A New Student’s Guide to Career Planning

At our fall and spring open houses I offer sessions on career services and planning.  There have been many times when I have been standing outside of the room encouraging prospective students and their parents to join me and I have been told “Oh, we don’t need that for another 4 years.”  This is exactly the mentality that results in a student sitting in my office a month before graduation feeling completely lost and desperately looking for answers to the question “What do I do now?”

You need to begin the process in your first year.  Here are some suggestions on how to get from admission, to graduation, to career.

Keep in mind that finding a career that you love is not a strait path from point A to point B.  It is a process of self-discovery, assessment, exploration and pursuit that requires you to re-cycle through these stages time and time again.

ASSESS – In your first and second year, in particular, you should be focussing on discovering your interests, skills, values, and personality.  Understanding yourself is critical to finding a rewarding career.

  • Book an Appointment With a Career Counsellor – Ask about doing some personality and career assessments that will start to give  you some ideas of career direction
  • Take a Look at Your Aptitudes – Your natural talents and things you are good at. We sometimes assume that something that comes easily to us comes easily for everyone, but this is usually not the case. Ask friends, family, and others who know you to suggest some areas they see you succeeding at or having natural abilities in.
  • Book an Appointment With an Academic Counsellor – For those of you in your first year you are going to need to start thinking about degree options and what you want to major in.  Get some help with this process.  An academic counsellor can advise you of your options and guide you to resources that will aid in making the decision.
  • Understand Your Values – The last place you want to be is in a career that does not line up with your personal beliefs and priorities.

Some questions you may want to consider:

  • Do you value security and consistency or variety and risk-taking in your work environment?
  • Is social interaction and being part of a group or independence and autonomy important to you?
  • Do you value achievement and recognition or being “behind the scenes”?
  • Is your work environment, pace, and/or location important to you?
  • Do you value financial independence? Status? Creative expression? Contribution to society?

I cannot over-emphasize the importance of self-discovery to career planning.  Usually when students are feeling lost it is because they have not spent enough time figuring themselves out, identifying their talents, what they enjoy doing, what motivates them.  Once you have an idea of who you are it will be easier to identify potential options, to network with confidence and to get out there and explore.

EXPLORE – At each stage of your degree you should be looking for opportunities to get involved and explore your interests and options and build your resume.

  • Get Involved in Campus Clubs and Organizations or Volunteer in the Community – This is a great way to meet new people and to build your hands-on experience.  Taking on a leadership position with a club or volunteering with a not-for-profit agency can help you with your project or event management, leadership and interpersonal, communication and organizational skills, just to name a few. These experiences will help you to get an understanding of different types of work and what elements of it you enjoy.
  • Participate in Career Development Workshops – Every campus organizes usually dozens of workshops each year that can help you develop your resume, cover letters, interview prep, networking strategies etc. Check with your career centre for dates, times and locations.
  • Attend Career Fairs – Regardless of whether you are at the point where you are looking for a job, attending a career fair will give you an idea of what companies are out there and who is hiring for what types of jobs.
  • Go to Employer Information Sessions – Throughout the year numerous employers will visit your campus to present information on working for them and what positions they are hiring for.  This is another great way to explore options and to begin networking and making connections.
  • Check out the Graduate and Professional School Fairs – Most campuses are now offering post-graduate fairs where you can explore what options are out there with respect to continuing your education.  You will likely be surprised at the abundance of options and may discover an exciting opportunity or program that you didn’t even know existed.

The more experiences that you can draw on the better prepared you will be for going after your career goals.  You will have a clearer understanding of what you would like to do, where and for whom.  This focus will enable you to pursue your goals with poise and conviction.

PURSUE – As you move closer to graduation it is time to start pursuing your goals.  This will involve Preparing, Planning, and Acting.  This can be the most intimidating step in the career process as it means that you need to really put yourself out there and accept that you are likely to get shot down a few times before you get the outcome that you are searching for.

  • Set Up Some Informational Interviews – This can be an extremely important part of building your network and finding a job.  Often people are interested in a particular career or corporation but do not have any contacts.  By setting up an information interview, you can make a contact, find out more about the company and the career, and get a foot in the door for future job openings. Talk to a career counsellor to get more information on how to set up an informational interview.
  • Review, Revise and Tailor Your Resume and Cover Letter –  The more time that you invest in preparing impressive documents and tailoring them to specific companies and jobs, the more likely you are to have success.  Attend a drop-in –session or set up a one-on-one appointment to review your resume and cover letter.  Be sure to bring a job description with you.
  • Book a Mock Interview – No matter how prepared you feel for an interview, you will always benefit from a dry-run.  A mock interview will simulate a real interview and you will likely be surprised at how nervous you feel.  It will give you a chance to sort out your thoughts, prepare your responses and get feedback and tips on how to best present yourself.  Most career centre’s offer this service.
  • Use Campus Job Postings – Most institutions have career/job boards where employers ask specifically to have positions posted.  This is a good place to start.  Be aware that often employers will post positions in the fall that they expect to fill in the spring or summer.  If you wait until the second semester of your 4th year, you may have missed out on a lot of opportunities.
  • Network, Network, Network – This is often the hardest task and yet is the most likely by FAR to result in you finding employment.  Like dating, you need to just get out there and do it.  Meet as many people as you can, be considerate, polite, and respectful and you are sure to see the results.  Check out your career centre for workshops and resources on successful networking.  You can also see if your Alumni Association offers networking opportunities.

If you get started in your first year by reflecting, deciding, and evaluating yourself and your career options, then you will be well ahead of the game.  Remember that this is not a strait path; be prepared for detours and unexpected turns.  Finding a great career is a combination of planning, assessment, determination and serendipity.  Put yourself out there with confidence and conviction and see what the world gives you back.

Published by lessstressedstudents

Clare Tattersall is the Manager of Undergraduate Services for the Faculty of Engineering at The University of Western Ontario.

2 thoughts on “A New Student’s Guide to Career Planning

  1. Network, Network, Network – This is often the hardest task and yet is the most likely by FAR to result in you finding employment…I agree. Networking is the most effective way to find a job. Thanks for sharing!

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