5 Ways to Prepare for Career Life in College

business professionals, find your passionTwo years out of college, with five jobs and many changes of plans under my belt, I’ve realized something very important: good grades will not land you the job you want, but brainstorming what you are passionate about and figuring out how to pursue it will.

Do it now, in college, when you are still somewhat safe from the maelstroms of the outside world, surrounded by a community of intelligent people, within walking distance from a research library, and—no matter how many things you pay for yourself—financially coddled.

Beyond writing thank-you notes and buying interview clothes, I’ve discovered a few things that will help you find a career, not just a job. The following is what I wish someone had told me to do when I was in school.

1. Read.

Find two or three blogs that relate to your interests, subscribe to their RSS feeds and commit to reading them daily. The 99 Percent and Seth’s Blog are a good place to start.

The sheer process of figuring out which blogs you want to follow can help you discover what fields you’re attracted to. Trying—and failing—to follow MFA and publishing blogs helped me realize I didn’t want to go back to school for fiction writing. Rather, I found myself drawn to blogs about marketing and design.

If you’re already in the workforce, bloggers’ advice can help you navigate bossesmeetings and job interviews in order to grow professionally.

2. Pursue mentors.

We would all be lost in college without mentors, but your professors may not be able to help you much once you leave their hallowed halls.

My college mentors advised me to spend my first year after graduation mailing short story manuscripts to print journals, because that was how they had launched their careers. But it didn’t take me long to realize that the old-world rules of print publishing were fast becoming irrelevant, so I began to navigate new media on my own, recruiting older friends and colleagues to share with me how they were managing to succeed in a rapidly changing industry.

Don’t expect mentors to come to you. Unlike in academia, most professionals don’t have mentoring listed in their job descriptions. But while asking someone you admire to coffee can be intimidating, you’ll find in general that people are eager and excited to talk about their work with you, as long as you’re buying the drinks.

3. Speak in public.

You don’t have to be a business student to develop your public speaking skills. Read poetry aloud, talk about your club rugby team to a room full of freshmen, or teach an S.A.T. prep class.

One of my miscellaneous post-college jobs was as an instructor for a test prep company, where I learned a lot of general presentation skills: ask your audience “what,” “how” or “why” questions that induce a response; rehearse so that you can free yourself from your notes; don’t talk to your audience when you have your back to them; and make sure to say the test prep company’s name at least 25 times a lesson.

Just kidding about that last one.

4. Go out more.

Unless you have your heart set on being a corporate buyer for Macy’s, don’t limit your job search to campus career fairs and online job postings.

If the term “network” makes you sick to your stomach, know that the best connections are formed beyond sanctioned schmoozing events. Rather, networking looks a lot like friendship. And the more friends you have, the more job opportunities will come your way.

Stop checking Craigslist over and over and get off campus. Attend art openings, restaurants, wine tastings, the roller derby, whatever. Just get out there and start meeting people of other ages and backgrounds. Not only will you become a more interesting person; you’ll grow aware of careers and possibilities you didn’t even know existed.

5. Get a job. Any job.

I’m often confused when people talk about graduate school as the “safe” option compared to job hunting. What exactly is safe about graduate school? It’s not often economical – most programs only deepen your debt – or strategic. In fact, a new degree may make you even less hirable.

Jobs in college don’t just give you material for your resume – they give you confidence that you can succeed in the wild world beyond academia. You learn that you can carry a tray of coffee mugs, ring someone up at the cash register, and earn tips, praise from your boss and a 50-cent raise.

Perhaps most importantly, having a job frees you from your parents’ bank account. Making your own money means that you can make your own decisions about how to spend it.

Photo by photonichelle

Acree Graham Since graduating from Emory in 2008, I’ve paid the bills with everything from lattes and babysitting to marketing and social media. I now work in Atlanta as a freelance copywriter. I like cities, literature, radio and design. I still make a damn fine cup of coffee and I’m a pretty good dancer. Twitter: @acreegraham

View all posts by Acree Graham

4 Responses to “5 Ways to Prepare for Career Life in College”

  1. Howie

    I think these are great suggestions!

    Something else I would add, though not sure how to phrase it properly. But think of whatever you are passionate about in your personal life. I don’t care what degree subject you are currently enrolled in, but I would use the above advice, and include that in there.

    Meaning like the Fortune Cookie joke where you read it and add ‘In Bed’ to the end. I would add ‘regarding what I am passionate about’. If you are an English Major but a diehard movie junkie, use your passion to decide what blogs to read, what type of job you get, what you do when you get out more, what you speak about in public, and who you seek for your mentor.

    You will enjoy your career and have less regret if you pick a path you are passionate about. And this will enable you to leave school with an initial resume and set of skill sets that allow you to get chosen for a job doing something you love.

    Quentin Tarantino was a clerk in a small private Video Rental Store in Redondo Beach, Ca. He is passionate about movies. Not running a store.

  2. Christine Peterson

    Excellent list, Acree! I agree with every single point you make. Everyone should read this list, especially if they’re still in college or just starting college.

    I think the main problem with modern college students is that they don’t have the right mentality about college. Going to college feels like you’re just following a pre-set track. You’re going through the motions before you can join the “real world,” and a student assumes that when they get out, the degree will do most of the work for them.

    The truth is, going to college is as much about making your own opportunities and surrounding yourself with awesome people as it is about learning straight facts.

  3. Maude Ginyard

    Thanks for these tips. I have a brother who will be graduating next year and this is a good article to share. Maude, royal essay writer


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