• Wendi Zimmerman

7 Simple Ways to Boost Career Potential Over College Break

It is never too early to start career planning for life after college! Setting yourself apart from other candidates is crucial in today's competitive job market.

College is often the first time many students have ever had to self-manage their schedule, academic studies, social life, and decision-making. Knowing you must juggle all these obligations and interests alone, it's no surprise that prepping for a future job might be the last thing on your mind. But waiting until you are ready for the workforce can be overwhelming and lead to careless mistakes that could cost you your dream job.

Early career strategizing helps break down objectives and tasks into more manageable chunks. College breaks are the perfect time to start focusing on what job skills and knowledge you might need to get the job you want.

Optimize this time and prepare for your

future career with these 7 easy steps.

1. Build Invaluable Resources Through Networking

Building a solid network of contacts who might support you in your career development can have significant benefits that could edge out future competitors when the time comes. Building relationships in college through networking can provide valuable career advice, information, and job tips to stay on top of changing research, development, and industry trends.

Network contacts can also be an asset when you are looking for mentors, letters of recommendation, or referrals. These inside professional connections could also lead to more job opportunities by referring you to jobs before they are advertised.

Winter break is a perfect time to build your network.

Tapping Into Your Inside Connection of Influencers

  • Be inquisitive when spending time with family, friends, and neighbors. Ask them to share a glimpse into a day of their job, what they like about it, what skills they need, and how they got started.

  • Touch base with a professor you enjoyed, previous elementary or high school teachers, and coaches. Send a note of appreciation for what you learned through them and ask if you can stay in touch. Often, they will be happy to answer questions and offer career advice.

Leverage Opportunities to Expand Your Circle

  • Every day is full of opportunities to network. Seek out opportunities to reach out and connect to new people in your community.

  • Attend a conference, lecture, or workshop event and introduce yourself to the lead speaker.

  • Attend physical or virtual networking events such as www.meetup.com, or host one of your own!

Be prepared to make the first move and develop a 1-minute intro about

yourself to share with new people you meet.

2. Gain Industry Knowledge by Researching Careers

There are a lot of reasons it is a good idea to spend time researching careers. First, gaining advanced knowledge about companies you are interested in will help prepare you for your future job and focus your overall career planning. When the time comes, it will also help you avoid wasting time in the application process on companies that aren't a good fit for you. Furthermore, opening your scope to see what other career paths are available might spark additional interests and opportunities you wouldn’t have considered otherwise.

Learn what you need to know in your chosen field or explore new passions.

Researching the Ins and Outs in Fields of Interest

  • Surf the internet for resources, job descriptions, and companies that interest you. Websites like O*NET OnLine can help you identify required job tasks, work environments, salary potential, education, and work experience needed in careers you are curious about.

  • Research recruiters in your field and find out what prescreening eligibility requirements they look for.

  • Contact employers and ask if you can job shadow for a day.

  • Find companies on social media to understand their branding, markets, and cultural values.

  • Join a professional organization in your desired field and tap into their resources. (Student memberships are often offered at a discounted rate or free!)

Explore New Options

• Research a variety of career fields to see what interests you. Go to myFUTURE or O*NET’s MyNextMove where you can filter your search by industry, positions, salary, education, skill requirements, and even jobs in demand!

• Find and attend an upcoming career or internship fair.

• Harness the free resources of your college career center.

• Spend time at the book store's career section or search for career podcasts to listen to.

• Tap into your contacts to see if they know anyone you could information interview.

As the saying goes, "You don't know what you don't know," so exploring a wide range of careers can help you make informed career choices.

3. Edge Out Competition by Developing New Skills

Knowing the natural skills and talents you currently have is the first step to identifying appropriate growth opportunities. After researching the most common skills employers are after in your preferred industry, you will be able to focus on improving those areas you might be missing. Strategically taking advantage of enhancing skills now will strengthen your overall marketability in the workforce later.

With a little time, you can make yourself more marketable to future employers.

Assessing Your Strengths and Interests

  • Improve your self-awareness by using a personal assessment tool to help identify your specific skills. Websites such as ASVAB’s Career Exploration and Penn University’s Authentic Happiness have free questionnaires to assess your strengths and interests.

  • Sit down with a trusted family member or friend and self-reflect on areas you excel and struggle in. Then, write down ways you can leverage your strengths in a job environment.

  • Identify learning opportunities by comparing the results of your career research and write out the top three areas you would like to work on.

Learn and Practice a New Career-Focused Skill

  • Free online learning is limitless these days! Find resources or digital courses that will help you gain needed levels of mastery. GCF Global offers free access to hundreds of online, distance learning tools to gain basic skill sets.

  • Teach yourself a new business tool such as Trello, Slack, Google Workspace, Evernote, or Microsoft Office using their company's online how-to guides.

  • Work on writing skills by starting a blog in your field.

  • Set technology aside and practice communication skills with friends and family by focusing on active listening skills, non-verbal communication, asking open-ended questions, and reflecting for understanding.

Brainstorm some other out-of-the-box ways to gain the skills or experiences that you will need to pursue your dream path!

