Career Conversations Series: Making the most of your college experience

You may be wondering what you should be focusing on after you’ve chosen a major or perhaps you’re unsure of what steps to take next to enhance your education in a meaningful way that will help with your future career. Knowing where to start is often the biggest part of the battle. Here is a guide that can help you consider where to start. It can also be useful for those of you who may not feel like you’re doing enough or are wondering if you’re on the right path.

Continue researching your career interests

Once you’ve chosen a field of study you should begin doing more in-depth research on the opportunities within that field. At this stage consider exploring more about the field from multiple angles, such as actively participating in career related activities, interviewing professionals within the field, and reading about what you can do with the degree you’ve chosen to pursue. Some majors prepare you for a large number of occupations and not all of the options out there are for everyone. You may do a lot of research on a certain occupation and find out later that it is not a good fit for you. For example, an education major may think that they want to work with high schoolers when they choose their major; however they may later find out that they are better suited for working with younger children during an internship. This is perfectly normal and although it may cause some stress, it is better to find out through exploratory experiences that you are not suited for a certain type of work than to find out when you’ve put all your eggs in one basket. This is why it is important to engage in all types of career research, so that you’re able to refine your career interests and narrow down what it is you want to do. Also, remember that career research never ends! A fulfilling career is full of growth, so learning how to research your opportunities early on is essential to future success!

Stay up to date on developments in your field

It is also important that you stay up to date on the changes within your field of study. The job market is always changing, especially in today’s fast-paced, technological world. Some jobs die out, others expand, and new positions emerge over time. It is important to stay up to date on such developments within your field in order to determine what you should be focusing on to enhance your career. For instance, if only half of the pharmacy graduates in the area get hired as community pharmacists and that is your dream job, then you should start seeking opportunities to set you apart from other pharmacy graduates. Setting yourself apart from others may be done by gaining internship experience, research experience, or due to the fact that you have a large amount of connections through networking. Don’t limit yourself to one factor though, as varied experience and a large network of connections will always look more impressive!

Speak with Career Services

As you go about your research and start working on internships, resumes, and other career related endeavors you should consider paying a visit to the Career Services Center. Career Services can help you define your career interests and search for opportunities such as internships, volunteer experience, jobs, or workshops to enhance your education and career. They also offer many other services that will help you enhance your career related skills, such as your resume writing skills and interviewing skills. They will also help you search for graduate school programs and with obtaining scholarships. Visiting the Career Services Center during your freshmen year is a good way to be proactive about your career!

Participate in events

Every semester there are dozens of events held on campus. Some are related to career preparation and exploring opportunities, while others are just for fun. Job fairs, workshops, club and other campus events are good ways to explore your career related interests and the opportunities available to you. Many events are geared towards providing students with some sort of educational opportunity, aim to aid in career development, or provide students the chance to get volunteer experience. Participating in or helping plan an event is not only fun, but can help with networking and gaining valuable work skills. You never know when your participation in campus events may work in your favor during an interview! Your dedication to helping out at campus blood drives or events held by the clubs you’re a part of may help impress the admissions committee or a potential employer. It may even help you redefine your interests, as you may realize that you love working with children by participating in our events like being a stop for Trick-Or-Treating in Marguerite Hall or during events open to the community!

Periodically looking through the school’s event calendar will tell you what events are going on and being active in clubs is a good way to be a part of the event planning process.

Join a club

clubsAnother way to take an active role on campus and to prepare for your future career is to join a club. There are over 35 clubs here at D’Youville and each club hosts a large number of events per year; some events are geared towards club members only and others open to all students. There are even major specific clubs such as Student Psychology Association, Kappa Delta History Club, and Pre-Pharmacy Club. There is also the option to start a club if you can’t find one that fits your interests! Being a part of a club has many benefits and will help you grow personally and professionally. Not only does being a club member allow you to build a sense of community with the other club members and faculty advisors, but it allows you to take an active role in campus interests. Club membership can help you gain leadership experience, network, and learn new skills. Participation in club events can help you develop skills that are in high demand such as time management, public speaking, the ability to work in a group, and much more. Consider being more than just a passive club member and attend meetings regularly, that way you can gain impressive experiences that will help you sell your abilities during an interview.

Volunteer

Volunteering is something that you can do at any stage, be it the research phase or while you’re in your career. Volunteering shows that you are willing to use your skills to give back to the community and is not only impressive for a resume, but also very fulfilling in itself. There are numerous ways to gain volunteering experience, both on campus and off-campus. Participating in club charity events, volunteering with Campus Ministry, or local organizations are all excellent ways for you to expand your resume and gain experiences that will help you refine your interests and enhance your career. Another option is to lead your own charity event. No matter how big or small the event, the fact that you’ve taken the initiative to lead a charity event speaks volumes about your character and work-ethic. You can lead your own event by having an idea and bringing it to the attention of campus clubs, Campus Ministry, advisors, or anyone you have connections with who may be interested. Think your idea may not be that great or afraid you’ll get turned down? Don’t be! Nothing stops progress more than being afraid that your ideas are not good enough and not acting on them.

