Crafting an Undergrad Experience to Get You Hired: A Career Guide for Every College Student

Fall semester is the time to organize your thinking; not only about your academics, but also your career plan. Whether you’re a Freshman with the opportunity to thoughtfully approach college with a career in mind, a Senior who needs to get serious about the job search, or a student somewhere in between – you can follow these steps to make the most of your college experience so you can ultimately get hired and launch your career.

Each college year should build toward a successful launch into the work world. At Early Stage Careers, we work with early careerists to methodically think through their college plan, taking progressive steps each semester and summer, so they are attractive employment candidates; ready to launch their careers by the time graduation arrives.

Freshman – Explore and Experience

For younger students, it’s important to start right away – Senior year may be too late to initially start thinking about a job search. It’s very important to gain foundational experiences early in college so you are prepared to build on these in tangible ways as you grow older. As a Freshman, explore every aspect of the school. Examine courses you can take, facilities to use and what fellow classmates and graduates do.  Read the school career outcomes report to learn where peers have found internships, permanent employment and how many are pursuing graduate studies. Gather information about your professors – where did they go to school, what research are they working on – then go talk to them outside of class. Developing professor relationships now will pay off in the long-run in terms of academics and career steps. If your school permits underclassmen to attend the Fall Career Fair, go and see who recruits and for what majors. Attend lectures on a variety of topics, learn about all clubs and sports, and then pick a few to get involved in.

Don’t wait to start planning for the summer. Consider taking academic or skill building courses, especially those that offer credentials, and try finding summer employment. A job does not have to be directly related to your academic field, but should allow you to demonstrate your responsibility, commitment, and interest in adding value to a team. Prioritize building skills that employers are seeking.

Sophomore – Differentiate Yourself  

As a Sophomore, go beyond your routines and push yourself to do something new. Don’t limit yourself to the campus activities – look to the surrounding community for volunteer organizations or companies to intern with during the school year.  At this point, you may have declared a major. Start to plan how you will distinguish yourself in a way that complements your field of study – this could mean obtaining a minor in another field or developing hard skills you’ll need for your future job search.

The summer before Junior year you should focus on entering the industry you would ideally like to join. For example, as a Chemistry major, consider seeking a summer role in a small chemicals company or lab – you will gain valuable work experience while gauging if the culture of the industry appeals to you. Additionally, work on cultivating a skill that you can’t fit into the academic year – you can achieve fluency in a language, improve your presentation skills, or learn to use a software you don’t have access to at school (or increase your proficiency level if you have some experience). Consider studying a business concentration such as project management, which is useful across industries. If you have work or internship commitments in place, research online programs that can be completed in the evenings.

Junior – Launch Your Career Campaign

Junior year is typically very rigorous academically, as challenging courses in your major will require disciplined focus. In your clubs and organizations, you should be pursuing leadership roles or setting the stage to move into those as a Senior.

For your career search, simultaneously focus on seeking a significant summer internship, while also studying the field of potential longer-term employers. If there are six major employers you envision working for after graduation, set a goal of obtaining a summer internship with one of them – this can be a potential bridge to permanent employment. Research which companies come to campus to do recruiting by looking at the company website and the schedule published by your school. For target firms not coming to campus, you will need to do extensive outreach to receive consideration.

As a Junior, prepare deeply for the fall career fairs and information sessions. Research which firms attend, which ones employ young alumni of your school, and which historically hire interns in your major.  Prioritize the firms you need to speak with. Get dressed to impress and pace yourself as you visit with each company.  Remember to collect business cards from people you chat with, so that you can follow up shortly after the event by email or by connecting on LinkedIn, with their permission. Keep track of these connections, as some may be important people to reach out to in senior year.   

Senior – Find Your Future  

Entering senior year, plan to spend a portion of each day on your job search. Start now, do not wait until January. Research and contact companies regarding their graduate openings. Build a roadmap for your search, leveraging your school’s career outcomes report, your professors, advisors, the alumni network database and your own personal network (including your family).  

If you learn that a firm traditionally opens its recruitment process at a certain time, track it on your calendar. Research what types of candidates these employers are hiring for the positions that interest you – what skills and experiences are they seeking? Be sure your resume and LinkedIn profile are robust, and that your skills and experiences are aligned with the job types you are targeting. Familiarize yourself with all types of interviews and practice.

At Early Stage Careers, families often seek job and career search help when senior year arrives. The first critical questions are straightforward: what are your career goals and what have you done so far to pursue those goals. If the goals are unclear, or you need direction shaping them, we can help via our Career Assessment Program. Additionally, we work with clients to prepare robust resumes and LinkedIn profiles, identify targeted job opportunities, prepare for interviews, and ultimately help them land the job they want.

All the suggestions made here, year by year, warrant consideration at any time. College is an investment of your time and resources, so take every advantage of each opportunity. Check in with us if you could benefit from our support.