Attention college students! What is being discussed in this entry may seem like common sense, but you would be surprised how many students (yours truly included) have that what now moment after the uproar of graduation celebrations starts winding down. Countless numbers of college graduates have been through the same feeling of panic and displacement once the college chapter is closed. Many opt to reopen it by attending grad school and furthering their education. This definitely has its perks, but for those who want a break from the books, this is an extremely exciting, yet terrifying time. This feeling is perfectly normal, because up to graduation, life is mapped out in a relatively straightforward manner. Get sufficient grades in high school, apply for college, attend college, get degree... Once that degree is achieved the checklist becomes a little less clear. Once the comfort of the institution of academia is gone, it sometimes feels like it is you against the world. If you’re anything like me, that feeling of contacting someone with only the intention of asking for a job feels forced and unnatural. The key to eliminating this discomfort is to start growing and nurturing relationships with people while you’re still in school, thus building your resources before you need them. Here are a few tips that have helped me in the past:
• Get active. I cannot begin to tell you how many people from different walks of life I met in unprofessional group settings. In 2009 I signed up for Team in Training for the San Diego Rock and Roll Marathon. Superficially, I wanted to get in shape, but I inadvertently ended making friends with the most fascinating and well-connected people. Marathon enthusiasts are extremely motivated individuals physically, and that usually carries over to their professional lives as well. It was a great way to connect with fellow professionals without going to a forced networking event. Marathon training is an example I personally use, but look out for other groups such as softball, kickball, bowling, and other recreational activities.
• Expand your interactions outside your major. While interacting with your fellow classmates is positive because you can share common interests, give moral support, and form great study groups, your interaction should not be so narrowly focused. Think about it, while they may be great resources 5-10 years down the road, in the short term, sadly, you will all be applying for the same job market, so there is only so much support they can provide. Example: my roommate throughout college was a pre-med/biology major. We used to joke that we had nothing in common, I used to write all her papers, and she would tutor me for my chemistry exams. But, our last year of school, she was a physician’s assistant for a doctor at a local hospital who was very close with the public relations director for the hospital. That worked out really well for me as a PR major. You never know who will come into your life, so make sure to interact in professional settings beyond your own career focus.
• Volunteer, volunteer, volunteer. One regret that I have about my college experience is my lack of imagination of how to spend my free time. I won’t get into it, but I wish I had balanced my cliché college activities with some volunteer work. This enriches your life for multiple reasons. Aside from the greatness of the selflessness of volunteering, it exposes you to the working world. Employers will appreciate these things on your resume because it shows that you had the personal motivation and imagination to do something outside the academic grind. The people that you meet will remember you and will not hesitate to assist you once graduation arrives. Get involved in any local campaign you can, even if you aren’t sure that you want to get involved in politics. People involved in local campaigns have vast networks through the local professional community.
• Find a mentor. Find someone that you admire professionally and contact them to try to set up an informational interview. Never view this as an imposition. Most people will find this incredibly flattering. Look at it this way; if you grew into their position from this point and someone approached you with questions wouldn’t you feel the urge to assist them? Everyone started somewhere and knows what it feels like to be new to the game. Mentors are a great bridge connecting you the professional world.
• Get local. Everyone teased me, but when I moved to my first place off campus, I joined the town council. I was by far the youngest member by at least 20 years, but I loved it. There wasn’t any pressure, I would just go to the meetings and observe, but once again it exposed me to many different people in the local community. If you are interested in getting a job in a certain geographical area, joining the town/city council exposes you to some local enthusiasts. Members appreciate people that take interest in their area so they will be the first to want to help keep you local by assisting in the job hunt.
These are a few things that I truly wish I had taken even more advantage of during school. Creating and nurturing resources throughout college is the smartest thing you can do for your future job-hunting self. By creating these resources before you need them, you are saving yourself months of anxiety around graduation time. Not only are you creating resources, you are making friends, getting in shape, and being an individual of high moral obligation. You win no matter what, so get out there and get started!