4 Things Juniors Can Do to Set Themselves Up For a Job After Graduation

Beyond academics, another anxiety-inducing aspect of the college experience is attempting to secure a full-time job offer by graduation. For many students, especially those feeling the financial burdens of higher education, a job offer can seem like a ticket towards stability.

You don’t want to wait until the spring of your senior year to begin the daunting process of job hunting. Set yourself up for success by taking impactful, strategic steps towards this goal during your junior year. While you can’t necessarily apply for most entry-level jobs a year in advance, here are a few tips to put you in the right direction:

1. Find a mentor

At this point in your college career, you’ve likely declared a major and have some sense of your larger career goals. By finding a mentor (or multiple!) to guide you through your remaining time in school, you will set yourself up to land a coveted job at the finish line. 

Mentors can come in many shapes and forms, but are typically older in age and have the experience and advice that you’re seeking out.

One type of mentor can be your college advisor, or a counselor at your school’s career center. These professionals are trained to help map out the remainder of your college experience and put you in the right direction professionally, so use them wisely and schedule time with them throughout the year.

Professors are another great option – they can do more for you than just provide your grade! Don’t forget that many of them have years of experience in their field, and may still be working part time. Not only can they give advice on their industry of practice, but also they will likely have connections to help you network as you set your sights on a job offer.

Lastly, your school’s alumni base can be the most enthusiastic pool of potential mentors you’ll find. Through LinkedIn, you can look up alumni from your school, where they work, and at what companies – then message one of them to have a few minutes of their time to grab coffee and pick their brain. Some alumni will jump at the opportunity to advise current students on the trends in their industries. You may also have had alumni as coworkers in past part-time jobs or internships, so make sure that you keep those contacts handy.

Meghan Kilkenny, a senior marketing major at Rockhurst University, believes that junior year is the time to start not just finding, but developing a mentor. She says to talk to anyone, "even if it is your mom's friend who works in the industry you want to be in, take her out to coffee and network." You should develop connections as soon as possible.

Related: A Year-by-Year Guide to Getting a Job After Graduation

2. Secure an internship the summer before senior year

At this point, whether you have a couple of internships under your belt or you have yet to score your first one, the summer going into your final year of college is the best possible time to intern. Many larger companies that offer internships prefer to hire juniors and seniors, plus the summer will allow you to devote the time you need to put your all into the job.

In addition to locating companies’ job boards, Intern Queen and WayUp are great tools to scope out options in your city.

While an internship is an obviously perfect resume booster, it can also allow you to network within that company and build relationships that you will need as you transition into post-grad life. Additionally, if you prove yourself to your supervisor and are a stellar intern, your boss could serve as a reference, offer you a full-time position to join them again the following year or know of a different team to which he or she can recommend you.

Alaina Leary, a book publishing professional finishing her master's at Emerson College, understands the value of an internship in setting yourself up for future opportunities. She says, "One of my earliest college internships led to part-time employment throughout college and beyond, and a lifelong connection with my supervisor! While not internship will lead directly to a full time offer, many can lead to networking opportunities and valuable resume boosters."

Related: 6 Steps to Get Ahead on Job & Internship Applications Right Now 

3. Build your professional brand

Though your brand is something you gradually build upon throughout your four years in college and beyond, junior year is a great time to really shape your professional identity in the eyes of hiring managers.

One way to build your brand is through your presence online. You’ll want to make sure that whenever a recruiter Googles you, the results are not only clean, but also relevant and don’t make you difficult to find. Try making at least one of your social channels public, such as Twitter, and use it to retweet and comment on stories in your industry of choice.

You can also use this time to build your own website to display your portfolio of work and/or highlight your school and professional achievements. If you’re a writer or journalist, a blog is a great opportunity to share your thoughts with the world. Regardless of your industry of choice, a website can allow you to display your resume, emphasize your achievements in school and share your career goals.

You also want to make sure that the information you share directly with recruiters reflects who you are. Make sure that your resume is up to date, uses an organized template and helps you to stand out. You can also take advantage of other items, such as business cards, that aren’t as commonly used among college students. Once armed with these tools, spend your junior year attending on-campus career fairs to network and display your brand to others.

4. Take a career prep course or workshop

Without sufficient work experience, it can be difficult to understand what cliques with recruiters and what doesn't when it comes to the hiring process. Take advantage of all that your school has to offer when it comes to educating yourself on how to nail a job.

In some cases, your school might offer a course for credit within a business or communication department, which at some schools are open to students of different majors. What is more common is a series of boot camps that your career center might offer, focusing on anything from editing your resume and cover letter to how to network. All of the information absorbed from these sessions as early as junior year will only help you grow and empower you to take on the job hunt.

Leary took advantage of a career prep course offered for her major during her junior year. She says, "In our class, we started applying for jobs even though we weren't nearing graduation, and we also participated in professional development experiences, learned networking, and went to the career center to edit resumes and practice interviewing. It got me in the habit of looking for a job (and preparing for the process) early, which was fantastic."

It’s never too early to start planning for the real world. By taking advantage of the opportunities at your disposal as soon as junior year, you will set yourself up to land a job before graduation and eliminate some of the stress that comes with the job-hunting process.