Find a Mentor
By far the most important thing you can do for yourself while in college is find a mentor.
Entire books have been written on the benefits of mentorship. While you are a college student it is so easy to get “grown-ups” to help you out. Business professionals love helping out ambitious college students, especially from their alma mater. Your school probably has an alumni relations person or a database where you can connect to alumni in your field. If not, you can search on LinkedIn and narrow by alumni.
Find people who are doing what you want to do, or what you think you want to do, and ask them how they like it. Ask them what the best and worst part of their job is. Mentors will be candid and honest with you because, unlike recruiters, they have no stake in whether or not you join their company.
A good place to start besides alumni might be your parent’s friends or your neighbors. Find people you trust and start asking them for advice. Your professors and advisors are another great resource. Remember, you are not the first person ever to graduate college and look for a job, this happens hundreds of times every year at your school and your professors have seen it all from both the student’s side and the recruiter’s side- take advantage of their wisdom and experience.
People love to talk about themselves and their passions
It is often very flattering to an executive that a student is showing interest in them. A word of caution: keep it genuine. No one likes a suck up who is just looking for a job. You don’t want your mentor to become your employer, you want them to guide you and help you decide where to go and how to get there.
Ask the people who know you best
When your senior year comes around and you start to feel all the pressure of moving on to the next chapter of your life and leaving the protective bubble of university life, you may start to freak out. I know I did- majorly. It is overwhelming to have to make so many choices that will affect the rest of your life in such a short amount of time, I certainly underestimated the responsibility.
On several occasions I felt like I was unemployable and would never get the jobs I wanted. Other days I was on top of the world and master of the universe, all jobs must bow down to me. For both extremes you need people around you who care about you to bring you back to equilibrium.
I remember one week in the fall semester I went to visit my grandparents in Hilton Head, SC. I had just really gotten into my research and was starting to set-up interviews and was feeling overwhelmed by choices of what industry, what job, what city. I had become paralyzed by choice. I went to see my grandparents to ask them for advice.
My grandmother told me about her first job after college. She was a physical therapist and had two offers: one job she would make more money and have more of a leadership position where she was running a division and demonstrating her skills, the second job paid less and she would be in a training role where she would learn more about the different components of the industry before becoming responsible for any one area. She chose the job where she was demonstrating skills instead of learning skills. Although she had no major regrets, she wondered if she had taken the other job if her career would have been better in the long term had she continued to learn new skills early on.
My grandmother’s advice helped me early in my job search to spend some time thinking about what I wanted out of my job. Then about mid-way through my interviewing I went to visit my aunt and uncle in Washington DC to get some input from them. I was taking this task of landing the perfect job straight out of college too seriously and I was so terrified that I would make the wrong choice that would haunt me forever. My aunt and uncle were a good sounding board for me to talk out some of the pros and cons of various positions I was considering.
Of course my parents got nearly daily updates of my progress, sometimes more than once each day. They were like my own private career advisors and I would bounce ideas off of them constantly. I also reached out to some of my best friends to fill them in on my options and get a peer’s perspective.
In the end, you have to make your own decision, but you don’t have to be alone in the process.
Take advantage of the knowledge and experience of the people who love you. Even if their careers are polar opposite from what you can see yourself doing, you may find that the decision criteria are similar across industries.