Thursday, October 15, 2015

So…What Am I Supposed to Be Doing? The Four-Year Checklist for Career Development

As a freshman in college, the concept of graduating and entering the workforce seems like a lifetime away. Then you blink, it’s your final semester, and you’re feeling overwhelmed and underprepared for what your career has in store for you.  What you’ll find in this post is a career development checklist, broken down by year into manageable and attainable tasks. If you can stick to this checklist, the anxiety you expected to feel about your career path is gone, and you’re left prepared to enter the workforce with professional skills, knowledge, and confidence. It’s important to start this checklist in the first year, and to gradually build upon it.. Happy planning!
The 1st Year Experience: “Self-Awareness”

The first year is all about exploring the self, and reflecting on what strengths and interests you have that might lead to a potential major and career path

  •  Develop healthy study habits: Utilize Academic Success Centers, Writing Labs, or other on-campus resources to acclimate yourself to the rigor and challenge of college classes.  
  • Do A Career Assessment! Visit Career Services to take an interest profiler or strengths assessment. We use Tools like these can give you clues to guide you in the right direction. 
  • Participate in programming on campus: Get involved on campus! This will help you to learn more about how you want to spend your time, as well as help start to create a network of individuals who may help you along your career journey. 
  • Prepare initial resume: Even if this is just a running list of activities and experiences you’ve had thus far, start documenting everything you do! Volunteering, part-time work, student organizations, coursework, and other experiences all help to start shaping your professional background.
The 2nd Year Experience: “Career Exploration”

The sophomore year is about diving into career exploration and learning about work environments that you can envision for your future.
  • Meet with advisor/internship coordinator in your department:  Your academic advisor or Career Services advisor can be a great resource if you’re concerned about what careers are right for you within you major, or if graduate/professional school is something you need to start considering. 
  • Research internships: Does your major require an internship? Strongly encourage an internship? Start to think about opportunities you may want to take advantage of regarding experiential learning.  
  • Update resume, develop general cover letter: Now is a great time to visit Career Services and start putting together your resume into a clean, professional format; start to organize your information into a document that showcases your knowledge, skills, accomplishments, and abilities.  
  • Participate in an informational interview, job shadow, or observation hours: Some Career Centers host informational interviews for students interested in learning more about a career path or position. These along with job shadows or observation experiences allow you to ask a professional about the field, and can help you decide whether or not your major and current path is right for you!  
  • Participate in an Interview Day/Career Fair:  Even if you’re not quite ready to apply for jobs, it is never too early to start to network and connect. Attend a campus event like a Career Fair or Interview Day to introduce yourself to professionals in your field, and learn about what they are looking for in recent graduates. Who knows, maybe they’ll remember you when it comes time to apply!  
  • Maintain a part-time/summer job: Ideally, seek out a part-time job related to your major, but any job can help you build your transferable skills.  
  • Volunteer in an area of interest: Whether this is on your own or with a group of students, you’ll gain a sense of fulfillment, connect with local community members, not to mention gain experiences to talk about in a job interview.
The 3rd Year Experience: “Getting in the Field”
The third year is all about experiential learning and building upon your career-related skills. In today’s job market, it’s crucial that you have not only a degree but experience when you go to apply for jobs.
  • Continue to…update resume & cover letter:  Have Career Services look over your document. You never know when an employer may ask to see it! 
  • Identify references for potential job applications: Remember that networking you’ve been doing through information interviews, job shadows, and other involvement? Now is a good time to identify 3-5 faculty, staff members, supervisors, or other professionals who would serve as references for you during your job or internship search. 
  • Complete one (or several) mock interviews: Interviewing is a skill that only improves with practice. Sit down with professionals in your field to complete a mock interview for feedback on improving your resume, communication style, and confidence; continue connecting with professionals in your field. 
  • Pursue experiential learning: By now, You should be pursuing or obtaining an internship. This experience builds your knowledge, confidence, and connections!  
  • Establish your online professional presence: What professional organizations are popular and active within your desired career field? Join them! Speaking of networking, if you haven’t already, create your LinkedIn profile. Employers are utilizing this social networking tool more than ever.
The 4th Year Experience: “Acting on Your Decision” 
You’ve made it to your fourth year! If you’ve gone through the first three checklists, you should be in great shape as you check off the final items in preparing to enter the working world. Soon, it will be time to put all that planning into action.
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  • Continue to…participate in mock interviews: Practice makes perfect.  
  • Continue to…engage in on and off-campus event: Stay connected on campus and in the community by attending Career Fairs, networking events, speakers, presentations, workshops, etc. 
  • Continue to…pursue internships: If you’ve not yet completed one, you still have time. And remember: there is no rule that you cannot consider a second internship. More experience leads to more developed skills sets and knowledge! 
  • Finalize that resume: make your resume to at least three professionals (Career Services, faculty, etc.) to review. Everyone has his or her own stylistic opinion, and will offer your different feedback. 
  • Begin job search 6 months before graduation: Even if you’re not ready to apply for positions, start looking at the job market to see what’s available. Think about geographical location, research specific companies, and pay attention to trends in your career field.  
  • Seek leadership roles in your student activities/involvement:  Remain actively engaged on campus and take on roles with more responsibility and leadership within student organizations or events.  
  • Make final decisions about graduate or professional school:  Finalize all application materials, take your entrance exams, and continue having active conversations with prospective schools.  
  • NETWORK!! Seek out any type of networking opportunity you can. Sometimes, the connections you have make all the difference when it comes time to job search. Reach out to the individuals you’ve selected as references, and maintain relationships with faculty, staff, and alumni.

