Planning for Your Career

The process of making a career choice begins with creating a career plan. A good career plan includes the following:

  • Researching possible occupations that match your skills, interests, and academic major

  • Preparing a marketing strategy that sells you as a valued member of a professional team, including a convincing résumé and cover letter and a strong online presence

  • Building on your strengths and developing your weaker skills through experiences inside and outside the classroom.

Dos And Don'ts Of Career Planning

As you start examining your aspirations and interests, keep in mind these simple dos and don’ts.

  1. Do explore a number of career possibilities and academic majors.

  2. Do get involved through volunteer work, study abroad, and student organizations, especially those linked to your major.

  3. Do follow your passion. Learn what you love to do and go for it.

  4. Do challenge yourself to take courses that interest you and fit with your career goals.

  5. Do, regardless of your major, take advantage of an opportunity for one-on-one supervised research or other high-impact experiential learning opportunities.

  6. Do revisit your career plan often, revising as you grow professionally.

  1. Don’t just focus on a major and blindly hope to get a career out of it. That’s backward thinking, and it’s often unfulfilling.

  2. Don’t be motivated primarily by external stimuli such as salary, prestige, and perks. All the money in the world won’t make you happy if you hate what you’re doing every day.

  3. Don’t select a major just because it seems trendy.

  4. Don’t choose courses simply because your roommate or friend said that they were easy. That’s wasting your valuable time, not to mention tuition.

  5. Don’t spend your summers doing nothing to contribute to your out-of-class or off-campus learning.

  6. Don’t ignore support services on and off campus that can help you identify and further your career goals.

Information and knowledge are powerful decision-making tools. Throughout this LearningCurve, you’ve obtained knowledge about yourself and gathered information on how to be a successful college student. The same holds true for amassing information about the various industries related to your course of study. The more knowledge you have, the better your chances of making a sound career decision. Part of the knowledge discovery related to career choice is industry research, but how does one get this knowledge?

It’s best to do your industry research in layers. The first layer consists of identifying industries of interest. Say that you’ve chosen sociology as a major. Sociologists study human social lives, activities, interactions, processes, and organizations within the context of larger social, political, and economic forces. Because sociologists examine how social influences affect different individuals and groups and the ways organizations and institutions affect people’s lives, it is not surprising that a recent U.S. Bureau of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook search yielded education, health care, government, and many private-sector industries as the top employers of sociologists.

Now continue your research to the second layer: your role within industry. The government employs sociologists, for instance, to design or conduct surveys and analyze survey data. Many organizations use surveys to collect factual data, such as employment and salary information, or to ask questions that help them understand people’s opinions, attitudes, beliefs, or desires. Sociologists can do this work for them.

The third layer of your research is to identify companies or organizations of interest within an industry. For example, the federal government alone has approximately 575 departments and agencies! Because you have so many choices, this part of your research depends a lot on your own expectations and wants. Do research on each company of interest individually. Find out whether working with that company will satisfy your career objectives. How well does it pay compared with other companies in the same industry? What is the work culture like? Do these companies have really long hours and frequent travel? These points may seem minor now, but they have a huge effect on your life once you’re an employee. You can also find answers to these questions by talking to people who are already working within the company through an informational interview.

Finding out all you can about organizations that you think you want to work for early on can help you make a career decision based on fit!

informational interview A meeting used to gather information on a field or company and expand one's professional network.

Strategies To Enhance Your Career Marketability

1. Know your interests, skills, values, and personality. Because college graduates today face challenges integrating into the world of work, employer expectations of the level of skills preparation has increased. True, comprehensive self-assessment helps you understand you: how you interact with the world and how you make decisions about your future. Assessing traits and attributes, such as skills and personality, is particularly important if you have no idea what you are interested in studying or what career paths are associated with your choice of major. Choices may overwhelm you, and assessments narrow your options and make sense of choices. Your career center can help you navigate tools available for self-assessment.

2. Pay attention to grades. Employers and graduate schools want candidates with good grades. More than 75 percent even screen applicants based on grade point average.5 Do you want to work for the federal government? If so, you need to maintain at least a 3.0 GPA to be considered. In 2012 the GPA cutoff used by 63.5 percent of employers was 3.0, and slightly more than 20 percent used a GPA greater than 3.0.6 Good grades show that you have a solid knowledge base and a strong work ethic, and employers are paying attention.

