4 Career Prep Basics for College Students

[NOTE: I have the honor of serving as an officer and member of the Auburn University Parents' Association Board of Directors. We recently launched a new blog and this was our inaugural post. You can read the original here. As part of my search and advisory practice I occasionally work with recent grads who display a special spark...  —CP]

As an executive recruiter, I spend a lot of time coaching senior-level professionals as they map out their next career adventure. While these people are well into the arc of their career path, a lot of my advice also applies to college students getting ready (hopefully) to enter the workforce. In fact, I have shared many of these key themes with my own kids as they have gone off to college.

Students should enjoy the spontaneity that is part of college life. The unexpected challenges and discoveries are part of the overall learning process. However, with a little foresight, the tips below can easily be woven into a well-balanced college experience. Students should start early and enjoy the process!

1. Get Involved

Auburn offers a wealth of ways for students to get involved in academic, campus, and community activities. Students who are involved learn how to apply book learning to the real world in practical ways. The satisfaction of overcoming challenges (or learning from failure) and the experience of being part of a team will smooth the transition to that first "real" job. Getting involved is also a powerful way to develop emotional intelligence and to identify passions. This in turn may influence the type of job or specific industry the graduate seeks. There are many diverse involvement options at Auburn: leadership development, internship/job shadowing, co-op study programs, community service, and extracurricular campus programs are just a few.

2. Grow a network

Networking is often misunderstood. To many, it's seen as forced and even painful. Those who resist it may view it as self-promoting and asking for favors. But networking is more than working a room of strangers armed only with a pocketful of business cards and artificial small talk. Networking done right is simply the art of creating and nurturing relationships. It involves active listening and learning. It's about giving more value than you seek. Networking is about connecting dots. It opens doors and lowers barriers by fostering familiarity. Networking done right relies on the fact that most people want to be helpful if asked, and may occasionally need help themselves. A good networker makes the first investment into a new relationship. What's a great way to get started growing a network as a student? See Step 1 above for ways that students can up their networking game with classmates, faculty, counselors, alumni, and administration figures.

3. Build a resume

Even though resume formats are evolving (chronological, functional, hybrid, even infographic), there is still agreement in the HR world that some form of printed resume is necessary. This article from Business Insider focuses on resume tips for recent college grads, but the drafting of a core resume should begin during undergrad days. Be mindful of relevant experience that was obtained outside of the classroom or workplace. Did the student lead or participate in campus or community initiatives? Many times that experience will translate well into skills or traits that will catch the eye of a future hiring manager. Athletic experience, awards, Greek life, philanthropy, and other pursuits are also good to include. Keep in mind that an undergrad gets some leeway on the depth and breadth of work experience listed. Also, the conventional wisdom is that length should not exceed two pages for an undergrad or recent grad (with some exceptions). Starting a working resume early is a great way to get into the mindset of documenting the body of work that represents the individual.

4. Create a LinkedIn profile

If there is any acceptable alternative to the traditional printed resume, it is a well-tended LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn has become the de facto standard for personal branding in the professional community. A great LinkedIn profile will project the owner's personality, interests, and experience for all to see. And when it comes to networking, very few methods can compete with the power of LinkedIn. An entire cottage industry has sprung up that will create a LinkedIn profile for a fee, but anyone can create their own for free. My advice to an undergrad or recent grad is to make this a priority. While a full tutorial on LinkedIn is beyond the scope of this post, I hope to focus on it in future articles. Pro tip: When sending connection requests, never use the stock wording offered by LinkedIn. Always personalize the request and start the relationship off on a more sincere and memorable note.

In closing, any one of these 4 tips could be the focus of an entire book on career prep. Hopefully this overview provides some food for thought and an achievable mini-plan for making the most of the undergrad years with an eye toward entering the job market. Please post your comments and suggest your own tips!