The end of a college career poses a nerve-wracking prospect for many students. Soon-to-be graduates face the inevitability of saying goodbye to friends, the pressure of a significant life transition and, of course, the fear of impending finals. However, the magnitude of those concerns pales in comparison to the stress of finding a job. After all, you spent the last four (or five or six) years suffering through 8 a.m. lectures and mountains of homework for a reason, right?
I was fortunate to have a job waiting for me when I walked across the stage, but finding that job took a lot of work. My path is not necessarily a one-size-fits-all blueprint, but I do believe that I learned some valuable lessons from my college experience. I hope that these lessons can be beneficial to students who follow after me.
I've got some good news: sometimes the very best thing you can do to put yourself in a position to succeed is to be present. Even better news: it's never too early to show up for things. Seriously. During the fall of my sophomore year, I went to a Q&A event at my school featuring local PR professionals. I was one of about seven students who showed up. Because there were so few of us, I got to have a one-on-one conversation with one of the speakers. That contact eventually helped me get my foot in the door at Jones PR more than two years later, which leads me to my next lesson…
I know, I know. It’s the buzzword you’ve heard dozens of times since you stepped on campus, but as you can see from my example above, networking works. Not only has the contact I made at that event become a friend, but he also introduced me to others who eventually helped me land my job. As a college student, many people are willing to take the time to meet with you, give you advice and help you find internships and jobs. Get involved with your local chapter of PRSSA, or find another professional development organization to join. Also, make friends with your professors. The good professors can help you more than you know.
Don’t settle in your comfort zone. Start by finding internships. Unfortunately, internship positions don't always come right away, but if you follow the first two steps, a door will open for you. In addition, try to get a variety of experiences. Halfway into my senior year, I realized my main internship to that point might not be where I wanted to work after graduation. Even though I enjoyed my coworkers and it provided valuable experience, I began to look for other opportunities. Finally, remember that it’s better to give 100% to a few things than to do a lot of things halfway. Don't over-commit yourself.
Never stop learning
This lesson applies both inside and outside the classroom. Don’t check out in your senior year, but remember that a packed resumé is more valuable than a 4.0 GPA. Take that class you’re interested in, even if it has nothing to do with your major. However, I genuinely believe that you will acquire your most valuable experience during college through internships. Take that opportunity even if it means you don't get to start the weekend early when your Friday classes end.