My daughter entered college three years ago; it was an exciting time for all of us.
But with all the negative press about the student debt college grads are accumulating today, and the mind boggling amount of debt on credit cards immediately after graduation, it makes parents like me think about the future for our kids. (Things, selfishly, like will they live with their mom and me until they’re 30?!)
An article by NPR states that in this decade alone US students have accumulated $829 billion in debt. The same article points out that many post-grads are unable to find a job because they majored in subjects that make it difficult to find well-paying jobs (Psychology, English, and Journalism to name a few).
The article continues, “…very few students enroll in majors that lead to jobs with very high pay, such as pharmacology.”
To someone like my daughter – who loves reading and writing over math and science – the prospect of her finding a high-paying job after graduation is a bit unsettling for me. And I imagine for her, too.
Which is why college students must prepare for their job search early in their college years. Specifically, there are seven distinct actions they need to take to prepare for their search.
Research the Labor Market
What is the projected job growth for 2016 and beyond? Bloomberg Business Week gives a general prediction for job growth based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics that reads like an advertisement for registered nurses and other healthcare professionals, software developers, engineers, and teachers.
So unless she wants to pursue teaching, it looks like the choices of high-paying jobs are ones that are contrary to my daughter’s inclination for the humanities.
This will not discourage us from creating a game plan, though. If she doesn’t see nursing or software engineering in her future, there are other ways to approach the career search. Teaching is a noble career, absolutely… but not one that will satisfy her passion for Sophora, Banana Republic and other high-end retail stores!
Decide Your Major AND Minor by Your Sophomore Year
Of course, your major can’t be decided by projected job growth alone; we should enjoy, and have a passion for, our work.
So if you decide by the end of your freshman year you want to major in English or Communications, that won’t be a problem; English will prove to be excellent training for written and verbal communication skills. However, to increase your chances of finding a job after graduation, choose an in-demand minor (such as Marketing or Business) that includes elements of social media, digital marketing and business acumen.
Make Internships a Priority
Lately, my daughter has been wondering if she wants to work as a Life Guard or a Camp Counselor during her college summers. After all, getting a tan is very important to her.
I’ve got news for her: she can kiss the Life Guard job goodbye. If she’s still unhappy with skin the hue of a vampire (she comes by it naturally), I’ll pay for a membership at a tanning salon!
To compete in today’s job market, college students must be applying for an internship – and not holding court from a tower on a beach. No matter what your major, a small software start-up, for example, may benefit from your extensive Facebook experience and your propensity to learn any social media platform the company can use in their marketing campaign.
This is the time to learn new skills and leverage the skills you have. That summer job – no matter how comfortable it is – will not provide the challenge you need, right now.
Volunteer at Every Opportunity
Starting right now, while you’re still in college – volunteer. Even better, lead a volunteer effort like cleaning up a beach or a city park, helping kids who need assistance with academics, or coaching a little league team or Special Olympics athletes. Do anything to show you care, to increase your network, and learn new skills.
If you don’t have a job by the time you graduate, volunteer – and put that assignment on your resume to cover up any gap that might exist. This will also put you a step ahead of your job competition – those who are sitting around just hoping something good will happen.
Leverage Facebook as a Career Development Tool
From the moment you unload your belongings in your dorm room, settle in with your new roommate and prepare for the first day of classes, you should start considering Facebook a “professional” platform. Use it to talk about your goals, share industry relevant blog posts, chart your leadership and club activities – and anything else that might appeal to a prospective employer.
Does your current Facebook account contain a little too much information about your previous social life? Keep that account and all 500 of your friends – but start a new account that will be the one you reveal to recruiters and employers.
Connect on LinkedIn
Colleges are pushing students to join LinkedIn. But as the saying goes, “You can lead a horse to water… but you can’t make it think.”
So let me tell you straight up: It is imperative that you, as a college student, join LinkedIn and engage with your connections… now is the time to get on the elevator at the bottom floor and start to work your way up.
Your profile should represent you in a professional way, of course. That doesn’t necessarily mean you must wear a suit and tie, or a silk blouse, jacket, and skirt for you profile picture. Nor will you have the experience to appear as if you’ve been in the workforce for years (this is where the internship comes in.) But keep your profile neat and clean – and focus on accomplishments such as volunteering assignments, honors and achievements and your internships.
Join the Society of Collegian Networkers
Intorvert or extravert, this is the time to launch your personal networking activities. Most colleges have face-to-face networking opportunities – and even lessons in how to network well. Many have alumni and employer organizations you can tap for potential mentors. And there is always LinkedIn’s Alumni tool – which you can use to find new contacts from your current school.
Leave your comfort zones behind – and start to build your personal network today.
Despite my worries: my daughter’s a smart girl, so I don’t anticipate her being unemployed for long. She’ll do the work that needs to be done now… so we don’t have to worry about her later.
Now, if I could only eliminate the student loan and credit card debt so she doesn’t spend the next 18 years with my wife and me!
About the Author: Bob McIntosh, CPRW, is a career trainer who leads more than 15 job search workshops at an urban career center. Jobseekers and staff look to him for advice on the job search. In addition, Bob has gained a reputation as a LinkedIn authority in the community. Bob’s greatest pleasure is helping people find rewarding careers in a competitive job market. Follow Bob on Twitter and LinkedIn.