With the fall semester now a memory, most college seniors are on winter break — catching up on sleep, earning money at part-time jobs, or visiting with friends and family.
It's been a few years (don’t ask me to define “few”) since my own college days, so it's easy for me to tell the seniors to spend their break time wisely — by preparing for a full-time job after graduation instead of staying out late every night and sleeping half these days away, as tempting as it may be. So, if you’re a college senior, I won’t lecture about what you should be doing with your last lot of spare time: Have as much fun with it as you can because it'll be gone before you know it.
If you really want to get a head start on your career before the next semester begins, here are a few things you can do during your break to prepare for your first full-time job:
(1) Know What You Want and write it down. Think “what, who, and where.”
- What. What kind of job do you want? What jobs do your degree (and any work or internship experience) make you well suited for? What are you really good at?
- Who. Compile a list of target companies, then look at the job postings on their web sites to get a feel for the skills they’re seeking in the positions you’re targeting, as well as what they pay.
- Where. Do you want to work near your home? Near your college? Or, do you want to relocate to a different town, state, or country? Check the area’s cost of living, especially housing, since it will take up a hefty chunk of your income.
(2) Define Your Value Proposition. Once you’ve answered the “what” above, you're ready to write the 30-second elevator pitch, which sums up your personal value proposition - the experience, skills, and talents you bring to the table. You'll use this in interviews with potential employers. Just remember that your primary emphasis is what you can do for the employer, not the other way around.
(3) Start Writing Your Resume. When you know what you want in a job, gather the essential information you need to include in your resume: education, work experience, relevant volunteer experience, and special skills (such as proficiency in specific software applications). If your work experience is more important than your education, list it before your education.
When you return to campus, make an appointment with your school’s career services office to get their feedback on your resume and job-search strategy.
There’s a lot to do to prepare for life after graduation. Nobody's going to think less of you if you spend your last "free" vacation sleeping in and partying. But by getting a jump on career planning now, you might decrease the stress that comes with end-of-year finals and job hunting.
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