In a recent conversation with Career Coach, Sharon Wiatt Jones, she shared her thoughts on steps undergrads should take during the summer break to improve their job prospects upon graduation. Sharon Wiatt Jones is an author with twenty years of experience as a career counselor who specializes in helping undergraduates and veterans leverage their strengths and fully realize their career potential.
Q: Is there one key credential or preparation that is essential for graduates entering the job market for the first time?
Getting experience related to the desired job is the most valuable asset. Of course, this means that a student has thought about and targeted a type of job and, preferably, industry. If could be in the form of volunteer work (marketing for a nonprofit), campus activity (business or accounting majors as treasurer for a large student organization budget), or internship (part-time, virtual, summer). Self-employment counts too if it’s related to a career interest (web design, graphic design, writing, programming, etc.). Enrichment in areas like language development, coding skills and independent science projects can also bolster a resume.
After freshman or sophomore year a lawn-mowing or moving business usually pales in comparison to an office environment. Business protocol counts for something. One option is working for a family business in accounting, design, marketing, sales, or a role similar to career goals. I worked with a student who took a semester off to help his father move his company from one state to another. The student was able to describe negotiating with vendors, planning stages of the move, scheduling employees and contractors, and more. It was a powerful experience as he gave examples in interviews.
Q: Since the publishing of your book The Parent’s Crash Course in Career Planning: Helping Your College Student Succeed in 2007 how has the job market changed?
Everything has changed. Occupations, industries, job titles, skills are all in a state of flux. I write about new and emerging occupations, which is challenging because what I write is usually out of date in six months (sometimes less).
Five years ago, the hot fields were nursing, post-secondary education, law and government, while today they are computer sciences, biomedical engineering and linguists in critical shortage languages, especially among those who have security clearances.
Social media has come a long way since the last book was published. Every applicant should have a 100% complete LinkedIn profile, 50-100 connections, and belong to at least 5 groups before a job search. That means starting by junior year. Another goal is developing a following on Twitter and starting to understand Klout scores. Blogging is good. Other platforms may be important depending on your field. These are all worthy projects to move forward during summer months.
Groups such as The Young Professionals’ Group are good places to network and available in most large cities. The practice of talking with strangers, developing your “pitch” and learning from others can help build your social contacts and make it more effective when it really counts in year or so.
Employers have more and better qualified candidates to choose from given the high unemployment. This makes it difficult to find a true “entry level” job. Multiple internships can sometimes be combined to qualify for a job requiring 6-12 months of experience.
Since the recession, many employers are reluctant to take a chance on new grads. Those with relevant majors, courses, projects, internships, volunteer work are more likely to have the business savvy and skills to succeed. Students can’t be complacent about selecting a marketable college major and electives, obtaining career-related experience (internships, part-time or summer jobs, volunteer work, course projects), developing job search skills (including social media), joining professional associations, and demonstrating leadership and teamwork skills. As President Kennedy once said, “Things do not happen. Things are made to happen.”