5 Tips for Career Development That Every College Student Should Hear

5 Things You Need to Think About
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Below the bright lights sit the panelists.

In front of them, the faces of hopeful students emerge from the shadows, shining with curiosity and confusion. The room is bursting with potential but I can feel the fear that radiates from the same place.

“What comes next?”

The question looms in the back of these students’ minds, not only here in this room, but haunting every party and sporting event they’ve attended since their sophomore year. I understand. I was there once.

Soon they’ll be facing the unknown. How are they supposed to prepare? Will they make it out there in the “real world”?

Recently, I had the honor of attending “It’s All About YOU,” a presentation on entering the workforce for multimedia communications majors at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. The presenting panel consisted of the Content Marketing Manager here at AfterCollege Melissa Suzuno, one of the founders of InternMatch Nathan Parcells, a designer at Facebook David Pham, and two alumni of the department Candice Naranjo and Juliua Fraser.

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Upon entering the auditorium where the presentation was held, I was suddenly transported back to my days as a college student. The thought of what came after that final test was completely terrifying but also exciting. I had no idea how to approach any of it at all.

As I listened to the presentations that were being given as well as the questions that students had for the panel, I realized that there was some important advice that should heard by all college students—not just the multimedia communications majors in this room.

So I decided to share those points with you all in this post. Here are the five important takeaways about career development as a college student.

1. Take EVERY opportunity seriously

This advice came from one of the alumni of the department. She is currently working at a radio station and was offered the position after her internship ended. She believes that this offer came to her because of the attitude she had when doing her internship.

From day one she approached every task with enthusiasm and determination. Never did she think to herself, “Oh, I don’t have to give 100% because this is just an internship.” No. No task was too big or too small. Whether she was switching tracks for the DJ or scouring the internet to find the first leaked picture of North West in the two-minute song break, she took it seriously.

That attitude is the reason she was not only voted best intern, but also why she was offered a full-time position when she graduated.

If you currently have an internship, think about how you can show your enthusiasm and excitement on a daily basis.

2. Know when it’s time to leave

I think this is a big one. With the current economy and competitive job market, having a job, any job, can make you feel like you’ve got it made. But if you want to really advance in your life and career, you have to be able to recognize when it’s time for you to leave. Whether it’s an internship or a full-time job, you should always be asking yourself, how is this advancing my career? What am I learning from this position? Am I progressing?

Of course, you can take the initiative to further your career by creating new challenges within your current position, but sometimes it’s not you but the company or role that has to change. In cases like this, it’s probably time to move on to the next step. This can be absolutely terrifying, but David Pham, the designer at Facebook, gave his own, real-life examples of noticing it was time to switch things up and how those moves finally led to his current position, which he loves.

3. Start projects of your own

More than one presenter mentioned this (which means it’s important!). Employers are looking for students and recent graduates who already have some sort of work-related experience. We encourage you to get an internship—and to do so early on in your academic career. But, if that’s not possible, don’t just sit around and wait for something to fall into your lap.

Start working on your own projects. We have a very specific example here on The AfterCollege Blog about a recent graduate who broke into the health industry by starting up his own walking group. But basically, just do your thing. If you’re a writer, write. Start a blog. Work on getting as many followers as possible. Start really finding your voice and developing your brand. If you’re an artist, make art. Sites like DeviantArt are the perfect place to really get your footing and put your work out into the world.

4. Make your portfolio easy to navigate

Speaking of art and artists, I thought this point was really interesting. When it comes to your portfolio, it may seem like the best way to make a lasting impression is by heavily designing your “book.” Turns out, that really just annoys the people who are looking through them. Yes, you’re talented enough to add animations and fun buttons to your online portfolio, but all of these distractions get in the way of your actual work.

Instead, just consider your portfolio as the medium in which you share your actual art and make it easy for employers to find it. Think about how many of these “books” employers and hiring managers are looking at. If your portfolio is too tricked-out and difficult to navigate, it’s going straight to the “no” pile.

5. It’s okay to not know what you want to do, exactly

This was another piece of advice that almost every panelist mentioned (and one that we totally agree with). It may seem like you have to find the exact job you want to do for the rest of your life. Right now. But, the truth is, that’s probably not going to happen whether you want it to or not. I like how Nathan Parcells of InternMatch put it: your search for “that” career will not be along a career path, but a career “wobble.” You’ll probably try out a LOT of positions before finding the one—if there is such a thing.

One of the alumni of the communications department spoke about how she got her web job at the KRON 4 news station. First of all, she never thought she’d be working at a news station, second of all she was never interested in the web aspect of it. But there was a need and she was able to fill that need and now she is totally loving her job. So, you really never know what can happen. Just be open and say yes to opportunities.

As Sheryl Sandberg says, “If you are offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on!”  

If you’re hesitant to make such a big leap, one of the best ways to learn a bit more about the different careers is to do internships. (And internships can also help you figure out what you don’t like—and that’s super useful, too!) That is why we encourage you to start your internship search early on. Also, don’t forget about volunteering. Approach a local non-profit to see if you can help them out with a specific project and gain work experience.

This is important for more than just the type of job, but also learning about company culture as well. Remember that sometimes it isn’t the industry but the actual organization that you do or don’t fit in with.

Homework time! Don’t wait until you’ve graduated to start thinking about your career. Start your job exploration now, do internships, volunteer, learn to recognize what you like and dislike about work environments, and start developing a portfolio.

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