Why Your Career Planning Should Start Right Now

career planCareer counselors who work with college students might recognize Jason, a senior who doesn’t have a resume 100% ready to help him enter the workforce.

He has a resume, yes. But it has an objective statement, “references available upon request” and high school information, on a template he found on Word. Jason never participated in clubs and organizations on campus. He also didn’t pursue job shadowing, informational interviews or internships. As excited as he is about getting his degree, Jason only has a vague idea about what he wants to do after he graduates.

In short: Jason never had a plan, and barely has a clue.

Jason’s plight seems to be a common theme. Consequently, many seniors – including those graduating over the next couple weeks – launch their job searches unprepared.

At a previous college, I had the opportunity to visit freshmen classrooms to present on career planning. My message to students was to start now; to take specific action steps each year so you will be in much better position to achieve your career goals come graduation.

No matter where we are in life, or what’s on the horizon, there is always an opportunity for planning ahead.

Depending on what you want to do in your career, you might need specific courses or complete specialized training in college. “Everything you do – and don’t do – in college may someday influence what job you can or cannot land,” says Shannon Smedstad, social media recruitment leader at Geico.

As you create and start to execute your career plan, you are building a foundation for future success with two cornerstones: relevant experience and a strong personal network.

Portfolio of Experience

Some critical elements of building your professional portfolio include:

  • Look for internships or other opportunities where you can help an organization raise money, save money, promote the brand, or improve efficiencies
  • Find purposeful summer work, that is, a position related to your field or one in which you build skills employers are looking for, such as working on teams, leading or mentoring others, and organizing
  • Create opportunities to build your list of accomplishments, such as volunteer to do special projects or take on leadership roles on campus or with a local non-profit
  • Be active and engaged in your college community; join an organization, play sports, organize events
  • Create an online portfolio; showcase samples of your work on LinkedIn, or use other free sites, like Google Sites, for personal branding and to display expertise
  • And, of course, internships are a must do

Internships are a critical element of your career growth – and a part of your background that employers look for when reviewing each application. Internships not only help you gain experience, they can help you rule out careers that aren’t a good fit for you. “It’s easier to take chances and try variety of fields via internships, than get stuck in something you hate post-graduation,” points out Erika Fields, web content communications director at Wellesley College’s Center for Work and Service.

Raedawn Johnson, corporate recruiter at Solutionary in Omaha, agrees: “You can narrow your interests, learn about future careers and employers. In the process, you confirm you are headed in the right direction,” she said. “Or not,” she added.

As does Kevin Grubb, social media consultant: “Test out and find out what you like so that when your final year comes around, you’re confident in your choice.”

Asked why students should start career planning early on, Suffolk University junior Smit Patel, who has already launched his own business, SayHello There, gets right to the point:

“It’s better to start early, fail early and learn early.”

Building your Network

As you start to develop a professional network, start with the people you know, then build from there. It’s OK to start within your comfort zone, and as you gain more confidence in connecting with people, your circle will expand.

Here are some tips for college students to get started:

  • Get to know your classmates – they will become valuable networking resources in the future; as you talk with other students, find out what activities and internships they took advantage of, and steps they took to develop skills and experience
  • Get to know faculty and staff at your college; talk with them about their experiences and get some insight about possible career paths
  • Meet people face-to-face; attend career fairs and look into job shadowing opportunities; s you build your network, ask people in the professional community for informational and exploratory meetings
  • Get active, and appropriate, on professional social media; become engaged with people in professional communities on LinkedIn and Twitter, and it will help you expand your network and expand your knowledge

An important aspect of building a network is that you build and nurture it before taking advantage the work you’ve done. To some, networking might seem to have an impersonal connotation, but in reality, networking is about relationship building. It doesn’t happen overnight.

“Networking takes time,” says Maria Santacaterina, content marketing manager for Explorics in Boston. “Fostering relationships with potential employers takes time.”

Finally, the last word comes from Dr. Mitchell Friedman, associate dean of student affairs and career development at the Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco, about the importance of starting early on career development. Advises Friedman, “begin with the end in mind!”

Don’t be a Jason. Start your career development early. And, by building a portfolio of experience and an amazing personal network, be ready to enter the real world the moment you’re handed that diploma!





For this post, YouTern thanks our friends at Rich Career!




Rich Grant AuthorAbout the Author: Rich Grant has a background in writing and editing, business planning, and higher education. Rich is the current president of the Maine College Career Consortium and the former director of career services at a small four-year college in Maine. He is wrapping up a 10-month interim position as a career adviser and internship coordinator at a private college and is seeking his next role in business or higher education. Find Rich on LinkedIn and Twitter, and become a regular visitor to his blog where he imparts his words of wisdom once or twice a week.



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