As college students enter their sophomore or junior year, they are faced with the first in a series of career altering decisions: which major to choose. While the choice is not critical, it is important.
If the student had some learning experience, either through an internship or paid summer work experience, that could also be helpful.
Most graduating students ultimately pursue careers that are either disconnected or only peripherally connected to their course of study. So it makes sense to begin an exploration of career options early. This especially applies to those who engage in a more general liberal arts program.
Benefits of Early Exploration
Most students have some idea regarding career choice. So exploring those choices, and there may be many options in mind, should not be ignored.
The benefits of early exploration are substantial. Taking those early steps may result in some low-cost course correction that enables better focus and avoid changing majors, transferring to another institution or taking the wrong course of study. Or, it can strengthen perceptions and ambitions, creating a firmer commitment and determination.
But most importantly, pursuing a career search that includes a practical job search strategy can provide a “real world” look at the opportunities and challenges most students will face after graduation.
As a college and career counselor, I see many students who have not prepared themselves well in investigating career alternatives and developing a substantive job search strategy. This is important at all times, but particularly in these days of economic difficulty in which thousands of dollars and years of effort are often wasted until the “right” direction is pursued. Students who graduate with a clearer direction and substantive knowledge relating to that direction have a huge advantage. So how do you do this?
The Early Job Search
1.) The job search starts with research into “secondary” resources.
Every field has a set of elements that paint a pretty clear picture of that field. While changing conditions can result in changing priorities in each of these elements, the fact is all are important. They include:
- The nature of the work
- Working conditions
- Special training, qualifications and career growth
- Salary levels and other employment data
- Job outlook.
Also, research potential employers and read some job postings to understand the overall qualifications and responsibilities the jobs require. All of this information is readily available via the Internet at sites such as Job-hunt.org, and the U.S. Department of Labor Website.
2.) Continue with research into “primary” resources.
Armed with a broad overview and probably a plethora of questions, the next step is finding people who are in the field.
Remember, anyone you meet exhibits personal biases.
The search is all about what you want to do, not how the other person likes their job. Seek out networks, contact professional groups, go to a few meetings and engage in casual conversation to help determine what are the factors that contribute to job satisfaction.
Seek out informational interviews, job shadowing and Internships. In my experience we live in a pretty decent community, filled with professionals who understand career issues, enjoy speaking with young people and are willing to help. You never know what opportunity may be ahead, if not with a specific manager, then perhaps through their network. All three approaches can be remarkably effective in getting plugged into the mainstream of your interest area. Keep in mind that most people are very willing to spend time with young people seeking career information.
As a general rule no student should ever interview or take an internship without thoroughly researching a firm. In fact, there are web sites where current and former employees often talk about their job experiences at specific firms. Whenever possible, seek out contacts and ask the hard questions about any targets.
You may think the internship or job shadowing is the opportunity of a lifetime, but it could be in a company totally unsuited for your personality, work style and future ambitions. And, most of all it may not provide the type of learning environment so essential for getting a good start on a career path. Also, the research may not be fruitful, but it is part of the learning so essential when the real job search begins.
3.) Embrace diversity.
A great internship in one firm may have resulted from special circumstances, a key project, a great supervisor or some other factor. At the same time the opposite could occur. Consequently, a broad perspective is important.
Remember the idea is to learn and prepare. Research, internships, informational interviews and job shadowing opportunities are excellent training in demonstrating maturity, determination and commitment when you meet that recruiter or hiring manager for that first job.
About the author…
Judit Price CDFI, CCM, IJCTC, CPRW has an M.S. in Counseling and is a certified career guidance counselor in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. She counsels college students and adults regarding career and college options. Judit was the biweekly career and employment related column for The Lowell Sun newspaper. She also authored and published Your Career and Life Plan Portfolio, a workbook for adults and college students.