4 Ways Students Can Boost Their Career Prospects This Winter

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By Robin Reshwan

December is a crazy time on most college campuses. Students are completing semester projects, taking tests and figuring out how they will get a ride home for the holidays. As hectic as it may seem, December can also be an ideal time to plan for professional success during the second half of the school year. Here are four things college students can accomplish before break to start their 2015 right:

1. Find your career center. Looking for an internship or career shouldn't be a solo sport. There is actually a place on campus where employers come to students in the hope of hiring them. This amazing place is called the career center (or something like that) and exists on most college campuses. The center is a busy place for the students who use it, but many go through their academic career never checking out the website or visiting the center. Or they wait until the end of their senior year to visit for the first time.

Campus career services offer one-on-one and group advising on résumé writing and interviewing skills. They also have internship and job postings and often host "Meet the Employer" events where you can speak with hiring professionals directly to learn about different careers and industries. And of course, most campuses have one to two job fairs per year, which offer a chance to mingle with a variety of employers representing many types of roles.

The best way to get the most from career services is to establish a relationship with the staff, so you have access to helpful information when you need it. Take an hour to visit their website and offices before you leave for break. You can make notes of upcoming events or schedule time to speak with a counselor for January. The key here is to get involved before crunch time. You will get better service and more attention, and you'll spare yourself the stress of trying to ready your résumé hours before it is actually needed.

2. Visit your career center. Redundant, I know. The truth is that to get the most from career services, you need to visit more than once. So, really do go and book an advising session for winter, or put the next employer event on your calendar. Your "job-searching, spring self" will thank you for your December preparation.

3. Visit the dean's office of your academic department or school. For some degree- or program-specific projects, internships or roles, employers may opt to work directly with an academic program. This allows employers to partner with targeted students, and the school staff may play a role in matching the right student with the right opportunity. Getting to know the leadership for your educational program enables you to learn about unique opportunities, hear about the successes of former graduates and get exposure to extra resources.

Be sure to also ask about major-centric honor societies or clubs and associations that may be relevant. Knowing what it takes to qualify may be just what you need to make that extra push to increase your GPA. Again, remember that job seeking is not a solo sport. The professionals working for your academic program want to help you to succeed, so take advantage of their knowledge and assistance.

4. Check out a couple student-run clubs or associations. What you do in college, where you have no parents nearby to push you, is viewed as an accurate reflection of how you will behave as an employee. This is very important to remember. You may have been involved in a million activities in high school, but those merits are wiped away after your freshman year. Choosing to do nothing extracurricular in college is a sure sign to employers that you may be an employee that will do only what is required at work.

Most colleges have many student-run clubs, associations, athletic teams, fraternities, sororities and volunteer organizations. These groups typically have to register with the university, so you can usually find a list of all of the options online. Select one or two groups that sound interesting to you, and make a plan to learn more or attend a meeting in December or January.

The key is to pick topics that interest you, because maximum benefit comes from long-term participation, versus a "drive by" relationship in which you attend one or two meetings and speak to no one. Out-of-the-classroom involvement is one of the best (and easiest) ways to distinguish yourself professionally. It also makes for a more interesting college experience and gives you a broader range of examples to use when interviewing.

Although the early half of December can be hectic, finding two to four hours to set yourself up for the second half of the year can save you loads of stress in May, while frantically scrambling for an internship or career opportunity. Those students who think ahead tend to interview more confidently, have a better chance of selecting something they really want and may uncover ideal opportunities that less involved students may miss. After all, you have the most to win from this extra investment in yourself.
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