Ready to put all that planning into action? Go get ‘em!  

Written by:  Anne Funke, University of Dubuque
Career Service Program Assistant – Advising and Career Center 

Edited by:  Catharine Craig, Graceland University
Director of Career, Academic and Personal Counseling Services 


California State University – Fullerton. Four Year Checklist. [Retrieved July, 2015].
Johnson, L. (2013). Undergraduate Career Development Checklist. Career Services, University of Dubuque, Dubuque, IA.
University of North Carolina-Charlotte. Career Planning Checklist. [Retrieved July, 2015].

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Internships Make $ense

 “Having an internship is positively correlated with getting a full-time job offer.”

National Association of Colleges and Employers, the Class of 2014 Student Survey Report

Regardless of major, internships or some form of experiential learning outside classroom training are a crucial first step in gaining meaningful employment after graduation. 90+ percent of employers say applicant experience is a factor in hiring decisions, according to an annual survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).

Two factors stand out in the internship experience:

  • Employers place value on students who have real world job experience in addition to classroom learning. They are interested in hard skills related to a student's major; more importantly, they are interested in soft skills. Internships provide a prospective employer with the opportunity to observe and evaluate a student's ability to:
  1. Work in teams 
  2. Make decisions and solve problems
  3. Communicate effectively in spoken and written formats
  4. Organize and prioritize projects
  5. Process/analyze information and quantitative data
  6. Apply technical knowledge/computer proficiency to problem solving 
  7. Lead, persuade and influence others 
The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE)
  • Students gain applied work experience and develop in-demand skills from the internship experience. They have a deeper understanding of the profession, company culture, and are better prepared to navigate the transition from student to professional. Internships also allow students to build credible work experience for a resume or portfolio and provide valuable examples to draw upon in interview situations. In addition, students who intern get a foot in the door with the company and begin to establish professional networks leading directly or indirectly to future employment opportunities.

Career success doesn’t just happen! The best practices for finding an internship include: early involvement with College Career Services, Career Research, and Networking.

  • According to NACE, students who visit their school's Career Service Center early and often find jobs quicker after graduation. It’s simple: students taking advantage of career counseling, resume development, interviewing practice, career fairs and professional networking opportunities find themselves better prepared for the recruitment process.
  • Students participating in career research involving career counseling, career assessments, major exploration, job shadows, and internships are more knowledgeable of the skills they have to contribute to a professional organization and are better able to establish a career brand and market themselves effectively to employers.
  • Networking, both face-to-face and online, is a crucial skill for students to develop. It provides access to the hidden job market (unadvertised opportunities) and allows students to build professional connections. Three tips for effective networking include: 
  1. Start with people you know, family, friends, faculty, previous employers, coaches, etc. Don’t ask for a job, instead establish a relationship.
  2.  Find ways to solicit career related information through casual conversations, informational interviews and job shadows.
  3. Find a mentor, someone in a professional capacity who you can connect with to guide you through the internship process and help you develop professionally.

Don’t wait until you graduate! Complete career-related activities and participate in an internship or experiential learning program during your college experience. It could provide a big payoff later.

Written by:  Angela Wolfe, St. Ambrose University
Assistant Director 

Blogger - Career Specialist - Leading Student/Employer Engagement

Edited by:  Sarah Moss, Dordt College
Career Development Coordinator