Returning college seniors have a lot on their minds. It’s their final year on campus – one last chance to complete course requirements, enjoy the culture and plan for life after graduation. And while it might seem bittersweet and pressure-filled, this final year in school affords plenty of opportunity to act strategically.
We asked a handful of human resources experts to share thoughts on what college students should do during their senior year to best position themselves for the job market. From getting involved on campus, to using LinkedIn, to creating a portfolio of projects, there are lots of easy steps young job seekers can take to stand out among the competition.
“My biggest piece of advice is to be involved on campus and to start networking well in advance of graduation,” says Sean Henagan, talent acquisition manager at the global tech firm Perficient. “If you have time to join clubs, societies or work on projects outside of your course curriculum, jump on that opportunity. This is especially important if you have not worked or been active on campus up to this point.”
But don’t just join a club, says Henagan, take a leadership role to show your aptitude for collaboration and time management, says Henagan. Don’t miss opportunities to attend recruitment fairs or networking events where you can chat with representatives from companies that align with your interests.
Students in their final year of school should also pursue part-time work or internships. And while related fields are great, any experience is valuable because it shows responsibility and a willingness to commit.
There’s something else that helps candidates stand out, says Henagan. Attitude. Companies like candidates who are flexible and driven to learn.
“Having the right attitude includes having flexibility on job responsibilities,” he says. “When you find the right company, they will work with you to get you where you want to be even if it takes a little bit of time to get there.”
“If you want to be a developer, you should be developing,” says Aaron Gates, human resources manager at the IT firm CDIT Solutions. “Since we hire developers, I want to know that they can develop. I love seeing side projects on GitHub, freelance work or personal projects that were completed outside of class. Class work is good, but it’s limited in scope.”
Gates advises students to take advantage of online resources to sharpen skills, to network with alumni and to organize coffee meetings or informational interviews with people who work in the sector. Also, showing a civic commitment through volunteerism goes a long way, since many companies organize team building projects around community service.
If you’re offered a position with a company, adds Gates, it doesn’t always mean you should accept it. Do your due diligence and be sure the culture of the company reflects your values.
“You’re interviewing the company as much as that company is interviewing you,” Gates says. “Read reviews on sites like GlassDoor and reach out to current employees to see what the culture is like. Job interviews are like dates. Sometimes you only find the crazy ones, so be patient and look for a good place to work, and not just a place to work.”
Senior year is a great time to keep the basics in mind, says Graphic Packaging Training Supervisor Donald Godfrey.
“To best position themselves for employment, students should make sure they have a resume that stands out and a high GPA,” says Godfrey. “They should also practice their interviewing skills through role modeling.”
Most college career centers offer mock interview opportunities for students that allow young candidates to practice interviewing before the real deal. A mock interview with a counselor can help a college senior smooth out the rough edges and go into their first serious job interview with confidence.
Godfrey also advises being patient. The right job will eventually come.
“The mindset these seniors should have is don’t feel like a failure if you don’t get the first job,” Godfrey says. “Be persistent. Don’t be afraid to relocate and always keep a positive mental attitude.
“One of the biggest things I’d recommend to college seniors is to join LinkedIn,” says Kim Carlton, director of human resources for Baton Rouge-based e-commerce company BBQGuys. “I notice a trend that young people don’t think it’s important to join LinkedIn because they think it’s for older people, but that’s just not true. It is incredibly valuable.”
Carlton suggests college seniors should not only use LinkedIn for posting their resumes, but for discovering more about their field of interest.
“It’s a great way to learn about trends,” says Carlton. “It’s also an excellent means of building a network and learning about companies they’re interested in working for.”