As you approach the end of college, a mild case of senioritis is to be expected. It’s hard to stay motivated when you can see the finish line, especially if you’ve spent the last three years on a particularly challenging academic path.
But while senior year marks the end of your college journey, it should also mark the start of your professional journey. Waiting until graduation to start preparing for your next step is like waiting to book travel accommodations until the day you plan to leave for vacation.
The best actions to take will vary throughout the year. Additionally, we recommend you use your school’s career services early and often. Here’s a chronological guide to keep you on track.
Here are the nine best action items to take this fall:
- Set up networking calls with people in your niche
Even though the time to start applying for jobs is still months away, now is a great time to network. Find contacts in your industry through LinkedIn, look through your department’s alumni network, and ask the career counselor if they know anyone you should talk to.
Don’t be afraid to reach out via social media, but be respectful if they decline to chat. Networking is a numbers game, and you shouldn’t expect 100% of the people you contact to respond positively. Be persistent and respectful.
- Find newsletters to join with information about jobs and internships
When you talk to people in the industry, ask if they know of any relevant e-newsletters, Facebook groups, or other online resources where you can learn about job or internship openings. For example, if you’re interested in marketing, ask them which marketing-specific groups and forums you should join.
You may think that sticking to one area limits your opportunities, but it actually makes it easier to find jobs that you’ll be most qualified for. It might take you hours to sort through general job boards, but narrowing your focus will make it easier to apply for jobs you’ll actually have a chance of landing.
- Attend virtual networking events
Colleges and universities often have job and internship fairs where companies can set up booths and recruit students. Because of the pandemic, some of these have been converted to virtual events.
Visit your school’s career center website or ask your department advisor about these events. When you attend, try to dress professionally and bring specific questions to ask.
Follow up with anyone you meet and add them on LinkedIn. It’s harder to stand out on virtual events, so make sure to show that you are knowledgeable, interested, and passionate.
Here’s what you should start working on once winter comes around:
- Finalize your portfolio
If you’re in a creative field, making an online portfolio can help you sell yourself as a job or internship applicant. Use a website platform like Squarespace to display your work and add it to your LinkedIn profile. Having a professional website will help you stand out when applying for jobs.
When you’re done creating a portfolio, ask a friend to review it for typos and grammatical mistakes.
- Work on creating a resume and cover letter
Drafting a resume should be done months before you actually need to send it out. You can find a free resume template through Microsoft Word or Google Docs, or pay for one through Etsy. Once the resume is done, send it to a few people you trust for some honest feedback.
You should also start mocking up a cover letter so you’ll be prepared when it’s time to apply for jobs.
- Ask for recommendation letters and references
Professors often get inundated with requests to write recommendation letters or to be job references. Some set a limit on how many letters they’ll write, so it’s best to ask early before they’ve given away all the slots.
Use the time before winter break to ask your professors so they have plenty of time to craft a letter. Also, be prepared to draft your own recommendation letter. Some references will ask you to write the first draft and let them just edit it.
Make sure to ask permission when you put someone as a reference on a resume. Some people may not be willing to do this. Others will want a heads-up so they can be aware if someone might call with a reference verification.
Here are some productive tasks to accomplish this spring:
- Start sending out internship and job applications
You can start applying for internships and jobs in the spring. If you’re applying for internships, be mindful of the deadline. Don’t wait until the last minute to apply for jobs, as they may get filled quickly.
If you’re browsing job-hunting sites like LinkedIn, Indeed, or Monster, make sure to change the settings so you’ll be notified when a new job is posted. Apply for jobs even if it says they want someone with a few years of experience.
- Make sure to create a schedule to follow-up
The biggest mistake you can make when applying for a job is to not follow up afterward. Sometimes applications get routed to a spam folder or deleted by accident. The only way to know for sure is by following up.
Create a spreadsheet where you list the job, the website, your contact, and when you applied. Create a reminder in your calendar to follow up a week after you applied and a month after that. Following up ensures that your resume doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.
If you have an interview, send both a thank-you email and a hand-written thank you note. Then, wait a couple of weeks to follow up again.
- Send out emails to people you networked with earlier in the year
Reach out to professionals you’ve met before, either through virtual networking events or other avenues. Tell them you’re looking for a job or internship, share your resume, and ask if they have any advice on job hunting.
Include a link to your portfolio if you have one, or share an update on what you’ve done this year. Don’t expect someone to remember you, especially if you met a while back or only connected virtually.
Remind them who you are and what you’re looking for. If you remember something specific about them, mention it in the email. For example, if you remember they got a new dog, ask them how it’s doing. Small touches like these can make a huge difference.
Persistence is key
Remember to be patient and persistent. Getting a job in a recession can require sending hundreds of applications, even if you’re qualified. Don’t let rejection get you down and keep applying.
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