4. Sharpen Your Winning ‘YOU’ Pitch with Job Application Prep

Preparing for job applications can be a daunting task!

Navigating the application process is like any other skill. It takes time to perfect. However, starting this process early in your planning will boost your confidence, eliminate stress, and prevent mistakes that can derail you from landing that job you've always wanted.

If you want to stand out and have a fighting chance to snag an interview, you need to make sure your resume and interview skills are a polished image of what you can offer. Since it isn't always easy to remember all your achievements from the past, keeping things continually up to date and fine-tuned will better prepare you when the time comes.

Opportunities can arise when you least expect them, maybe even over winter break! So, while you have a little bit of downtime, look for these ways you can improve your job candidate viability.

Create or Update Your Resume

  • Think more broadly about your accomplishments and how they can translate to benefit an employer.

  • Add any newly learned skills, extracurricular, work, and volunteer experience you gained.

  • Compile active references by reaching out to your professional network and asking permission to add them to your list.

  • Proofread! Proofread! Proofread! I can't emphasize this enough. Have someone else (or two or three) look it over for you to make sure you didn't miss anything.

Sharpen Your Interviewing Skills

  • Review your resume and/or portfolio so your accomplishments are fresh in your mind.

  • Gather a list of practice interview questions and prepare responses.

  • Practice in the mirror, taking note of your body language.

  • Ask a friend or family member to role-play a mock interview. If you are really feeling confident, let them bring their own interview questions!

  • Record your practice and ask a mentor or network contact in your chosen field to give you feedback

5. Showcase Your Creativity with a Digital Career Portfolio

In today's day and age, creating and sharing digital content is embedded into everyday life. Portfolios used to be a job application tool reserved for those in creative art fields, but no more! Now, digital career portfolios are valuable tools for everyone. They provide a unique way to differentiate yourself by telling your story, highlighting school projects, accomplishments, and recommendation letters.

Give skill-focused employers a tangible way to see your 21st-century skills in action.

  • Showcase your relevant skills, accomplishments, and recommendation letters.

  • Select your best samples of work that represent your core strengths.

  • Match your design to show off your unique brand and creative style.

  • Demonstrate your 21st-century tech skills with a user-friendly format.

6. Fine-Tune Your Professional Social Presence

Having an online presence is embedded into our current culture, and what potential employers can find out about you might not be as private as you thought.

"Seven in ten employers (70 percent) use social networking sites to research job candidates during hiring process" and "More Than Half of Employers Have Found Content on Social Media That Caused Them NOT to Hire a

Candidate" Press Release - CareerBuilder

Employers regularly view candidates' online personalities and behaviors to assess creditably and can use that to determine if your values align with theirs. Therefore, establishing and monitoring a positive professional social media presence is a must for college students. The last thing you want is a less-than-glamorous photo or post from a friend to mess up your chance to land a job.

While surfing the web over break, set aside a few hours to protect your future career plan and improve your digital footprint.

Increase Credibility to Employers by Cleaning Up Your Online Presence

  • Search your name on the web to see if anything could negatively impact someone's opinion of you and remove posts or photos that could potentially shed you in an unflattering light.

  • Delete old social media accounts you forgot about.

  • Rule of thumb… if you would feel even slightly uncomfortable if your mom or professor saw it, take it down.

Create a Favorable Online Profile that Showcases Your Awesomeness

  • Fill out all sections on social media profiles that focus on positive aspects of your life and regularly add content. The more active you are, the more it will show up in searches.

  • Make social connections and actively engage with career-focused organizations and mutual associations on networks like LinkedIn.

  • Build a personal website that shows your employment potential, summarizes your strengths, and highlights academic and professional accomplishments.

7. Improve Competency with Hands-On Experience

Getting hands-on experience during college provides more than just cash in your pocket. Leveraging seasonal jobs, internships, or volunteer opportunities can allow you to explore new interests and put you ahead of the competition by sharpening or learning new skills.

Short-term employment provides a real-world glimpse into the nuts and bolts of how a company operates, its culture, and employee expectations. While involvement in volunteering shows you are vested in community interests and helps broaden your network and build your resume.

Take advantage of the abundant opportunities this time of year and give back to your community or enhance your career development with seasonal work.

Gain Work Experience with Seasonal Jobs or Internships

  • Search job sites or go to your college career center and ask about short-term opportunities available.

  • Contact a company you would like to work for and detail why you want to work/intern there and what you can offer them over break.

  • Apply to a temp agency for odd jobs in your area.

Invest in Community Engagement by Actively Volunteering

  • Look on local websites or organizations like VolunteerMatch to see what needs are in your community.

  • Think outside of the traditional volunteering box and connect with organizations you find interesting. Offer to use your skills to help them with social media platforms, public relations events, accounting, marketing, photography, etc.

  • Develop and lead your own passion project.

Take Action

Career Planning throughout college can help you stay focused to pursue your passion. Get an early start and use your academic downtime to strategize about your future dream job. Developing purposeful career navigation will support decision-making about your first job and beyond. Take time to organize your plans and keep track of the activities you accomplish.

Review this list and pick one step you will act on to increase your career

potential. Share with me how you maximized your college break this year to improve your future!

- Wendi