College is a time of juggling many things at once, and while we are at college to prepare ourselves for a career, doing the non academic things to propel our preparation often gets forgotten, or pushed to the side. I am surprised about how many people in college don’t have a solid resumé, know how to network, or know basic interview skills. I have been fortunate enough to grow up around those who are very good at this, so they got me invested in directing my future at an early age. For those looking for internships, I am sure you have heard these things before, but they really do work if you keep at it! Here are my 10 tips to improving your skills in career development!
1. Start Early
When I say start early, I mean with everything. I made my first resumé, and my LinkedIn page when I was a freshman in high school. While both may not have been very packed with valuable skills at that moment, learning what they were and what kind of things should go on there was important for me to see. My main point for starting early, is to start investing time into career development early. Both my brother and my dad emphasized this my freshman year of college. At the time, I thought they were crazy because all that “adulting” stuff was so far away, I just wanted to survive my first semester of college. I took their advice and made an appointment with our career development center on campus to have them review my resumé, as well as properly teach me how to use LinkedIn to find Gustie alumni. It is never too early to start preparing for an internship, which is why I landed one my sophomore year. Not a lot of students think about getting one before junior or senior year, but future companies look for as much experience as possible. Lastly, start early when searching for internships. There are some companies that post their internship applications in the fall for the summer of the next year. I took advantage of knowing this, this year, and have been in the process of interviewing for summer 2019 HR internships. How nice would it be to already have your plans lined up?
2. Resume your Resumé
A resumé is not like an assignment where once you do it, it is done, there is no pause button. Once you make one, it is important to constantly keep it clean and updated. I didn’t realize just how important a resumé is until I started interviewing. A resumé is a first impression, and if you don’t make it look professional, or sell yourself to the employer the first time, chances are you will be overlooked every time after that. Quite frankly, employers don’t care what you did in middle and high school, they care about what you are doing now. While some things that I did in high school were helpful to include, it is because of the skills it takes to be those things, not the title itself. The key to a stellar resumé is how it looks, using power words, and having a strong describing sentence of what your role is for each bullet point listed. I’m glad that stayed up to date with my resumé and got to remove that I was a Russian dancer because that often led to many questions and stories of the furry hat I had to wear.
2. Get your stories straight
Before I learned to do this, interviews were absolutely terrifying to me. They were literally the living nightmare of being asked a question and having a total blank. Every single time, no matter how easy the question, I would be wiped of all my memories and sit there with nothing to say. I have learned that it is good to have around 3-5 stories that cover all behavioral questions. A man called PDI said “the best predictor of future behavior, is past behavior in similar circumstances.” This is the reason interviewers ask the behavioral questions such as “tell me about a time where you showed great leadership despite being unclear of the rules,” “tell me about a time where you did not get along with another group member while working on a project, and what did you do?” and my personal favorite “tell me about a time where you succeeded, and how did you succeed?” After learning that I should come up with my stories my freshman year of college, that is exactly what I did. The problem was, that is all I did. I only came up with the stories, but didn’t know how to tell them to the employer without blanking out, losing my train of thought, or showing that they actually were a good example of what they were asking for. This changed when I learned STAR (L). Situation, Task, Action, Result, what was Learned! Applying this model to all of my stories gave them purpose, and showed how I used my skills to solve a problem. Interviewers like to see everything come full circle. They also like to see what action was taken to address the situation and task. The result shows how well you handled the situation, and even if it is not positive, add the L in and state what you learned. The STAR (L) method is introvert-proof, and is a guarantee to success in interviews.
4. Dress to impress
This may seem like a given, but it is more important than people think. Dressing professionally not only makes you look good, but it shows the employer that you respect them, and are taking them seriously. My mom took me to get suits during my winter break of my sophomore year. I thought it was ridiculous because I was planning on not landing an internship, and not touching those suits for a long time. Turns out, I had to suit up for the interview I went to for the summer internship I thought I wasn’t going to have! Not only through this experience did I learn mother knows best, but also how much companies appreciate college students dressing professionally. I showed up to my interview rocking a black Calvin Klein pencil skirt and suit jacket with some black heels, and while I may have been the most dressed up one in the office, as they were in athletic shorts and flip-flops, they commented on how impressed, and how much they appreciated me dressing in business professional. It may not be the cheapest investment, but it is worth it because it pays off in the end (especially if that internship experience leads to a high paying job.) Not going to lie, suiting up for the first time felt like a Legally Blonde moment, but the sense of empowerment had me riding through that interview on a confidence high. Look good, feel good!
5. Get connected
Let’s talk networking. Getting experience is really all about WHO you know, not WHAT you know. Networking is essential nowadays, and a catalyst to landing good opportunities. As technology has been implemented into the workplace, this has changed the game. This is why it is so important to get on LinkedIn. Some may not like the idea of connecting with people online, or having to keep track of it, but it has helped me form great connections with Gustie alumni, and keep track of those who could potentially give me a referral, or some advice. It has also been a great tool for looking for internships, as companies directly put job postings on the site. Along with your resumé, LinkedIn is another one of those “first impression” type things, and a great way to sell yourself. Networking also takes place off-screen as well. A big part of it, is being willing to meet with people to gain more information, as well as asking around if anyone is looking for some help. This is how I got my summer internship, it had nothing to do with LinkedIn at all. My mom happened to do exercise classes with the CEO’s wife, and mentioned to her that I was looking for an internship. She mentioned it to her husband, and I was offered a position. Word travels, so don’t hesitate to get your name out there!
