Career Advice For College Students Navigating The New Normal
by Jill Tipograph
Co-Founder of Early Stage Careers, providing tailored career guidance exclusively to college students, recent grads and 20-somethings.
For many college students, the university experience is a launching point for their careers. However, many of the traditional college-to-career pipelines are built around the physical campus and these may not be accessible in a semester or year that will be disrupted by the pandemic.
As colleges form their academic year plans — some of which involve remote learning, hybrid or in-person models and all of which are subject to change — it’s important for aspiring careerists to prepare to adapt to the new normal. By following these steps, college students can build the career foundation and skills they need to launch their careers during a semester or year impacted by Covid-19.
College students today will not have the luxury of in-person classes, campus clubs or work-study jobs to help them build the network, skills and experience that will facilitate their career launch. To compensate for these losses, college students must be proactive about forming relationships, building skills and gaining experience in order to be well-positioned for a job or internship search.
• Make a virtual impression on faculty. Your professors and advisors have a wealth of knowledge to share, and they’re also gatekeepers for key resources and contacts. Create a strategy to get to know your professors. Show up to class with an understanding of their work and areas of focus. Ask questions and participate in a meaningful way and attend virtual office hours if they are offered. Your professors and advisors can also point you toward non-academic programs that could provide valuable industry experience. They can help you determine if you’re on track to achieve your goals, including making sure your course load is positioning you for advanced academic work or research.
• Stuck at home? Join the club. Your school may not have an activities fair this year, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get involved. Seek out a directory of campus clubs and identify those that interest you. Email those clubs’ presidents and see if you can get involved remotely. Taking this initiative is a great way to start building relationships with those involved and to position yourself for future leadership opportunities.
• Pursue your passions. Create your own avenue for skill-building by forming personal projects. Start a podcast about your favorite TV show, form an online book club or blog about your favorite sports team. Find a way to engage your existing interests in ways that will help you build new skills. You can then leverage the skills and experience you build when seeking micro-internships or future work opportunities.
Focus on the future.
The steps you take now will position you for job or internship search success down the road — whether that is during a January term, next summer or after college — once the pandemic is finally in the rearview mirror. Plan for future opportunities. Every step you take opens another door down the road and can ultimately have a major impact on your career launch.
• Approach alumni. Alumni groups can provide key arenas to help you develop necessary skills. Approach alumni groups and see if they need help with projects or future recruitment outreach. Think creatively — you may have more success approaching specific groups, like alumni of a varsity sports team, the yearbook or newspaper staff; even niche groups related to summer experiences you attended could be good. Think about who you can connect with and how you can help them and help yourself in the process.
• Score up your skills. It is important to develop skills that will make you an asset to the workplace — and equally important to demonstrate that you have those skills. Look to online certifications and academic courses that will allow you to both develop and demonstrate your mastery of key skills. Study the industry you want to join and learn what skills are considered foundational. Certain skills will have value across industries, like using Microsoft Excel, knowing communication programs such as Slack or understanding project management programs like Trello. It’s also important to think about the skills you currently have and what new skills will complement those. If you have an intuitive understanding of data analytics, look to build image skills that will allow you to effectively present information. If you have a strong command of politics, developing public speaking skills can be a valuable tool. Acquiring complementary skills will make you more effective and valuable in your career.
• Assess your options. Use your time in college to get a further understanding of what career you might want to pursue. Think about your strengths and passions and weigh the impact the coronavirus has had on different industries. A career assessment is a valuable tool that can help you develop your sense of what jobs might be suited to your working style, behaviors, skills and interests and help you understand the foundational skills and experience you’ll need to get hired.
The 2020-2021 school year presents a unique challenge, and savvy students must find ways to build their career prospects without the resources a campus provides. By being proactive and future-focused, college students can take steps to make sure they are well-positioned to build the skills and experience needed to launch their careers.