If you’re a college student, there’s no better feeling than taking that last exam, packing up your dorm room and heading home for the summer. Summertime means a break from days spent in classrooms and nights spent studying at libraries. Yet if you want to get a head start in thinking about your post-college career, you should be spending your summer doing more than just lounging by the pool.
While planning for your career may seem like something only soon-to-be seniors need to worry about during the summer, think again. There are things even those entering sophomore year can be doing to lay a foundation for their future.
Here are some tips on what students at every college level should do during the summer to jump start their post-college career:
“You survived year one, congratulations. It is time to start seriously thinking about what you might want to do for your career,” says Lynne Sarikas, director of Northeastern University’s MBA Career Center. “You may have selected a major already or you may still be considering your options. Either way, this is a critical time to begin networking. Talk to people who work in fields that interest you or companies that interest you. Start with the ‘low hanging fruit’ — parents of your friends [or] people your parents know.”
Once you get comfortable having those conversations, Sarikas suggests reaching out to alumni next. Since they’ve been in your place before, they’ll likely be more willing to help. Plus, since it’s the summer, their schedule may be more flexible, leaving more time to talk.
Lynne also suggests finding a summer job, where you can gain both money and experience. “Having a summer job also shows future employers that you are motivated and focused. While it is ideal to gain some exposure to your field of choice, for this year, it is critical to be employed. Doing most anything is better than doing nothing. Retail or fast food experience at least exposes you to customer service skills and time management.”
Now that you have two years under your belt, you’ve likely already determined your major, so you should look into internships in your field of study. If you aren’t able to secure an internship just yet, you should still continue working to gain professional experience and skills that will help you in your future career.
Darica Ward, chief marketing officer of SkillSurvey, a provider of behavioral online reference checking, also suggests using your time to get involved in other activities that can help boost your résumé. “The summer is a great time to gain relevant experience in the industry that interests you. Take advantage of the various professional resources around you; join your city’s young professional club, volunteer, attend regional alumni events, go to local industry networking events or sign-up for a student membership in a professional association — most associations deeply discount or give these to students free of charge. By getting involved, you continue to build your all-important network while also gaining valuable information about what is going on in the field.”
You’re almost there. You can see the light at the end of the tunnel. While it’s exciting that you only have one year left, it’s also scary that you only have one year left. If you’re not continuing your education, you have one more year before you have to enter the real world and get a job. Hopefully, if you were productive during your past summers, you’re in a good position to have a successful summer break.
Sarikas says this is the time to step up your networking efforts. “Try to do at least two networking informational interviews each week. Identify a relevant professional association and join as a student member. Attend their summer meetings. Connect with your contacts on LinkedIn. Always say thank you for their advice and their time and keep them posted. Build on the networking from your first two years.”
Also, if you weren’t able to find an internship in your field last year, this is the summer to make it happen. Not only does it show future employers that you have relevant experience, but it’ll also help you to confirm that this is truly a field that interests you. If you can’t find an internship in your field, consider volunteering instead. “Work with your career center and utilize your network to identify an appropriate opportunity,” Sarikas says.
You’ll also need to start preparing yourself for a job after graduation by getting tools together that will help in your search. “Update and edit your résumé, and ask several people to review it for you to ensure that it is flawless,” Sarikas says. “Practice writing cover letters to jobs in your field and ask for feedback to improve them … Practice researching companies of interest to identify questions you can ask in your interview. The more preparation you do now, the easier the process will be.”
Finally, Sarikas suggests developing a plan to help your eventual job search. “Build a list of target companies you are most interested in working for. Research to identify alumni and other connections at those companies. Prepare to maintain your networking even while you are back in school, but get a good start during the summer. Start reviewing job postings at your target companies to get a feel for the types of positions they post for entry level.”
No matter what year you’re entering into, use your summer to its fullest to help prepare for what comes next. But don’t forget to squeeze in some fun and relaxation too.