What makes you tick? What major will fit you best? How will you find a good career? And how can you keep from going crazy trying to sort through this swirl of career-related questions?
Many college students feel confused and overwhelmed by all of the career decisions they must make. Fortunately, there’s a strategy you can use to make the whole process a little easier on your nerves, and your brain: Pursue tangible career goals each year you’re in school.
The following checklist will help you make better sense of the career development process and give you a reasonably easy way to move through it.
Freshman Year: Know Thyself
You have enough to worry about during your first year of school without trying to choose your life’s work on top of it all. So just start from the beginning: Get to know yourself first.
What does that mean? In essence, it means learning what you enjoy doing (your interests); what you’re good at doing (your skills); what’s important to you in a future career (your work values); and what makes you, well, you (your personality).
There are lots of ways to go about these tasks. You can:
- Take a few career interest tests at your school’s career services office.
- Work one-on-one with a career counselor.
- Take a career planning course if one is available.
- Ask other people in your life (e.g., family and friends) to help you identify your pertinent career related traits.
You can also sign up for a few off-the-beaten-path academic courses, join a student organization, or start reading about various majors and careers — all so you can explore potential new interests and learn new skills.
Sophomore Year: Explore What’s Out There
Once you reach sophomore year, you can start investigating major and career possibilities. How?
- Learn about your school’s majors by reading the academic bulletin and talking to faculty in programs that sound interesting. Meet with a career counselor to learn about the types of careers various majors might lead to.
- Talk to people who are working in careers that intrigue you. How did they prepare — both academically and experientially — for their jobs? What advice do they have for you?
- Get a part-time job or pursue a volunteer experience that somehow relates to a field that interests you.
You’ll likely find that you’re ready to declare a major by the time your sophomore year is over. Though you can adjust the schedule as necessary if you need more time.
Junior Year: Get Experience
As you move through your junior year, you’ll want to focus primarily on gaining experience in your fields of interest.
One of the most common ways of doing so is through an internship or co-op program, which you can set up with the help of a career counselor, professor or, in some cases, on your own. Similarly, you can gain experience through a related part-time job, a volunteer position or participation in a student organization.
Junior year is also a good time to:
- Develop a resume and cover letter, either on your own or with a career counselor’s help, and learn how to tailor each document to the specific needs of specific employers.
- Start researching companies or organizations you may like to work for someday.
- Attend campus job fairs to get a sense of what the job hunt is like.
- Try to develop alternate career options in case your initial major/career choice doesn’t work out.
Senior Year: Search and Transition
You’ll spend most of your senior year focusing on your job hunt and the upcoming transition to the real world after graduation. What to do?
- Continue getting experience through an internship, volunteer program or co-op.
- Practice interviewing with a campus career counselor to become comfortable answering and asking employment-related questions.
- Put the finishing touches on your resume and cover letters.
- Take a job search course if your school offers one.
- Use your school’s career services office, Web sites like MonsterTRAK, newspapers and your network of connections to find job openings.
- Research companies and organizations you’ll be interviewing with, prepare thoroughly for those interviews and land yourself a job!
Checklist or not, you’re bound to feel overwhelmed during the process but try to keep things in perspective. You may have to modify the checklist to suit your unique needs, but remember that it can be a useful tool to help you successfully identify, prepare for and pursue the careers of your dreams.
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