Nailing the Job Search

By Adela Penagos, PhD, President

I have spent the past two weeks touring colleges and universities across New England.  I enjoy my trips as they provide me with an opportunity to learn about the various services offered to students and alumni at each institution. The Office of Career Services or Career Center provides some of those services.

All colleges use statistical figures about employment six months after graduation to convince parents that their child will be marketable if attending a given institution. However, few of them truly address how students can take ownership of their own career development from the moment they set foot on campus.

After many years working in higher education, I continue to be surprised by how many students do not leverage the opportunities they can partake while in school to gain employment after graduation. Here are some thoughts on how you can utilize all resources to set yourself apart while seeking employment:

1.     Get to know your Career Center.

The sooner you get acquainted with the services provided by the Career Center at your institution the better you will be able to utilize them for résumé critiques, mock interviews, cover letter feedback, and many of the other aspects of any job search.

2.     Apply for credit-bearing internships.

Many colleges and universities offer the possibility of receiving credit for unpaid internships during the academic year. The more experience you get while pursuing your undergraduate degree, the easier it will be to translate that experience into skills that will make you a well-suited candidate for other positions both during the summer as well as after graduation.

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3.     Apply for summer funding.

Many Career Centers are proactive about building into their budget funding for summer internships. At many colleges, there is a set amount allocated for one domestic or one international internship during your college journey. In other places, there is the possibility of applying for summer funding, which is granted after a competitive selection process. Regardless of the situation at your college or university, familiarize yourself with the process as soon as possible to take full advantage of any summer opportunity that comes your way and poise yourself as a strong contender when seeking a permanent position.

4.     Conduct Informational Interviews.

There is not a better way to truly find out what a job is all about than interviewing people who are currently doing the job you think you want to do.  Utilize your network: your parents' friends, your friends’ parents, and especially your college’s alumni to conduct informational interviews. Do not forget to always follow up with a thank you note or an email to express your gratitude for a person’s time. We all like to be appreciated.

5.     Leverage the skills acquired through your coursework.

Each class you take in college teaches you how to analyze information, solve problems, and think critically, especially if you are receiving a liberal arts education. Hence, as you enter the job search, make sure to highlight all of those skills in your cover letter, showing a link between your abilities and the job description, and the way you communicate and ask questions during the interview.

In a sense, your job search should be approached as a final exam. The more you prepare for it, the more likely you will be to excel. Another analogy I like to use is that it is a game and you are playing to win. Have fun with it.