Network

NetworkingExpanding your personal and professional contacts is absolutely essential in today’s interconnected world. Networking expands your contacts, the opportunities available to you, and the amount of information you have access to. It is important to make contacts throughout your time in college and continue to do so as you progress through your career. Networking can help you find internship placements, opportunities such as research positions or volunteer positions, have strong references, and share information. Having a wide variety of connections can expand your opportunities, so don’t just limit your networking to your major! Keeping in contact with those you’ve made connections with is essential to networking. Keeping in touch may mean working on more projects with your connections or be as simple as remembering to send a Christmas card or stopping in to say hello when you’re walking by their office.

A word of caution: Do not burn bridges! Even if you think that you may never see someone again, always try to leave on a positive note. You never know when you’ll suddenly come in contact with someone you’ve worked with in the past. The professor you volunteered with may remember you when you’re trying to find opportunities for internships in an office they have connections with and if you left on a positive note, they are more likely to speak positively about you! However, it is also important to remember that when you’re trying to get a recommendation from someone, you want to use someone who knows you well enough to provide a strong reference.

Take challenging courses

Another thing you can do to help advance your career prospects is to start taking challenging courses. Although it may sound extremely unpleasant to consider taking those courses that are known to be hard, such as Gross Anatomy or Organic Chemistry, it can be extremely advantageous in the long run. Especially when they are not required! Taking those hard courses forces you to move outside of your comfort zone and shows that you are interested in advancing your learning. It also helps you develop problem-solving skills and learn how to tackle obstacles, which is something you want to learn how to do before you get out into the workforce.

Take electives that will expand your skills

Electives are meant to enhance your skills and supplement your learning in other courses. Although the point of electives is to give you the freedom of choice and you can fill your schedule with courses you want to take just for fun, you may want to consider taking courses that will help you advance yourself. Consider filling those free spaces by minoring in Spanish or taking writing courses to enhance your writing skills and do better in your major courses that require writing. Maybe you’re rusty in math and you take a few extra math courses as electives so that you can do well on your Graduate Record Exam or because your future career will require you use a lot of math. There are plenty of options out there; all you have to do is look at what fits your needs and interests!

Professional development courses

prof devlo 3_0Professional development courses are meant to supplement your classroom and on-the-job learning. You can take a professional development course at any point in your career, even while you’re still planning it! These courses often cover a specific topic such as art therapy, using specific computer programs, and writing. Professional development courses are offered by colleges and other organizations, it is just a matter of looking out for them! They are often advertised on professors’ doors, on campus bulletin boards, and online.

Look into what tests you need to take and prepare for them

Depending on your major and career interests you may have to take a licensure exam or an exam like the Graduate Record Exam (GRE), Pharmacy College Admissions test (PCAT), or Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). It is important that you start preparing for these tests early on, as they are important in determining admission to a good graduate school, graduate financial assistance, and the future of your career. You also want to be aware of how these tests are weighed. Do you only have one shot? Or will they take your best score? Preparing early can help you do well on these tests, as well as alleviate the stress of trying to prepare for these tests while you’re in the middle of your senior year of college and trying to do everything else you need to graduate.

Participate in research or other work that will enhance your resume

It is important to seek opportunities that will help flush out your resume and provide you with experience. Participating in research and other work that is related to your career, such as taking on a per diem care worker position if you’re interested in becoming a social worker or a nurse, can help you further redefine your interests and gain relevant experiences to impress potential employers and graduate schools. Employers and graduate school committees are usually looking for someone who has experience beyond the classroom, so it is important that you build your resume early on. Seeking out work opportunities also gives you a prime chance to network!

Start looking into internship options

intern1Internship opportunities usually don’t fall into our lap and although they may be required by some major programs, not all place the same amount of emphasis on them. If you’re not required to do an internship, it is still to your advantage to seek one out! Taking the time to research your opportunities and look through your network of connections can help you find an internship that is a good fit. The sooner you start considering doing an internship, the more options you have. If you’re only a sophomore in college and you know you have to do an internship as a senior, you can start networking and volunteering with places that you are interested in. This could help you get your foot in the door in a place that regularly does not take interns or is hesitant about taking an undergraduate intern over a graduate intern.

 

The Career Conversations Series is researched and written by Brittany Souliske, a senior in the Psychology program who will be graduating in May of 2016.

About the author

Brittany

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