College students preparing for their careers have to work harder than their predecessors to get the same results, says a Wake Forest University career expert, and the beginning of the school year is the best time to start.
William Currin, director of Wake Forest’s Career Services office, says in recent years a student could land a dream job with a good resume and interview. Today, students must not only perfect their resume and interviewing skills, but they must start preparing earlier and gain as much real-world experience as possible before graduation.
Currin, director of the university’s Career Services office for 14 years, says when jobs are scarce, employers have the advantage of selecting a few hires from hundreds of applicants.
“The power has shifted and students have to understand that,” he says.
It seems that students are getting the message. Undergraduate participation at Wake Forest’s Career Services office has gone up 25 percent during the economy’s downswing, and Currin hopes continued awareness will push that number higher.
Like many career services offices, Wake Forest’s provides students with an outline of tasks that will make them a more viable job candidate after graduation. The first—and most important to Currin— step for undergraduates is to approach the career search with an open mind after an honest evaluation of their personal and professional goals.
“The really critical part for underclassmen is exploration,” Currin says. “Through that exploration, students can find their true passion.”
To facilitate those experiences, Currin encourages all students to visit the Career Services office first thing when they return to campus for their sophomore year. During that year, students should begin creating a resume and start networking with friends, family and alumni.
Wake Forest and many other colleges and universities provide an extensive network of alumni that volunteer to work with undergraduates on work shadowing, internships and as sources for information about their profession. Currin says this network of professionals, who already have the college connection in common with the students who contact them, can be essential in learning the true ins and outs of a profession. Students who take advantage of this network are able to learn whether or not their expectations about a particular job are accurate. They also make invaluable connections that help along the job search.
During the process of preparing for a career, Currin says students also need to be willing to accept any exposure to the working world—paid or unpaid. Many companies have reduced paid internships, but the benefit of being in an actual working environment should not be overlooked, he says.
“It is important for students to get hard-nosed exposure to the working world as early as possible,” Currin says. “That experience becomes the talking point in future job interviews and can give one student an advantage over another.”
Approximately 20 schools along the East Coast have joined to make those opportunities easier for students to find. Each participating school in the internship exchange, including Wake Forest, Yale University, Princeton University and Boston College, makes their own internship listings available on-line to students at all of the participating schools. Students can search the database for internships that fit their career goals and geographic needs. Wake Forest was a founding member of the internship exchange.
Currin remembers the employment slump from the late 1980s and early 1990s as promise that the current job market will turn around.
“Long-term, the students that lived through that have done very well with their careers,” he says.
The Wake Forest Career Services office often reminds students to consider their first few years out of college as a continuation of their education. That change in perspective can make the job market seem less intimidating, Currin says.
“We constantly remind students that a tight job market is no reflection on their skills and potential,” Currin says. “But perfection of interview skills, a solid resume and effective networking can help overcome it.”
Sign up for weekly news highlights.Subscribe