3. Explore career paths. Talking to or observing professionals in occupations of interest is an excellent way to “try before you buy.” Typically called job shadowing or “a day in the life,” opportunities to work beside individuals who do what you might like to do is time well spent. Many alumni enjoy helping college students by exposing them to their chosen careers. It is also a great way to network with professionals in your area of interest. Inquire with your alumni or career services offices about scheduling one of these opportunities.

4. Create a digital footprint. Have you Googled yourself lately? Do you like what you see online? Would an employer? Your online representation matters, and it can influence how others see you and what they think of you. A reported 57.3 percent of employers said that they planned to use social networks in recruiting in 2013. However, only 45.5 percent of college students reported plans to use social networks as part of their job search.7 This discrepancy indicates that college students still do not realize the effect of social networks as both a resource in researching career possibilities as well as connecting to employers, searching for opportunities, and applying for positions.

5. Discover leadership opportunities. Companies want to hire leaders, and they look for leadership experience in college students when hiring for internships or postgraduate employment. It is actually the top thing employers look for on a résumé after GPA.8 Being active in a campus club or organization helps develop your skills in leadership and teamwork. Volunteer to be team leader when working with a group on classroom projects. Seek out campus leadership employment opportunities, such as orientation leader or resident adviser. Active involvement in these opportunities will help you exercise your leader within.

6. Volunteer. Giving back to your community has many benefits to the community you serve, but it can also have a tremendous personal and professional effects. Volunteering can help you develop your skill set, explore career possibilities, network, and contribute to lifelong learning, and it offers huge personal satisfaction for making a difference. The longer and more detailed your volunteer experience, the more benefits that result.

7. Develop computer skills. Today’s college students have never been more technologically savvy, but not all technology experience is equal. Just because you hold the record for fastest text message sender or have conquered the highest level on your favorite video game does not mean that you are proficient in the right kinds of technology: the technology proficiency needed to be successful in college and beyond. As you begin to make decisions about your career path, explore and become familiar with technologies used in your field. Take advantage of the computer courses and workshops your college offers, or learn by experimenting with different software packages on your own. It is also helpful to develop your own Web page or Web-based portfolio. Many Web-design software tools make this easy! Contact your college’s information technology office to see how to get started.

8. Find out about internships and cooperative education. Entry-level expectations continue to rise, and today’s new graduates will need to perform with the same abilities employees with a decade of experience exhibited five to ten years ago.9 In 2012, 71 percent of employers reported wanting to hire candidates with relevant work experience. Completing one or more internships during your college experience provides experience that will grab the attention of a potential employer. Internships are springboards to employment and getting into graduate programs. Many recruiters say that when they need to fill entry-level jobs, they will hire only previous interns. Internships also are great ways to explore careers, determine whether certain careers are for you, and market yourself to professionals in the field.

9. Build communication skills. The ability to communicate verbally with persons inside and outside an organization is the most important attribute employers seek in new graduates. Again and again, company and graduate school recruiters complain about the lack of communication skills among college graduates. You should take every available opportunity to practice communicating, whether through classroom presentations, group work, leadership, or employment opportunities.

10. Take advantage of experiential learning. Internships and cooperative education are the two most recognized forms of experiential learning, but they are not the only way to gain experience in your area of study. Depending on your major, research projects, study abroad, and service-learning opportunities are also great résumé builders. Each of these options will be discussed in more detail later in the chapter; but the bottom line is that what you do outside of the classroom matters. It is important for you to continually enhance and expand your skills and competencies while you are learning in the classroom.

11. Visit the career center yearly. There is a misconception that graduating students have the most immediate need for career services when in fact research suggests that students benefit most from active involvement with career services throughout the entire course of their educational experience. From helping you choose a major and career direction to obtaining an internship to developing postgraduate career plans, the career center is a valuable source of guidance from the start of your college experience until well after you graduate. Take advantage of what your institution’s career professionals have to offer. After all, your tuition is paying for it! You are the driver of your career trajectory. Don’t wait until your last year to start realizing your goals and taking advantage of the help being offered. Start now.