Using College to Build a Career

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Submitted by Kay Helbling,

Remember the term “entry level” job in the business world? It was for the folks without a college degree. The job you took as a file clerk, receptionist or in the mail room. Higher positions were reserved for the college grads—the positions that were distinguished as “careers” rather than “jobs”, where you could potentially move from driving a used car to a new car.

Now, all around you, from receptionist to mailroom, you’ll find young folks with college degrees answering phones and bundling packages. It seems “everyone has a college degree”. So, how can college be used as a jumping off point to a career?

College is important. It is one of the first screening variables that moves your application from a “not” to a “maybe”. After that, it’s all about you, the college student, and the little steps you’ve taken in those 4-6 years that could lead to big opportunities. It is those students who don’t just go to class, but keep their eyes and ears open and take the initiative to act on it. Let me make my point with one example.

I would travel to universities in the Northwest to hold job seminars on insurance. We’d see a number of business students attend as recommended by many of their counselors, but then out the door they would go. Rarely would they approach me for contact information or show any further interest. They failed to take that one step toward the potential for securing a career in a competitive job market. I was waiting for those select few who’d show initiative. Those who did received a call back with information about summer internships in which they could potentially earn money and experience.

Small steps…the solid shake of a hand…always ready with a resume’…questions showing interest…could make the difference between connecting with the future or an entry level job.

Here are the tips I gave to my sons as they headed off to college:

1. Keep your eyes and ears open for on-campus visits from either companies that you may have an interest in working for, or in your field of study…and attend those visits.

2. Before attending, look up the name of the speaker online and find out something of unique interest about that person or the company.

3. After the seminar, go up to the company representative, shake their hand, smile!!, thank them for coming, bring into conversation that “little tidbit” you researched, tell them you’re hoping to find a company such as their to internship with in the summer, and ask when they start considering students for internships.

4. Have your resume’ ready to hand them. Be sure your resume has a (small, humble) snapshot of you in the corner—to help them recall who you were among many they may meet.

5. Keep the seminar information so you have a contact address, and within 5 working days send a follow-up, personal thank you note, along with your resume and a letter of request asking them to keep you in mind if internships come open.

6. Keep the resume’ and letters as word documents that can be edited and recycled for the next seminar and speaker you meet.

7. Then, mark your calendar and follow up with them based upon the time they indicated internships would be considered. Make a personal call to the speaker, refreshing their memory of the date and place they visited your campus.

This is only the beginning. On-campus, involvement in clubs, especially as an officer, can expand your resume’. Use your free time in the summer or even on breaks to add to your work experience!! Get to know the professors in your field of interest. Stop by and ask them about their experiences…and listen…maybe it will open up another window of opportunity and you’ll be one step closer to climbing to the top of the ladder of success.

— Kay was an insurance adjuster and executive for 15 years, a small business owner and a teacher for 10. But, her most fulfilling work has been as a mother of her two boys. She is now looking forward to an empty nest this fall with her best friend—her husband.