College is a great time for many things: changing majors, making new friends, recreating (and destroying) your sleep schedule and trying things you’ve never tried before —preferably safely. It’s a time where mistakes are more permissible and there’s more freedom to explore your interests and passions. Nonetheless, it can also be a time for kick-starting a potential future career through professional growth.
This year, my second in university, through the guidance of friends and professors, as well as many, many Google searches, I’ve seen my professional growth skyrocket from someone who didn’t know what networking was to someone who feels qualified to apply to the internships and scholarships I’ve begun to pursue. I’m proud of the place I’ve made it to and I’m excited to grow further, but, for now, here’s how I, and others around me, have made it here:
Obtain a mentor.
Obtaining a mentor is truly important. A mentor can be a supervisor, a professor, a family friend within your desired field or someone within the same professional organization as you. A mentor can help answer all of your #adulting questions, and point you in the right direction when you’re searching for your next great pursuit. This past semester, I was assigned to a mentor at my internship who wasn’t afraid to tell me what she really thought about my professional goals — which truly helped me re-focus. I could ask her my questions and expect honest answers, but also share my personal concerns without judgement. Be sure to get your mentor coffee every so often — they’ll appreciate it.
Attend a conference or panel discussion.
This past summer, I attended Her Conference, an annual conference hosted by Her Campus that brings in mostly female speakers and panelists who have booming careers in magazines, public relations, journalism, and more. The conference is attended largely by college-aged female students in Her Campus chapters across the U.S., many of whom seek careers in communications. Before attending, I wasn’t sure where I wanted to focus in the multi-faceted field of communications, so I attended a variety of panels, all focusing on different areas. Not surprisingly, I fell in love with magazines and jotted down pages upon pages of advice from panelists, some advice you may see sneakily reflected here in this magazine. Conferences and panels, particularly ones concerned in your field of study, can help spark personal interests and help you create career goals based on those you see speaking. Furthermore, it’s great to have your questions answered by individuals who have already climbed the ladder to success in their fields.
Create a personal website.
This past semester, one of my professors required my class to create personal portfolio websites. My website — while I’m sure not the best of out all my classmates — has been truly beneficial in enhancing my professional growth. In a digital world, I now have one place, online, I can point to that contains my resume, contact information as well as interaction with the other online outlets I use to promote my work. It took me a few days to get mine up and running, but it’s so worth it. I’d suggest Wix, WordPress or Squarespace to make one!
Up your social media game.
Particularly for communications majors, there’s no denying that social media plays a role in your professional life. Not only will you likely be using it for your job, employers may also be monitoring your social media. Ensuring your social media remains professional, particularly non-private accounts, is key. I’d suggest avoiding sharing negative or offensive opinions (opinions that shouldn’t be the case in the first place…), sharing ultra-personal information about yourself or others as well as avoiding sharing photos with excessive alcohol or drug-use. Consider creating professional accounts, such as professional Instagram accounts to showcase your awesome photography or a professional Twitter where you can share your interests and passions. If you’re a writer, a personal blog is another great pursuit. Like I said, employers are looking!
Internships are great ways to gain experience in your field of study directly. You get to experience a professional work environment, work closely with a supervisor and/or other interns and take on work that you may find you want to do for the rest of your life — or not! Through internships, I’ve had the fortune of exploring non-profit communications, magazine management and, now, working in a newsroom at a large newspaper. However, I will be the first admit that this option is not always economically feasible. Unpaid internships are expensive and if your school doesn’t offer any kind of stipend to help with travel or food, it can be nearly impossible. There’s always the option to intern remotely to alleviate some costs though!
Didn’t see this one coming, right? Another reality we all have to face: employers are now using the internet more than ever to find potential employees, so it’s up to you to put yourself out there. LinkedIn is another great place to have your resume as well as personal work and interest. Another plus? You can actively connect and network with other professionals and organizations. This year, I spent a lot of time steadily building up my LinkedIn page and personal network which has helped me get my name out there.
Take advantage of school resources.
Honestly, it wasn’t until I became a Resident Assistant this year and was obligated to get to know the various centers around campus that I realized just how helpful my school’s career center is. From helping with resumes and cover letters to facilitating mock interviews, my school’s career center can truly help a student get equipped to enter the professional world. And your school career center is likely the same! Bring your resume and cover letter there and sit down with someone trained to help you! Take part in a mock interview or just ask a peer advisor for their opinion on your career goals. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Make a resume—and know how to change it.
Many students don’t have resumes. Recently, I found out that my boyfriend, a thriving student at a prestigious university, has never written one and isn’t quite sure how – and that’s okay. There are a plethora of websites that can help you write your resume. However, it isn’t just learning how to create a resume, but also how to change it. A resume shouldn’t be longer than a page, but I suggest first creating a template, putting on every bit of experience you can think of and making it as long as you’d like. Then, depending on what you’re applying to, take from your template and put appropriate and relevant information on a single page for that particular application. You’ll have lots of material to work with and you’ll be able to adapt it and make it relevant for all of your application pursuits!
Apply, apply, apply!
This may seem like a no-brainer. Why else would you be upping your professional game? Nonetheless, applying for anything and everything is another great way to promote development. Even if you think that internship or scholarship is out of your league (and maybe it isn’t!), simply filling out the application, undergoing interviews and obtaining letters of recommendation is great experience within itself. Even if it doesn’t work out, you can reflect upon what you learned from this application process and improve yourself in the future.
Now, go out there and conquer!