As savvy college girls, we’re trying to do everything we can to best position ourselves for when it comes time to search for a job or internship. But with the flood of career advice being thrown our way at all times from our parents, our professors, our career counselor, and our friends (to name a few), it’s hard to know what’s legit and what to skip. We’ve talked to career counselors, hiring managers, job search experts and experienced students to find out what you should know TODAY to turn that “no” into a “yes” TOMORROW, without overloading your brain or your schedule. Read on for our career planning facts and myths, as well as a few pieces of advice the jury is still out on.
Fact: You need to learn basic web and social media skills. You don’t need to be a guru, but knowing the basics of blogging, HTML coding, graphic design and web development are a necessity, says Dan Schwabel, an expert in personal branding. “If you know how to use social networks at a business level, you will be even more ahead of the game.” Hoards of companies are hiring people just to maintain their social media presence, and there’s no reason you shouldn’t be one of them. Make sure to master Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and all the means of outreach that those sites provide. Looking to learn some actual web skills? Check out www.studentbranding.com to get started, because in today’s world, being a web “master” will certainly give you a leg-up.
Fact: Your grades in your math/science required classes matter even if you’re an English major. We’re sorry to break it to you but… they do. Most employers would like to see your GPA on your resume, and this means your cumulative GPA—not from that easy semester abroad when grades didn’t count, or even just your GPA from your major. Employers like to look at your overall GPA because no matter what job you have, you won’t be focused only on that area and that skill set. Any extra skills or knowledge you can bring to the table are an advantage, even if it’s a random fun fact from that “Rocks for Jocks” class you aced. So work hard in all your classes, so that your resume tells employers you’re an all-around smartie.
Fact: Your first job doesn’t have to be the perfect job. Keep your job or internship search broad, because any opportunity you get will be a learning experience. The average entry-level employee only stays in her position 2-3 years at most. So if you see an opportunity that doesn’t line up exactly with what you had in mind, don’t be so quick to rule it out.
Myth: Invest in a designer pantsuit to wear on interviews. The first part of this myth is- do you need a pantsuit? This varies by industry and even by company, but it all goes back to doing your research about the company and its culture, says Nicole Valinoti, Human Resources Manager at Safilo USA. It’s always better to dress up than to dress down, but wearing a suit when all the employees are in jeans and sneakers will give the wrong impression. You Wall Street kids should keep those blazers and buttondowns handy though. But remember—even if you think you’ll feel better in a Theory suit than in one from Express, your credit card statement won’t. For now, go for something that looks classy but doesn’t cost it.
Myth: You need letters of reference from impressive, high-ranking people. Don’t think you need the company CEO from last summer’s internship or the famous professor from your huge Economics lecture class to write your recommendation. Anyone in an authoritative position (your past supervisor, camp division leader, Teacher’s Assistant, etc.) who knows your work well and can attest to what you’re like personally and professionally will suffice, and will write you something better than the form letter that “impressive” person is doomed to send. But don’t ask a current student—a fellow editor at the student newspaper is too close to peer level, says Bridget Lichtinger, Senior Administrator of the Career Development Center at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.
Myth: You have to work in i-banking or consulting if you want to make a lot of money. While these two fields have long served as the benchmarks for high salaries, they also require 100-hour workweeks. Divide that high salary by those long hours, and you’re almost better off working in retail! Many other industries offer great starting salaries, especially when it comes to computers, engineering or pharmaceuticals, where starting salaries could reach the six-digit range. What’s important is to pursue an industry you’re passionate about, and your zeal will likely lead to money in the bank. Plus, it’s easier to stand out in an area that not every single person is going for.
Myth: Don’t take an unpaid internship. “I think it’s crazy for young people to think it’s a bad thing to [take an unpaid internship],” says Jen Kushnell, an expert on Generation Y entering the workforce. Internships are meant to teach you about the industry and give you firsthand work experience, and sometimes, the best opportunities that can boost your credibility for the future are unpaid, she says. It might be a cash-strapped and ramen noodle-filled summer, but if you can handle the sacrifice, take the relevant internship experience over the cash from an irrelevant job—it will lead to more moolah down the road.
And the jury is still out…
Fact? Myth?: You should get an internship the summer after your freshman year. It’s never too early to start gaining experience in a field that you’re interested in. “Even if it’s a small local internship in your hometown, the hands-on experience is really valuable,” says Dan Klamm, Outreach and Marketing Coordinator for Syracuse University Career Services. On the other hand, the summer after freshman year could be your last chance to do something just for “you”—whether it’s traveling, chilling at home, or going back to camp, and you still have the next two summers to prepare the enter the Real World (no, not the show). So if you feel ready to take on an internship—great! But if not, that’s ok too.
Fact? Myth?: Knowing an obscure second language will put you ahead of the game. If you are looking for a career with an international or traveling focus, strongly consider learning Chinese or Arabic, which are the languages most in demand. If international business isn’t your thing, consider a job with the federal government, where there is a demand for people with these cool second language skills. According to the website makingadifference.org, foreign language jobs have been on the rise in the government sector since 9/11, and this rise is expected to continue through 2010. But if something international isn’t up your alley, don’t waste your time slaving away at a challenging language unless you really enjoy it. Your time and mental energy are better spent pursuing something you’re actually interested in rather than something you think you “should” be interested in.
SOURCES Dan Klamm, Outreach and Marketing Coordinator for Syracuse University Career Services Jen Kushnell, president of www.ysn.com and www.youngandsuccessful.com Bridget Lichtinger, Senior Administrator of the Career Development Center at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications Dan Schwabel, leading personal branding expert, publisher of www.studentbranding.com and www.personalbrandingblog.com, author of “Me 2.0: Building a Powerful Brand to Achieve Career Success” Eve Tahmincioglu, journalist (www.careerdiva.net), columnist (www.yourcareer.msnbc.com), and author (“From the Sandbox to the Corner Office”) Nicole Valinoti, SPHR, Human Resources Manager of Safilo USA www.makingthedifference.org/federalcareers/foreignlanguage.shtml