Here’s a 9-step guide to preparing for entering the job force – all while still in college. It can be helpful to start thinking about this early, even if senior year is still a couple years ahead.
When you are clear about your key strengths and how they benefit others, you become a magnet for opportunities. A compelling brand conveys confidence in the results that you provide. Carissa Gay, Courageous Leaders
It takes time to reach that level of clarity, and that’s ok. In the meantime, here are some tips on being proactive.
1. Get a LinkedIn profile up and running.
An online resume and networking platform can be helpful in finding opportunities later on. It also gives visibility to potential employers. Add education, and any awards or experiences. When listing work experience, it can be very helpful to recruiters to include a bulleted list of requirements and achievements for each position. Be sure to also include trigger words where possible; these are the key skills listed on job applications you notice.
From there, a bio can be crafted, which can be as short as a résumé intro or a more detailed summary.
Once this profile is set up, you can use LinkedIn to network. The college’s alumni network and fellow students is a great place to start! From there, LinkedIn can be used to:
Follow companies and topics in fields of interest
Stay up-to-date on workshops and seminars in the field
Check out job opportunities often shared in the social feed
2. Start working on the résumé.
Writing it up early means it can be returned to with fresh eyes. Often, after letting it sit for a couple days, it’s easier to see typos and unclear sentences.
Some general résumé tips: stick to bulleted points over complete sentences, and use key words for skills in the field. Also, describe tasks in an active rather than passive sense: “debate club management with 500 students” is passive, but “managed debate club of 500 students” is more direct. Or instead of the passive “code development for streamlined data management,” a more active description might be “developed and streamlined code for data management.”
3. Review social media use.
In the digital age it’s really hard to separate personal and professional life. Many hiring teams do look up their candidates, and in some cases social media checks are replacing (or complementing) the letters of recommendation. Of course, hiring teams are usually fine – might even appreciate – a well-rounded candidate with a life outside of work. But it’s important to consider that personal social media platforms, if they are public, may well become an extension of the professional profile.
4. Internships & student groups.
Internships and student group involvement look great on a résumé (and some might even be added to your LinkedIn profile), they can build great hard and soft skills, and they can provide real-life experience that demonstrates dedication to the field.
With these, I’m not just saying “yeah I studied this in college, it sounds cool” – I’m showing dedication by demonstrating: “I’ve actually worked in a lab, or run #scicomm initiatives, or gotten a feel for industry environments, so I know for a fact I want to work more here.”
Even a student group totally unrelated to STEM is sure to help out with stuff like negotiation, communication, and project management skills that can help set you apart.
5. Community involvement.
A place to showcase that we are well-rounded people with actual values and relationships. More employers are recognizing that having a life outside of work is healthy and prevents burnout on the job.
6. Interviewing skills.
Confidence under pressure, the ability to speak articulately, on-your-feet thinking – these can be helpful in an interview, and they can be practiced in the required Public Speaking course, or an optional debate club.
Networking, teamwork, and communication should also be highlighted in the interview.
Practicing for the interview is a great idea – as well as looking up common questions to expect. Definitely learn how to answer behavioral questions with the STAR method (answer following a ‘Situation, Task, Action, Result’ pattern). But it’s also nice to remember that a lot of interviewers are looking for good workers, not necessarily good interviewees. Such an interviewer will be more forgiving on little mistakes.
Finally, the interview is also an opportunity for the candidate to interview the company. No one wants to work somewhere they won’t be respected. Come prepared with questions to see how they think about expectations (do they expect unpaid overtime?), career opportunities (will they help you grow, or do they expect a tireless lab monkey?), and office culture dynamics.
7. Twitter: Follow the science.
Twitter is a popular social media platform for scientists! Follow scientists and labs to get latest published papers, research, and lab position openings. And be sure to brag about that paper you’re an author on as well.
8. GitHub: A community of coders.
Many scientists prefer to share their code with GitHub, and the personal profile here can effectively become a coding résumé. Sharing reproducible code is a huge plus in the professional world of programming. It is a highly marketable skill – yes, even for biologists.
9. Start thinking about personal branding now.
First of all, what is personal branding?
Your personal brand is the unique identity and value that you bring to the table. Carissa Gay, Courageous Leaders
In some sense, it has a lot to do with networking and presenting yourself to your industry.
[T]he brand you build around yourself is perhaps the single most important way you can stand out in your spheres of influence . . . personal branding is not about selling. It’s about making yourself available to others—clients and peers. Laura Lake, The Balance Small Business
Personal branding is the new thing for professionals, budding or otherwise. It’s essentially how you present yourself – in person and on social media. Social media used thoughtfully becomes a practical tool for networking and showcasing a personal brand.
It’s about presenting a profile such that, “others will see you as an established professional but also get a sneak peek into your personal life and what makes you tick” (Lake). The ideal colleague is motivated and passionate about the job; personal branding can highlight where that motivation comes from.
It means looking at your skillset, identifying how you want others to see you, and planning for the growth you want in your life and career.
Creating who [we] are is an ongoing process. . . . Only we can make the change for which we are hoping if we are persistent. Meg Frantz, Thomas Edison State University
It’s totally ok to not know what to do after high school or college. But we can start thinking about networks, personal brands, and other ways to prepare for a career as we pursue that vision.