Congrats! You are a college student embarking on a new phase of life… making friends, pursuing a major, and adjusting to being independent. As much as it feels that the job market is in the distant future and you can barely find your way around campus, there is an opportunity to take small steps to plan your career…even as a Freshman.

This post is personal for me. My oldest son just left for college. I am excited for the opportunities ahead of him and a bit sad that he is gone. But now that he is in the same position as the students we advise, I shared with him a few important tips to focus on at school during his Freshman year. I would be lying if my advice was met with enthusiasm. He rolled his eyes and stared at his phone as we spoke. He kept saying, “I really don’t want to hear this right now.”

But here is my reason for persisting…

We have advised many college students and grads and their number one regret is that they started the career search process TOO LATE. They wish they took a few steps each year to improve their career search skills. It is much easier in college when the companies come looking for you and you can take advantage of the career services office, on-campus recruiting and job placement services.

When you graduate, those benefits are not as readily available, and you have to do the pursuing to convince someone you are worthy of the job. Learning how to talk about yourself, network and learn about opportunities can help you to standout when seeking that coveted internship or job.

 

Here are the basics of what a Freshman can do to start:

 

1. Build a Resume (Yes…a resume!)

You may think that being a camp counselor, baby sitter or waiter is not worthy of a resume, but it is. Start highlighting your work, athletic and volunteer accomplishments. It does not have to be fancy or show extensive experience. Getting involved on campus by joining a club or activity in college will enable you to enhance the content. Your resume will evolve as you move through college, but you should always have it ready emphasizing your accomplishments to date.

2. Create a LinkedIn Profile

Once you have a resume, it will be easy to replicate this on LinkedInThis is the number one resource of how to connect in a professional manner on social media and you need a presence here. Once you set up a profile, connect with friends, family and everyone you meet at school. The power of LinkedIn is having as many connections as possible to improve your search results. You can find employers, industry experts and alumni to connect with for your search and you will be using this tool extensively as you look for internships and job.

3. Go to the Career Fair 

Before you say, “Freshman don’t go to the career fair,” consider this – I met with the Director of Career Services of a major university and she stated that employers want to see Freshman at career fairs because they need to build their pipeline of students for opportunities early. It is becoming more common for Sophomores to seek summer internships and employers want to get to know you early on. The main reason for a Freshman to go to the career fair is not only to pursue an internship in the future but to PRACTICE talking about yourself in a professional way. This takes time and starting early is the key. If you want specific tips on how to prep for a career fair, read this blog.

4. Meet Your Professors

One of the primary reasons for attending college is for the academic experience—yes, to learn something. Your professors may have been in academia for some time and others may have been professionals that moved to teaching as a next chapter. These instructors can be mentors and can serve as an excellent resource for learning about different careers, getting involved in research projects and internships. They often have a vast network of contacts for job introductions as well. More importantly, getting to know your professor can assist with your success in the classroom.

5. Clean Up Your Social Media Profile

It is tempting to share with friends on social media how much fun you are having at college. However, be aware that this form of self-promotion is public to employers and potential contacts as they use it as a resource when evaluating candidates.  A peek into your personal life allows outsiders to make judgments about your moral character and values. I strongly recommended removing any questionable or compromising photos where you are holding large red drinking cups, exposing a lot of skin, looking like you are drunk, or cursing in your comments. By all means, have fun, just keep it clean as nothing is truly private on the internet.

6. Keep Up with the News

You may read your campus paper or Facebook news each week but it is very helpful to keep up with major news that goes on outside of campus. Both the New York Times and Wall Street Journal offer college students digital access to their papers for just $1 a week. If you want an abbreviated version of the news you can check out TheSkimm or MorningBrew for free. The idea is to get outside the bubble of campus and keep up with what is happening in the world. Staying current on the news, especially in your field of interest, will help you speak intelligently while in class, networking and interviewing.

Do you want to know what my son did? He does have a resume (yes, I proofed it!), and a skeleton profile on LinkedIn with just his name and school information. As much as I want him to go to the Career Fair, I am not sure if he will make it… some excuse about classes and timing.  He did clean up his Facebook and Instagram account. However, ESPN Sports Center is still his primary news source.

The truth is that no one can force you to go or do anything. It’s up to you! You have to want it! Some want it sooner than others. Some are still adjusting to college life and trying to figure it out. And that’s ok. I will have to let my son figure some things out on his own. He knows where to find me if he needs help.

If you would like to learn more about how Next Great Step helps college students and recent grads get the job, visit www.nextgreatstep.com.