Attention college seniors: Think you can land an internship or first job by searching a few weeks before graduation? Think again. Yes, making the grade is half the battle, but if you want to launch a successful career, the sooner you get started the better.
As a student you are in a unique position to make connections, ask questions and explore career options. Taking advantage of these three opportunities as a student will put you ahead of the game.
You aren't asking for a job … yet. You have a secret weapon prior to graduation: you're not asking for a job. Typically when job-seeking, people find the most career opportunities by making connections with others, but not just any ol' people – but with people who know and trust you. Working backward, it's the third part of this equation – meeting the right people and establishing a relationship with them – that you want to focus on now. Reach out and make connections with your parents' friends, alumni, professors, etc. To get the recipient's attention, send a personalized LinkedIn InMail message that reads something like, "I've done my research and I really admire your career. I am thinking about a job in blah, blah, blah and you are the obvious expert. May I ask you a few questions?"
It's tough to ignore a student's question of "Why did you get into this industry?" plus it shows you've done your due diligence to track him or her down and research his or her field of work. Start building your connections and relationships now, and by the time graduation rolls around you likely won't have to ask for the job because it'll be offered to you.
You can change your mind. Hopefully you chose your school and curriculum with one eye on the employment prize, and you thought about what skills are in demand, what your school's alumni list looks like and which school associations are most likely to reap both skill development and relationships with meaningful people. But if you didn't, it's not too late to go back and re-work the plan. The best part about being a student is that you can very quickly reset your course. You are not reinventing the wheel and by virtue of that, the most effective way of strategically managing your career is to examine the career paths of people who have successfully achieved your ultimate end-goal. Checkout the LinkedIn Alumni Tool to discover where your school's alumni works, what they do professionally and how they got there. Working backward and planning your education around your career goals is a highly effective (and easy) way to graduate with the skills, relationships and information you need to get hired.
You're a brand in the making. It is important to remember that your professional story is still very much in the making. Your professional brand is ever-evolving, but the quicker you get to the essence of who you are as a worker (meaning your core competencies, communication style … essentially what you want to be known for), then the more successful you will be. Many people wait until they are officially launched into the world of work to figure that all out, and yes, there will be some tweaks along the way, but while you're in school you have a wonderful opportunity to not only define who you are, but also start building your professional brand. From volunteer experiences and internships to recommendations from professors, you want to start building and demonstrating your professional brand, and moreover, get it out there. Start building your LinkedIn profile, upload school projects and presentations you're proud of and demonstrate your skills and talents. The goal is to use this time while you're still in class to take advantage of, and credit for, all the hard work that comes with being a successful student. That way you can hit the ground running.
Nicole Williams is the bestselling author of three books, the latest of which, "Girl on Top: Your Guide to Turning Dating Rules into Career Success," has been optioned by Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen, the producers behind the Academy Award winning films "American Beauty," "Milk" and "Silver Linings Playbook." Nicole is also LinkedIn's Career Expert. Nicole's role at LinkedIn is to help professionals understand how to enhance their careers using the LinkedIn network. The company she founded, WORKS by Nicole Williams, is the go-to resource for career-minded young women and was named one of Forbes magazine's Top 10 Career Websites for Women. You've seen her on TV – as a regular guest on "TODAY," "Good Morning America," and CNN – and in print, where her advice has appeared on the pages of ELLE, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Marie Claire and the Wall Street Journal.