It’s Never Too Early to Start Planning Your Career

03/10/2017 01:50 pm ET

In today’s highly competitive marketplace, you need to be able to stand out from the crowd. As students, we have an incredible opportunity to gain experience while we are still in school that will better prepare us and help us when we head out into the “real world” and begin our careers.

University career services departments are an invaluable resource if you take advantage of all the incredible (and free!) resources they have to offer, but, unfortunately, many students on campus simply do not take advantage of all they have to offer. According to a recent Gallup-Purdue Index, out of more than 11,000 college graduates polled, only about half visited their school’s career services department and of that group, only about 16 percent found it very helpful. Students who aren’t visiting career services may not realize they’re actually missing out on great opportunities for growth.

I’ve seen firsthand how important it is to get involved while on campus and start planning early for life after college. The office of career services at my school, Bentley University, not only helped me find my internships at Credit Suisse, Weeden & Co., UBS, and Ameriprise Financial Services, they also helped me prepare for them. The support and guidance that I received is just one of the many reasons that I decided to get involved on campus as a Student Career Advisor as part of Bentley’s Career Colleague program.

In this role, I have the opportunity to help nearly 150 sophomores with career preparation skills, from resume development to finding and interviewing for internships to identifying and refining their career goals. The Career Colleague program is all about students guiding students and working together with staff members to address our student population’s career development needs. It also gives student advisors a chance to further develop our leadership skills while providing our younger peers with a helpful service.

This is some of the advice I give to our sophomores as they look to stand out on their path toward their dream career.

  • Get involved. Whether it’s an on- or off-campus internship or a campus group, put yourself in a position to expand your horizons, meet people, and learn more about yourself.
  • Be yourself. Get involved in things you’re passionate about, because they will help you learn and keep you driven. To stand out in their job search, students need to be able to show what makes them unique and sets them apart from other applicants with similar resumes.
  • Start early. It’s never too soon to start learning about what you like and what you don’t. No internship is a waste, and freshman year is not too early to accept an internship or job in a field of interest to you.
  • Build a network of trusted advisors. From the Career Services team and your professors to internship managers and your peers - each will bring a unique perspective to the internship/job search and can provide you with valuable advice as you define your career path. Always remember that each person you meet knows another person that you may be able to learn from. Constantly growing your network is crucial for a successful career in business.

So where do you begin? First, I encourage you to take advantage of your college or university’s career services team. Check out their website or take advantage of drop-in hours to learn what they offer. Many schools provide resume and cover letter assistance, are in the know about available internships and post-graduation job opportunities (and how to land them!), and run mock interview sessions. They are there to help you succeed, so don’t be shy! The earlier you know what resources are available to you, the greater advantage you’ll have in finding the job or career that’s the perfect fit for you. After all, you pay a lot to go to college, so you might as well take advantage of all it has to offer.

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