Did you just cringe? Did the thought of using your brain over your summer break make your stomach churn?
I get it… summer months are precious to college students. You need the time to recharge and destress; the last thing you want to do is spend your precious vacation time hitting the books. Especially since you don’t have many summer vacations left.
But summer also means you’re one step closer to graduation, and entering a competitive job market. And now is the time to differentiate yourself by gaining the special skills that will help you stand out from your peers and get the job you want when you graduate.
Here are four ways to build valuable career skills this summer:
Listen to Podcasts
If you think podcasts are a thing of the past, think again. Although they’ve been on the scene for a while, podcasts are actually growing in popularity. According to data from Edison Research, 33 percent of Americans surveyed this year had listened to a podcast, up from 11 percent in 2006.
From sports to news to world languages, you can find podcasts on every topic. Play one on your commute to your internship, summer job, or grandma’s house this summer and instantly expand your knowledge of an industry, subject, or skill.
Where to start:
- TED talks: Learn about the latest research and the latest ideas from the most forward-thinking and innovative professionals. Expand your worldview and boost your creativity.
- NPR: Covering news, sports, arts, and more, NPR is bound to have podcast that peaks your interest and builds your education.
- Smart People Podcast: Hear from top professionals in a variety of industries for career advice, insight into different niches, and other information created to satisfy your curiosity.
- The Naked Scientists: If you’re looking to beef up your science knowledge this podcast is for you. With the help of humor, Cambridge University researchers break complicated concepts down to their simplest forms.
Take Online Courses
There are about five million open jobs in the United States, according to White House estimates. And more than half a million of these openings are in information technology. With online courses, you can learn to code and program for free or at a small cost. Putting the work in now during your spare time will pay off when you’re looking for a job later.
Yes, you can enroll in online classes from your university. But the Internet offers an almost limitless variety of online courses in different formats on a multitude of topics. Massive open online courses (MOOCs) open up knowledge to anyone with an Internet connection.
Whether you want to learn how to code, practice your Spanish skills, or gain insight on international business, dedicate part of your long summer days to studying with your trusty computer.
Where to start:
- Khan Academy: This nonprofit provides free online classes to anyone who wants to learn.
- Udacity: The tech industry is in serious need of skilled professionals, and Udacity aims to fix that need. The company provides MOOCs focused on the most need tech skills. Courses are career focused and will provide you with a desirable skillset.
- YouTube: Yes, you can learn from YouTube. Among the neverending cat videos, many universities have uploaded free lectures and courses. For instance, check out Game Theory from Yale University, Intro to Computer Science and Programming from MIT, World History from Columbia University or Science, Magic, and Religion from UCLA.
You’ve heard it before — you need writing skills. Yes, even if you plan to work in finance, business, or science, writing is a critical skill. In fact, a 2013 IDC study commissioned by Microsoft found that among the top paying professions, oral and written communication are the most important skills needed.
Although you may think you’re a “bad writer” writing, like any other skill, requires practice. Use some of your downtime this summer to build up your writing skills and become an excellent communicator. Blogging is a good place to start practicing a little bit each day. Knowing you have a specific purpose for writing will help to keep you motivated to keep going.
Where to start:
- WordPress: Start your own blog and practice writing what you want to write about. It doesn’t matter if your writing isn’t great at first – you don’t have to share it with anyone if you don’t want. Your blog can just be a place to practice your writing.
- BuzzFeed Community: You spend a significant amount of your time clicking through BuzzFeed articles, why not build a critical skill at the same time? Sign-up, write a post, and suggest it to get featured on the community homepage.
- Thought Catalog: Thought Catalog wants to hear the stories and ideas from 20-somethings– i.e. they want your stories and ideas. Write, submit, repeat.
- Elite Daily: The website written by and for Millennials, it features posts from a community of young writers and thought leaders. To apply to contribute, you will need a writing sample published online.
At HonorSociety.org, we offer monthly “writing challenges” where the writer with the most Facebook shares receives a $250 reward. Talk about a win-win!
Work on Your Networking Skills
Summer is the time to get outside and socialize, so get out and improve your networking skills. You’ve heard it over and over again — networking is the key to securing a job. In fact, a survey of U.S. job seekers conducted by Lee Hecht Harrison in April 2014 found that 63 percent of respondents landed jobs using both social and face-to-face networking.
Effective networking can’t be taught in the classroom, so get out and work on your skills during your free time.
Where to start:
- Industry events: Honor societies, professional organizations, and other student groups you may belong to host industry events and conferences throughout the year. Grab a classmate or brave the event alone to meet and practice speaking with professionals in your industry.
- LinkedIn groups: Those same student organizations and societies most likely have a LinkedIn group where they host discussions on industry news and trends. Join the conversation to build social networking chops. Don’t stress about what you post — the groups are made up of your peers. Getting involved is the most important part.
- Your email: Practice maintaining relationships you’ve already built by keeping in touch with professors, mentors, advisors, internship managers, and other professionals you know.
Spend some time this summer learning… without staying in the library or classroom for months. Dedicating a little time each day to learning and skill building can make a big difference to your career!
About the Author: Michael Moradian is the executive director of HonorSociety.org, an honor society that recognizes academic achievement and provides valuable resources and tools to its members. Connect with Michael and HonorSociety.org on Twitter at @HonorSocietyorg.