6. Do your research
When preparing for an interview, one must do their homework. There are several parts of this. First, it is so important to look up the company’s vision, mission, and values, as well as what they do because it could be what sets you apart. I have heard so many stories where people have interviewed with a place, yet they didn’t actually know what the company did- don’t be that guy! Being able to ask questions about their values or related to their mission, shows them that you took the time and effort to learn more about the company, and are as serious about them as they are about you. They look for people who fit those values and can help them with their mission, so know what they are! It is also good to incorporate their values or mission into the questions you ask them at the end, it also shows you care! And yes, ASK THEM QUESTIONS, even if you don’t have any. A good go-to is “what about my resume stood out to you?” this is good to hear because it will help you in future interviews so you know what people look for. In the end, if you see what they stand for, and that doesn’t seem like a good fit for you, then you yourself are dodging a bullet without going through the pain of an interview. Second, closely look at the job description. Those descriptions are there to tell you what they are looking for, not just a cliché description that they are looking for someone who can communicate, is driven etc…Use that description to your advantage, and make sure your stories highlight the skills they are looking for in the description! This may seem like a “well, duh” type of tip, but I went through so many interviews and realized I only skimmed that description, and didn’t use it to my advantage. Lastly, look up who will be interviewing you. We should all be good at this, as Facebook and Instagram stalking has trained us to do this. Employers will connect with you, and like you better, if you know things about them and connect with them on a more personal level. LinkedIn is a great way to do this, as you can see where they went to school, major, and past employment. I have connected with several interviews over the fact that we were both in the MIAC, their daughter did gymnastics, they were in a sorority or have the same major. It is the little things that count, as I always say, and those little things can be what set you apart from other candidates.
7. Find a Mentor
Everyone needs a little help along the way, and while my dad and brother have been great mentors for me, it is important to have someone to look up to that is living out the path you are going down. Through LinkedIn, I have been fortunate enough to connect with a Gustie alum that was also a psychology major, and is now an HR Coordinator. I reached out to her for advice on how to get to where she is, and being able to get tips from a professional has been great for me..it also expands my network! Gustavus also offers a mentor program that pairs current students with Gustavus alum. These alum now work in all fields, all over the U.S. and are highly successful. This year, I was lucky enough to get paired with two mentors that will give me guidance this year, but also after this year, after I graduate, and beyond. I’m one that likes to do things on my own, but any chance I have to expand my network, and knowledge, sign me up.
8. Utilize your resources
I can guarantee that every college has some kind of career development program, or career advancing opportunities. Through Gustavus, I have utilized my career development center, the mentor program, as well as other events held on campus such as panels and speakers to hear advice from those who went through this. I am also involved in an organization called Gustavus Women in Leadership. It is an organization designed to help students learn skills to further their career search such as networking, interviewing, and provides us with opportunities to practice. GWIL puts on an annual conference in the cities to learn about influential women in business, and how they achieved success. They also have a GWIL bootcamp every year to really hone in and focus on these skills, as well as see them be put to action during a company tour of several companies in the cities. Don’t feel like you are immune to bad interviewing and networking skills like I did, because chances are, you need a lot more help than you think.
9. Sign yourself up
While everyone hates spam emails, these kind of emails are not spam. I have signed up with sites such as Indeed, Glassdoor,Handshake, Careerbuilder, and LinkedIn to get daily updates of new jobs that become available. This is ultimately what got me started with applying for internships. I had no idea where to look or what to look for, but my career development center recommended this method to me. I will admit, it does get annoying getting so many emails from them sometimes, but it makes the process so much easier because it is filtered to your interests, and locations. It also gives me that motivation to apply for something rather than manually conducting searches myself. No more job boards or searches for “now hiring” signs in the window, it is all set out right in front of you!
10. Follow up
This is going to be a very anticlimactic ending, but once you are done with an interview (phone or in person) give them a business card, and write a thank you note! It is one of those “little things” I always say can set you a part from others. I handed one interviewer a business card, and they were stunned because they had never seen a college student with business cards already. In additon, in a world of technology, it makes the value of handwritten notes much higher. Another reason to write a note is because interviewers talk to so many candidates in a day, it can be hard to remember a specific person. The thank you note makes them remember you, especially if you include in the message something you two talked about or connected over. Thank you notes MUST be timely! Send it ASAP, it speaks even more highly of you. You never know, the stationary you picked out might be so cute, that may have been the reason that you got the job (psych says that factors like this do influence decisions). Don’t be like me when I was younger, and not send out thank you notes until December even though my birthday was in July.
Starting this process of finding internships and jobs can be daunting to think about! Life becomes real very fast when you hit college and realize that it is time to start thinking about life after college. It helps to know what you are doing, in order to ease stress. All of this can feel so foreign, but just like it takes practice to get good at a sport, or takes studying to feel confident about a test, this isn’t any different. It is never too early to start this process, and I promise that if you do, by the time you hit junior year like me and are actually having to try to gain experience and think about a career, the process is more enjoyable.
Have a lovely Fall Break Gusties, and a great weekend to all my non-Gusties!