Are your education and experiences providing you with the right skills for the career you want?
Until you officially start your job search for post-graduation employment, you don’t really know what employers expect from you. Professors and advisers will do their best to prep you, but even they won’t have all the answers. The Association of American Colleges and Universities states, just before they list what employers want from college graduates, “While you may think that choosing the ‘right’ major is key to getting a good job, your long-term professional success will depend far more on acquiring the right skills for a rapidly changing workplace.”
The best decision is to start doing job searches early. Even if you’re already in your senior year of college, graduated, or would like to jump into an industry without a degree, those job searches will tell you what skills you have yet to obtain to beat out the competition.
It would be great if we could know exactly what classes or steps to take that will put us in the career of our dreams. Unfortunately, this is nowhere near reality. Once a student has chosen a major, and sticks with it, they fill their schedules with all the right credits to graduate. Hopefully, they have an adviser or enough foresight to take classes that also align with their future career, rather than merely filling their schedule with arbitrary but convenient classes. There are a few ways to better understand your future employer’s needs. Then, once you know what you need to know, get some experience.
Determine the skills employers want.
Start searching as soon as you become interested in a specific field. Do a job search for positions in that field and read a few postings from each. This will help form a good representation of what kind of job best fits your skill set. I started a year prior to graduation. That wasn’t early enough. I could already tell in my last year of college that not knowing a thing about html or web design was going to lower my chances at the career I wanted. Gauging the market while you’re taking your general education credits is a plus, but I know it’s not on top of every freshman’s mind.
Talk to the professionals. My school had many opportunities to meet people in my field, new as well as established, who would talk to groups or individuals interested in similar career paths. I had joined a student organization that had a speaker every other week, plus I signed up for job shadows and went to every career fair that I could. It was really helpful to narrow down my career choices.
Acquire the necessary skills.
Despite my endeavors to get to know my chosen path, somehow nobody mentioned needing to know html for their jobs. That proves just how much industries change in a single year. Now I have a list of skills frequently mentioned in job postings that I do not have (yet), like html or web analytics. When I get the time, I search for how-to videos and read up about the latest trends. I don’t only do the research, though. If it is possible, I try to practice the skills as well. If I can do them on my own computer or at home, great. If I can get experience through a volunteer or internship opportunity, even better.
My latest volunteer endeavor has many different opportunities to learn new skills or polish previously gained skills that I see again and again in my job searches. This may sound selfish, but I only choose to volunteer at places where I can enhance my skills. I did the same when interning. Fortunately, most organizations appreciate the help, so it’s a mutually beneficial arrangement and the experience also turns into a networking opportunity. Learning outside of your own home, where others can attest to your skills, is definitely the best option.
Learning new skills takes time. Don’t add skills to your resume that you don’t have, but definitely make time to research and practice them. This is the most difficult part for me as I am still applying for jobs, writing, constantly updating my portfolio, trying to keep up with news and trends, volunteering, and fitting in a life outside of the internet. There is no greater truth than the fact that you never stop learning. And why should you? Business thrives on growth and change, and we all certainly plan on thriving.