By Ellen Grimes
May is drawing closer, which means my days as an undergrad are drawing to a close. Graduation is a day of celebration filled with toasts to the future, but it’s also a day of remembrance and sharing stories from the past. For me, my graduation will be a culmination of all the hard work I’ve put into my degree and my first big step into the real world.
I am a senior majoring in communications with a minor in PR and am all set to graduate this spring. With roughly a month left of classes, I’ve really begun to reflect on my past four years—the best four years of my life thus far— here at Michigan State. These years have been filled with late nights of studying, fun weekends with friends, countless hours in the cafeteria, and an abundance of life-changing moments. I am a more insightful, understanding, independent and resourceful version of myself because of college.
This last semester has been a whirlwind to say the least. As I try to plan out my future by applying to jobs left and right, I sometimes lose sight of the things that I still have around me. My advice to you is this: Don’t miss out on all the fun things happening during your senior year. Yes, applying is stressful and classes take up a lot of time, but try your best to focus on the present. Hang out with your friends and take a couple nights off to go out to your favorite bars. Enjoy what you have now.
Enjoying the rest of college and preparing for your future job at the same time requires a delicate balance of fun and productivity. Here is a list of things I did this past year to help me prepare for the professional world while leaving time for me to have a fun-filled final semester:
Use the Career Center. I went to the Career Center fall semester to get advice from career advisors (people who are there to help you during this confusing time). I scheduled an appointment to talk about setting up a game plan for applying for jobs. The career counselor was very helpful and gave me resources to help refine my resume, as well as tips to help network within my field.
Go to the Career Fair. This past February was the first time I had ever gone to a career fair. I showed up in my black pencil skirt with a folder full of resumes and an elevator speech ready to go. I researched all of the companies beforehand and had a list of those with which I wanted to talk. When I got to the communications building, there were already hoards of people waiting in line to talk to future employers. I only managed to get to a few of the companies on my list, and I left feeling like I didn’t make much of an impression on the representatives. The insane amount of people there made me feel lost among the crowd. But a few weeks later, I got a couple calls asking me to come in for an interview! These interviews actually got me the internships I will have in the summer. So even if you think your resume will get lost in the sea of other papers, still go to the career fair. Engage in thoughtful conversation, and it just might get you your next interview.
Network. Network. Network. Talk to people about your major and don’t be afraid to tell others about your passion. You never know who has connections with a recruiter or a professional in your preferred field of work. For example, I was talking at Thanksgiving with my boyfriend’s cousin, and she just happened to have a friend in Detroit who started her own PR firm. She was able to give me her friend’s contact information, and we set up a coffee date. Getting an inside look into the life of a professional is invaluable. In general, people like to help others, and they love talking about what they do. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people; those connections might just land you a job.
Apply and don’t give up. Most of my January and February was spent applying to companies and firms. Use LinkedIn and other job searching sites for positions that fit your degree. And no matter how many places you apply, don’t be discouraged when they don’t respond or they give you a “no”. It’s sometimes disheartening when you spend time writing a cover letter and interviewing and you don’t get the position, but all of these experiences are valuable. Every cover letter gets better the more you write them. Each interview gets easier than the last. The cliché phrase “practice makes perfect” is very applicable here. The more you talk about your experiences and get comfortable in an interview setting, the better you will get at interviewing.
Update your LinkedIn. I took the time during finals week fall semester to work on my LinkedIn profile—I would call this productive procrastinating. I wrote a personal bio and updated my experiences. I connected with my professors and work managers to form a better-rounded network of professionals. Now LinkedIn is a social media platform I check every day.
Make a digital portfolio. For communications and public relations, an online portfolio can really set you apart from other candidates. WordPress or Weebly are easy platforms to use to get started on a personal website. On my own site, I was able to upload press releases I had written for work, as well as display social media graphics I had designed. A resume and cover letter will tell companies about your experiences, but they really don’t allow you to show them what you created. Digital portfolios are great ways to showcase your talent in a visually appealing way.
Take chances. There were a few internships in Chicago that I knew would be competitive, but I decided to go ahead and apply anyway. I was fortunate enough to receive invitations for interviews with two of the companies! I didn’t end up getting the positions, but it was a wonderful opportunity and great learning experience (plus, a great excuse to visit Chicago). Don’t be afraid to take chances and apply for those competitive jobs. You don’t want to pass up what could be the opportunity of a lifetime.
The last piece of advice I would like to give all my fellow graduates: It’s okay not to get a full-time job right after college. I know there is this push to have everything figured out by graduation, but the world doesn’t always works out that way. It’s okay not to land that dream job by May. Be open to internships and keep applying during the summer. You survived college. You can survive anything.