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Career preparation for college students: 5 tips for success

A young woman sits at a table and takes notes with paper and a pen, while three people in the background have a discussion.

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Your senior year of college can be both an exciting and nerve-wracking time as you are preparing to make your next big leap for the future.

Maybe you know your exact plan and are ready to jump right into this next stage of life. Or maybe, you are still working through questions like, “Where will I work?”, “What will I do?” and “How will I adapt my routine to be a full-time employee instead of a full-time student?” The sooner you address these questions, the more seamless the process can be.

Either way, I want to provide my advice on career preparation for college students based on my own experience of making this transition, in hopes it is insightful no matter where you are in the process.

Five pieces of advice on career preparation for college students

1. Get involved in extracurriculars.

To some people, getting involved in extracurriculars simply comes naturally while others may be more hesitant to get involved. I would encourage you to consider the extracurriculars you involve yourself in, whether they relate to your major or not, and highlight some on your resume:

  • If an extracurricular you’re involved in does apply to your major … having it on your resume is a great way to showcase how you are going above and beyond to better yourself in that field.
  • If the extracurricular you’re involved in does not directly apply to your major … still find a way to tie the experience into how it has influenced your passion for the career you are choosing. For example, if you’re involved in a sport, maybe you are driven by competition, and that’s why you would thrive in a sales environment.

And no matter what the group is, whether professional or recreational, take on leadership roles within the group. Leadership is a quality that is highly sought after, as it shows you take initiative, are well respected by your peers and are capable of greater responsibility beyond mere participation.

Plus, when you land an interview for a job, you can use examples and experiences from the extracurriculars you were involved in to answer some of the most commonly asked interview questions.

A young woman sits on her bed in a college dorm room with a laptop, book and notebook in front of her.

2. Prepare that resume.

Now is a great time to refine your resume. There are a few things to keep in mind in regard to formatting your resume:

  • Keep it to one page, and gradually add more as you gain experience in your career.
  • Order your experiences chronologically, with the most recent highlights toward the top.
  • Use bullet points instead of formatting it in chunky paragraphs.

Since you are just starting to gain experience in your field, you may be wondering what to include in your resume. Do employers really care that I was a waitress or a cashier or stocked produce at my local grocery store?

These are absolutely jobs to include on your resume at this point, as they show you have gained skills in areas like communication and customer service and have proven responsibility in maintaining a job while balancing school.

3. Determine your deal breakers.

When you choose the employer for which you will work, you begin a relationship with it. You can think of it like any other personal relationship and how you discern moving forward with it given a set of deal breakers you deem important.

How you rank your deal breakers may look different from how others rank theirs, but there are some common ones to consider:

  • Is the work meaningful? Given the job requirements, is this work you would find meaningful, and could it provide solid experience to get you where you want to be for the long-term? Look closely at the job description and ask good questions of a recruiter or hiring leader about what work you will do when considering an opportunity.
  • Do the values and mission of the company align with yours? Consider your personal values and decide if the company’s are the same. Look beyond mere words on a website and see if the actions taken by the organization really align with those values.
  • Has this company made it through better and worse? Reputation of stability is another component to consider. Factors such as which industry you look at can impact this fact, however, so does the way an organization strategizes for success. Look into these factors also.
  • Will I be paid what I feel I deserve? Compensation is something you will need to put some research into when determining an appropriate market rate. Remember, a few things will come into play when considering a reasonable salary expectation – geographic location, level of experience, etc. Also look at what benefits and bonuses will be offered and crunch the numbers to do a full comparison of one offer to another.

It is up to you to decide which of these things are most important to you and which ones you would be more willing to sacrifice.

A man shakes hands with a woman and hands her his resume while attending a career fair.

4. Jump into the job search.

Now the daunting task – the job search.

Some of the ways I would recommend searching for a job include:

  • Taking advantage of your internship: If you are currently working an internship and are enjoying the experience, start by talking with your leader about ways to make it a full-time opportunity. If there’s nothing available on your team, try looking elsewhere within the organization.
  • Attending on-campus career fairs: As I’ve mentioned in prior blogs, career fairs are a great way to network with employers and learn about their opportunities of employment.
  • Searching online: In today’s day and age, the common way to find an opportunity is through the internet. Google searches and job boards are great places to start. You may also have access to a job search tool through your school, such as Handshake. You can use this as your initial connection to employers who are searching to fill entry-level roles.
  • Making connections with people you already know: Right now is an excellent time to set up a LinkedIn account to build out your connections and search for roles. Make sure to keep your profile as up-to-date and detailed as possible to make it easier for recruiters to find you.

5. Prepare beyond the job search.

One final piece of advice that I don’t think gets emphasized enough to college students as they begin the search for a career, is beyond finding a job.

You are entering a new stage in life that involves preparing for your future, and with that comes new responsibilities. Now is the time to get serious about learning how to set yourself up for financial success. How this looks exactly, will differ depending on your situation. However, preparing a mindset of setting goals for where you want to be in the future will set you on a solid path.

This will help as you evaluate the benefits a company has to offer, learn how to invest for the future and ultimately make the wisest, most practical decisions to reach your goals.

Seek out the advice of trusted family or professionals, read books or take classes to build your knowledge in this space. Your future self will thank you immensely!

Ready to apply for your first job post-grad?

Schneider has a huge variety of entry level roles – from customer service to sales, HR, operations and more – that are perfect for recent college grads. See what opportunities we have available near you and apply today.

About the author
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Julia is a graduate of St. Norbert College and started at Schneider in 2018 as a Driver Recruiting intern. Currently, she works in HR Compliance. In her free time, Julia loves being with family, volunteering, playing tennis, singing and playing guitar.

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