I've been out of school for a little over two months now, and during that time I've been applying for jobs, networking with other alumni from my university, and learning how to cope with moving back home. I've quickly learned that post-grad life is nothing like what I imagined, and I want to share some advice for current college students—from freshmen to seniors—on how to best prepare yourself for life after college.
Make Meaningful Connections With Your Professors
I know you've probably heard this hundreds of times, but making strong, personal connections with your professors is going to be more important than you may realize. Even if you don't plan on going to graduate school right now, you're going to want to line up a list of people who could write you a quality letter of recommendation just in case. Nearly everything requires letters of recommendation—from departmental scholarships, to national fellowships, to graduate school—and if you change your mind and decide to apply after graduation, without having made those relationships you might be out of luck. Do your future self a favor and establish 5 or more professors who would be able to write you a solid letter of recommendation even if you don't think you'll end up needing one.
Do Your Absolute Best To Get An Internship While You're Still A Student
Maybe you already know what type of career you want to go into post-grad and have thought about the types of internships you'd like to try, or maybe you haven't thought about a future career at all. I didn't start applying to internships until I was a junior in college, and I wish I would have started much earlier. As I'm applying for jobs now, nearly every internship is listed as "current students only," and nearly every job requires 2+ years of professional experience in a relevant field. Working an internship or two during your college career will give you a major resume boost when applying for post-grad employment, and it may even extend into a full time job, too!
Start Networking EARLY
Networking can feel awkward at first, but boy is it useful. If you have an idea of what type of industry you want to work in post-grad, start making connections with people in that industry. Most alumni are happy to do informational interviews, and they can be very helpful in learning more about what to expect from your industry and how to increase your chances of landing a job in your desired field. Check out this article for some great informational interview questions to get you started!
Establishing connections with people in your future industry will also create a network of individuals who would be able to vouch for you or recommend you to job openings within their company. This network can also be helpful in making sure that you feel supported once you leave the university setting.
Sharpen Your Technical Skills
If you want to assess where you're at, try passing a LinkedIn skill quiz. You'll learn pretty quickly if you need to sharpen your skills some more.
Start Developing Your Professional Documents Early, And Keep Them Updated
Applying for jobs is stressful and time consuming, so whether you're going through the process while in school or after you've graduated, you're going to want to have all of your professional documents well-developed and ready to use by the time you start applying. At the very minimum, this includes...
1. A go-to cover letter and resume template that can easily be tailored to each job you apply for. Keep in mind that you should be writing a different cover letter and resume for each job you apply for, so having a baseline template ready to go will save you lots of time in the future!
2. A master list of your skills—including examples of when you used them—, your strengths, and your weaknesses. This is a great tool to use when preparing for interviews!
3. A portfolio of your work. Many applications will ask you to submit a sample of your work, and developing a comprehensive portfolio throughout undergrad will make it easy to find samples for a variety of job applications!
This list will grow and change depending on what kind of jobs you're looking for, but the important thing is to have everything you need ready to go by the time you start applying.
I would highly recommend checking out your university's career center or alumni career center! I have found the Ohio State University Alumni Association's Career Management center to be a HUGE help in preparing me for my job search. You can check out their webinar archives here.
I think my fellow 2020 grads would agree that the pandemic has made it more difficult than ever to find post-grad employment. Whether it be unexpectedly losing a job offer or having to graduate early, COVID-19 has thrown a wrench in many of our plans. For my current college students out there, take advantage of the resources you have access to as a student, and start thinking about the tools you will need to be successful in your post-grad plans. You'll thank yourself later!