Graduating from college with a diploma is an accomplishment you can feel proud about, but that piece of paper will not help you find a job. As a graduate in today’s market, you need a competitive edge. Whether you set your sights on a graduate school program or beginning your working career, plan for your future while you’re still in school. These tips will beef up your academic, professional and personal experience and make you a favorable prospect to recruiters and admissions officers.
Build your Academic Portfolio
Make the most of your education, and choosing academically challenging classes. Your college years will include fun and relaxation, but resist the urge to blow off class or choose classes merely to fulfill graduation requirements. Your grades reflect your ability to work hard, and classes teach valuable skills you need on the job. Advanced classes show that you have developed a skill, and they can make great line items on your resume. For example, as a business major, consider taking Spanish or Chinese, public speaking, and other courses that enhance your business acumen.
Additionally, consider taking extra online classes from reputed universities, studying under innovative professors in your chosen career field or pursuing overseas study opportunities. These courses add weight to your portfolio and provide academic experience your peers may not receive.
Build your Personal Portfolio
In addition to academics, potential employers are looking for candidates who display character, discipline and an enterprising attitude. Cultivate these traits in college so you can express them in your portfolio.
Participate in activities and clubs where you accept leadership positions. It’s best to join and become a leader in clubs related to your chosen field. If you’re a political science major, join the debate team or College Republicans/College Democrats. You can even start a club; like starting a small business, it’s an impressive resume builder that takes dedication and work.
You will also want to list valuable skills that set you apart from other candidates. While knitting may not be a valuable talent for your graduate school program, a history of charitable volunteerism where you teach orphans how to knit shows your compassionate ability to serve. Likewise, share talents like specific computer programs you can access proficiently or foreign languages you speak. Do not stretch the truth or pad your portfolio, but try to determine which skills will make employers notice you. Take classes that will help you develop any missing skills.
Build your Professional Portfolio
Rigorous college requirements don’t leave much time for work, but try to find employment that enhances your resume. Look for summer jobs in your chosen field.
Pursue paid or unpaid internships. You might question the wisdom of working without financial compensation, especially with the cost of a college education, but this choice could pay off when it’s time to apply for a job. Every professional experience, not matter how small, provides you with valuable skills, builds your portfolio, and increases your marketability. That being said, some experiences are better than others. I recommend reading The Google Resume by Gayle McDowell. I agree with McDowell’s advice to “emphasize depth over breadth.” She explains her meaning with the following:
“as a college student, I didn’t play sports or act or sing. I had two college activities—teach and representing Microsoft on campus—and I poured everything I had into those. Because I put 200 percent into those responsibilities rather than spreading myself thin, I was able to show tangible accomplishments. (Of course, there’s a trade-off. The more breadth you have the more likely you are to have at least some relevant skills in any job.)”
Preparing your Portfolio and Resume
Academic achievements, letters of recommendation and samples of your professional work combine to form your portfolio. It’s smart to keep the assignments you’ve completed, ask for additional input from your professors, and polish them up to add an additional piece of work to your portfolio. Make an appointment with your academic advisor to help you create a professional portfolio using your work. His or her professional prospective closely mimics a potential employer’s view and they can help you polish a portfolio before using it in job interviews. Your advisor can also suggest additional steps to increase your portfolio or resume’s value.
While it’s okay to enjoy the college experience, you’re also there to learn and prepare for your future. Make the most of academic opportunities, personal skills and professional experiences. These three areas allow you to build your portfolio and resume before graduate school and help you to stand out in a crowded job market.
About the Author
Tara Jackson is an education and career prep enthusiast. When she’s not writing about or researching colleges and careers for EduTrek, she enjoys reading classic literature, hiking in the mountains, and traveling. @tjatedutrek