and post articles in your field. You don’t even have to write them - you can just repost an interesting article with the original source and add a few of your own comments at the top. Connect with other professionals in your area of interest. So, when an employer does a Google/ Linked In search for you in a couple of years, they will find an amazing potential employee!
And don’t forget to have fun! Study hard and learn a lot. Take time to make friends and even more make memories. Have a great year!
This now updated post was originally published in June of 2017.
Anita Flowers is a Board Certified career and life coach at Blue Sage Career Strategies. A little different than most life coaches, Her background in clinical psychology and years of experience as a counselor gives her a rich understanding of human development and family dynamics. Her work history includes 13 years working with an international business company and 12 years doing individual and family counseling as well as career counseling. This blend of counseling and business experience gives Anita a unique perspective on the world of work and life. Anita works with people literally all over the world to help them discover a life and career they love. Contact Anita here to get started on your new career and life!