Early Career Tips for University Students

Are you wondering what you should be doing as a student to prepare for your career? Today I’m sharing some early career tips for university students, so you can get ahead on your professional development planning.

Let’s take a look! Here is some top career guidance for students who are just starting their careers. You are probably working your first jobs now and starting to orient yourself towards your future career. As you set professional goals for yourself, you can start taking steps to build and develop your career.

Build Your Career Foundation

The first step in career management involves seeking out opportunities to develop a solid career foundation. That means you should be doing things that not only build your skills, but also provide recent examples of your aptitudes and expertise so that you can put them on your resume and highlight them in job interviews. This is not always about learning new skills, it is also about having concrete examples to speak about when you are applying for the jobs that will lead to your future career. This is an opportunity for you to begin building your professional network. Read on to find out how this will help your career development!

Start Building Your Network

Look for Mentors

You will encounter people who are willing to invest in helping you reach your career goals. They will help you build a network, support you, help you navigate your career. These can be official mentors, or just people you work with who are willing to help.

I have had numerous mentors, both official and unofficial. One of my previous bosses was a great mentor – she would help me find opportunities to expand my skillset and add new activities to my resume. Mentors outside your workplace can also provide neutral advice when you are dealing with complicated workplace situations.

Your university may offer mentorship programs where you can be connected with a mentor – possibly even someone in the industry you want to work in. You can also look into joining networking groups, particularly related to your future career. Think about reaching out directly to people whose careers you admire. Many folks are open to talking to students about their own careers. Finding out about the careers of others can help you build a career and explore your own options.

Get to Know Your Coworkers

Your coworkers are your current and future network. These folks can let you know about new job opportunities, connect you to future employers, and recommend you for upcoming opportunities. Additionally, people are happier when they have a “work best friend”. Wouldn’t you rather work with people you know and like?

Accept invitations to social events when you’re new – this will help you get to know the culture and your colleagues. Someone gave me this advice after I graduated, but I wish they had shared it earlier! It would have been really helpful when I was working on my Co-op term.

Impress Your Boss

Your early bosses are usually going to be your references, so you will want to impress them (exceptions can be made if they are terrible bosses – but then you need to find other references!). Your boss may also have the power to recommend you for a promotion or other position.

You can impress them by taking your new role seriously. This may involve taking notes, doing homework, and asking questions when necessary.

As you are learning your new role and going through any orientation, make sure you take notes. This will mean that you don’t have to ask questions that have already been answered. Review your notes and make sure you clarify any confusing points. You may also have to do some reviewing outside of work. Some “homework” may be necessary in the beginning because there may be a lot of new information. This should not continue into your actual work, but there may be some details in the beginning that you need to review.

In the past when I have started new roles, in order to disrupt my boss less, I would keep a running list all day of my questions for them. That way, if I saw them just once a day, I would get all my questions answered so I could get on with my work. In between getting the answers, I would just work on other tasks. This worked well to keep me moving forward on my projects, while also ensuring I didn’t have to disrupt my boss with questions all day.

Expand Your Skills

Make sure you’re building new skills. Keep an eye out for opporunities to do new things in your workplace, especially ones you can excel at. This also means that when you run out of opportunities to learn new things in one role, it may be time to move on.

When you go to a job interview, or you’re writing a cover letter, you can’t just include a list of your skills. You also have to give examples of when you’ve used those skills and show effective you were. In interviews, you’ll be asked to describe times that you exhibited certain skills, or dealt with certain situations, so you’ll want to keep track of these.

As you work and build your career, you should keep a running list of accomplishments. Put them in a spreadsheet or a Google doc, or a note in your phone. Write about projects that you completed successfully, compliments your boss gave you, and any other workplace successes. You can also use this list during performance reviews or when you are negotiating for a raise. You can start the list with things from your courses and add in more experiences as you bild them. If you want some ideas for skills to include, you can also look at this post on transferable skills. This will also benefit you when you have formal (or informal) reviews. You will have an opportunity to highlight accomplishments and indicate how much you deserve a raise!

If you’re looking for more information on doing career research, make sure you check out this post: How Can I Explore my Career Options and find out your different options for building work experience in this one: Work Experience For Students. But if you’re having trouble knowing where to start with your career research, sign up for the Beginning Career Research Webinar coming up soon!

If you’re thirsty for more career knowledge, you should also check out my recommendations of The Top Ten Career Podcasts for Students.

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