1. First Stop: Career Center
Think of it as your one-stop for everything you need to start an internship or job search: cover letter and resume help, connections to employers, and, perhaps most importantly, answers to questions like, “What can I do with this major?”
Your tuition dollars are already paying for the professional help within the walls of your campus career center, where career services staff are trained to help you, even if you’re starting from scratch on career planning.
“There are a lot of great reasons to visit a career center, and not just to get a job or internship,” says Austin Arceo, coordinator of communications and special projects at the Hubbard Center for Student Engagement at DePauw University. “In the Hubbard Center, for example, we are focused on providing opportunities outside of the classroom to prepare and mold students’ interests between college and the real world.”
“Students put undue stress on themselves. They think they have to have a plan to utilize the career center. Arguably, when you don’t have a plan a career center advisor can be even more valuable. That’s where the advising can be really powerful.”
2. Polish Your Image
Presenting a polished image can give you the edge when you’re searching for an internship or first professional job. You don’t have to have the most expensive new suit or leather bag to show prospective employers that you’re serious about business—in fact, you can often find deals at high-end resale shops—but you should begin to build a work- and interview-worthy wardrobe. Think clean basics that don’t attract attention so the focus is on you, not your clothes.
Speaking of image, make sure your social media accounts are employer-friendly. Social media can help your job search and lift your professional profile when you use it as a tool to promote your personal brand, such as by blogging or posting an article on LinkedIn. Don’t over-share or allow inappropriate posts to come back to haunt you. Word travels spectacularly fast, and anything you tweet, post or share is likely to travel back to anyone and everyone you know—or, are likely to meet.
3. Intern and Work
Keep looking for ways to get experience employers want. Everything counts: summer or part-time jobs in a restaurant or warehouse, campus activities (especially leadership roles) and, of course, internships and research positions.
Search for internship opportunities online
“The value of internships continues to increase,” says Janet Boston, executive director of Indiana INTERNnet. “We encourage students to take advantage of internship opportunities early in their academic careers so they build the skill set and professional network necessary to succeed in today’s job market. Not only do the experiences supplement classroom learning, but many Indiana employers are offering full-time jobs to their interns upon graduation.”
4. Work Your Network
“Get that experience of reaching out,” DePauw’s Arceo says. For tips, visit your campus career center, which can put you in touch with organizations, alumni and employers who may be able to help—but don’t expect a job with the first handshake. “Students sometimes assume that reaching out to an alumnus means that person can help you get a job. That’s short sighted,” he says. “In networking, that’s rarely, if ever, the case. Long-term relationships need to be cultivated, and your career center can help you learn how to do that.”
5. Practice, Practice, Practice
Develop an elevator pitch: a very quick, easy-to-say and easy-to-understand introduction to a potential employer. What are you studying? What are you doing on campus, or in your budding professional life? In 15-45 seconds, describe what you are good at, and what you are passionate about. Practice so that it flows naturally and seems less rehearsed.
Speaking of rehearsing, your career center can help you practice the events that you’ll likely be faced with as you launch your career, including mock interviews and business etiquette events. “It’s not easy at first, but how you get better is through practice,” Arceo says. “As you get over your reticence, you get better.”