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To Do List

Steps toward your new career

By Robert Shannon

You’re embarking on your final year of college; all that’s left is a few finals, term papers, making sure you’ve completed all your course requirements, deciding what to wear for your senior picture, and shoveling out a few years’ worth of garbage from your apartment. Stuff like that.

Oh, and you’ve got to find a job.

Whether your life in college has passed by in a blur or dragged on for what seems like an eternity, you’re heading into the homestretch. And waiting at the finish line is an entirely new reality. Nine months might seem like plenty of time to wrap up all your loose ends and take your first step as a professional, but there are a number of tasks remaining, and all of them require significant, well-managed time.

In the months ahead, you’ll need to take care of the items below. As you make these strides toward your professional career, you’ll see how they build on each other, each step making the ones that follow that much easier.


This is a crucial step. If you haven’t already, it’s time to start getting some career-related experience. And depending on your school, this might even be a requirement for graduation. Regardless, it is an important part of securing a full-time position after you graduate. An internship will help you gain real-world experience in your industry, increase your marketability to future employers, and give you something to put in the “experience” section of your resume. It is a can’t-lose proposition, so don’t pass up this opportunity. If you’ve already completed an internship, consider a second one.


Now is the time to start building your resume. The resume is the golden ticket to the entire job search process. Without it, you won’t get past the first question of an on-campus interview, which, under these circumstances, will be “Where’s your resume?”

With limited professional experience, creating a resume can be a frustrating task. Consider your resume to be the outline of the answer to another question: “Why should we hire you to work for our company?” Use strong action verbs to highlight classroom achievements and identify relevant work experience and extracurricular accomplishments. Continue to polish and update your resume throughout your senior year. Remember, your resume is never a finished product; you should always think of it as a work in progress.


A little knowledge goes a long way. You should get a feel for the kind of company you want to work for based on industry, size, culture, benefits, advancement opportunities, and how it fits into your long-term goals. Start your research right away and arm yourself with information as you begin to interview. Not only will your research help you identify prospective employers, it will also help you in the interviews themselves. You’re bound to hear a question like, “Why do you want to work for us?” Your research will help you answer intelligently and appropriately.

Practice Interviews

Excellent interviewing skills are essential during the job search. Even if you have the most impressive resume of all the candidates, no one is going to hire you if you don’t make a good face-to-face impression. The candidate who best articulates his or her qualifications is often the one who lands the job. Remember, you are “selling” yourself to the interviewer, so work on your standard sales pitch—a one- to two-minute summary of your qualifications. Don’t memorize it; your sales pitch should come off as a natural response. But you can practice it and get comfortable with your delivery. Think about what you want to highlight. Know your strengths and be able to speak to them. Like anything else, your answers will get better and better the more you work on them. Get together with friends and do your own mock interviews. When it’s time for the real thing, you’ll sound like a pro.


Everything you’ve done so far has been in preparation for your interviews. Your internships gave you experience that will impress the interviewer and stimulate conversation, your resume outlines your qualifications, your research gives you the knowledge to ask intelligent questions and helps you narrow your job search focus, and your practice interviews give you the confidence to appropriately and professionally create a dialogue with the interviewer.

If you spend your senior year making consistent progress on your future professional life, you’ll be ready to hit the ground running when it comes time for your interviews and, eventually, your first job.

Your Career Center

These steps are just a broad outline. You’ll need to keep working at them throughout the school year. And remember, one of the best places to start any of these steps is your career center. The professionals there can help you with any of these topics, as well as other important elements, like building your network, getting references, creating cover letters and more. Your career center is an invaluable resource; be sure to fully utilize it.

Robert Shannon is a free-lance writer from Chicago.

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