Careers take a long time to take shape so planning far ahead of time is a good strategy to pursue. Planning what moves to make to that you could have a satisfying job is something you have been doing for a while–since you started going to school. Each phase of career development–from good education to good professional performance and networking–takes effort, and thinking ahead about what you want your career to be makes it easier to enjoy what you do professionally.
Degree The degrees you earn are a critical part of your career building process. If you think about how long it took you to get to college, you can think about all those years you spent preparing for college (and then preparing to make progress towards your college degree) as the years you have been shaping yourself up for a career. A university degree is an indication not only of your knowledge within a particular academic of professional field, but also of your ability to complete a complex, multi-phase project. This is why employers are willing to pay you more money to do more complicated jobs that people without degrees wouldn’t be able to get or do. Still, many jobs which pay a salary on which you can survive in New York City, such as teachers’ jobs, can’t be had any more without an advanced degree, such as a Master’s degree.
Minors It is very easy at John Jay to become interested in any one of the disciplines in which you take a course. A minor is an additional field of expertise, and a sign to employers that you are a person who is flexible and curious. You could explore minors such as: Computer Science, Digital Media and Journalism, Economics, Human Rights, Psychology or Political Science to enhance your professional marketability. The requirements are available online, and you can plan your course work around them.
Grades Specialists in career planning say that after you have been employed for a while, your major no longer matters. But do your grades matter? Usually, yes, at the beginning. This is because good grades are an early indicator of someone’s talents, skills, and perseverance: college is not as much about intelligence as it is about persistence, planning, organization, and consistent work, which is what employers are looking for as well and can read from your transcript. Your transcript also shows whether there has been any disciplinary action against you, for whatever reason. (If you are ever tempted to plagiarize, think of the moment when someone might want to take the last quick look at your application before deciding to hire you, and seeing that you cheated.)
Scholarships and Fellowships What also matters is whether you have earned scholarships and fellowships as an undergraduate. Winning a scholarship means not only that you have made the time to apply for one, but also that you have learned how to present yourself to a community outside the classroom in a way that earned you their trust and their financial support. If you win multiple scholarships and/or fellowships, your resume will look outstanding because it will make clear to any reader that you are an exceptional candidate who comes recommended not only by yourself, but by a range of independent judges.
Study Abroad The decision to study abroad is often life-changing for those who make it. Although the expense sometimes looks prohibitive, and it seems like you could learn at home the same thing you would be learning abroad, the journey makes all the difference. The opportunity to study abroad is an opportunity to test your knowledge of the world, your comfort levels in unfamiliar situations and with people you don’t know, an occasion to immerse yourself in a new culture and learn how it functions and what its values are. Since these values are frequently very different from those students bring from home, studying abroad is both exhilarating and humbling: it produces a personal transformation. Only about 5% of U.S. undergraduates study abroad, and they are recognized by employers as a group with exceptional experiences and abilities. This is because students with international experience can be relied on to anticipate cultural difference without becoming uncomfortable or awkward in a professional group. They are capable of working in groups and of accommodating different personal and work styles.
Internships are a part of the process of education, but also a kind of activity that puts students in the middle of a professional environment. Students are expected to learn how to do some of the entry-level work in the hiring organization, which sometimes means the kind of work that nobody else wants to do, or the kind of work that the intern cannot refuse to do. There are opposing opinions about the value of internships for this reason. While some think that internships are a way for employers to get free labor and no real responsibility for training or advising interns, some internships are truly valuable experiences because they expose students to the actual conditions in the workplace. Some students get solid, paid positions with the organizations where they once interned, and their collaborators, colleagues and managers become their first real professional contacts.
Since internship situations vary widely, it would be best to consult with an experienced person about accepting a particular internship. An experienced person could be someone familiar with the organization offering the internship, a career counselor, or someone else who knows how to understand the language of job offers and terms of employment.
Doing work for free is not always meant to place you in a professional position. Sometimes work happens because it helps other people, because it puts you in touch with other people, and because it gives you an opportunity to understand a larger context of your work and education. While this is a benefit in itself, sometimes volunteering puts you in touch with people who can tell you about career opportunities for people such as yourself—people who are concerned about doing good as a part of doing their job. Sometimes volunteer work can become a career, when people start organizations that commit to gathering funds and organizing long-term projects aimed at addressing the issues they were helping with only occasionally as volunteers, such as hunger, poverty, access to education, or disease prevention.
Network Early: Look for Good People to Work With
Finding a job is more like an art form more than like a science. Although your main qualification is your degree, there are millions of others with a degree like yours, millions already in the job market, and millions more about to get a degree just like yours. This is not a particularly cheery picture with which to enter the job market, but it’s also one that makes it very clear what it is that the employers may want to hear from you. They will assume you have a degree, and they will want to hear how it is that you can contribute to their organization. They want to see the particular person you have become in the process of getting an education, living a life, contributing to your community, having interests that have nothing to do with your academic field.
Getting people interested in talking to you and finding our what special contributions you can bring takes time. The process of getting to know people and letting them know that you will be interested in finding a professional job upon graduation takes a long time. We call this process networking. Some statistics suggest that more than three quarters of open positions go to candidates who had established a connection to the organization before applying. One way to get to know people and to find out what a job or an organization is like, is to conduct informational interviews.
Remain Active and Connected
Career changes, improvements, and derailments can happen for any number of reasons. Jobs these days are different from the jobs people had only a couple of generations ago in that hardly anyone remains in the job, or even in the career, they initially chose. While some of the changes are occasioned by the sweeping shifts in the job market (e.g., recessions, economic crises, natural disasters), some of them have to do with individuals’ ability to remain interested and informed about the change in their own job and related activities. Sometimes change—working in a new job, with the new people, under the new terms—feels like too much of a challenge. (Psychologists say that a job change is comparable to moving and divorce in the level of stress it occasions.)
Remaining active and connected to your professional circles will keep you informed about attractive opportunities for career or job changes even when you feel comfortable in a job you have. These kinds of leads can feel like rewards for building a good reputation in the profession so that you can use your professional connections and friendships as recommendations.
Similarly, while it is important to feel comfortable in one’s professional position, to feel competent and to know that the job is getting done, sometimes factors outside our control (new management, new economy, restructuring of the company) put people out of jobs. Maintaining a certain level of flexibility and knowledge about the job market prepares you for such unforeseeable changes and allows you to navigate your way out of a career detour or delay.