If you are still in school while reading this, remember this golden rule: It is never too early to start preparing for the job market. More students are graduating now than ever before, which means competition for great jobs to launch rewarding careers is more competitive than ever.
Even if you are just starting at your university, there are a few things you can do to improve your career while still in school.
Many ambitious students will try to load up on societies, fraternities, and other extracurricular activities to help add meat to their resume before graduation.
This is not without reason – 70% of businesses believe that having a track record of activities helps candidates stand out from a crowd. This does come with a caveat: if you get too many activities on your resume, employers may see it more as filler than substance.
Quality Over Quantity
When you are choosing how to spend your time with activities, keep in mind what employers are looking for when checking your extracurriculars.
First, your activities should show you to be passionate and dedicated with what you do. This is important – if you have too many activities that all last a short amount of time, it gives more of an impression that you prefer to jump around (and may do the same in the job market). If you have a few activities that you stick with for the long haul, it makes a much stronger statement that you like to get involved with what you are doing, and can make long-term contributions.
Next, having more leadership positions makes a much stronger statement. Leadership positions in these organizations helps tell potential employers that you have initiative to take charge, organize and execute projects, and get involved. Non-leadership positions do not say much about what exactly you were doing, other than the activity is something you were interested in.
Perhaps the biggest impact of your extracurriculars is the people you meet while getting involved. This is especially true for business fraternities, but can apply to any organization – friends and contacts you build while in school can potentially be a big help later when you search for a job.
This is not to say that you should join these organizations just for the sake of networking, but taking part in activities with people who share common interests are more likely to last beyond graduation, and into the job market.
The Final Word
Having lots of extracurricular activities on your resume probably will not make or break your application or interview. The major advantage is having something to add “color” to your resume and help you stand out from the field of thousands of other students graduating and applying for entry level positions with a similar educational background. Your extracurriculars should show that you have a little bit extra drive or leadership experience. Better yet, show interest in a skill that the hiring manager finds useful (or at least interesting). The final word is that the right activities could give you an edge over a candidate without it.
Pick Classes That Build Skills
“Relevant coursework” does not rank very high on the list of what employers want. In fact, you might be better off by leaving the “relevant coursework” section off of your resume entirely, unless you need to fill space. Paradoxically, the classes you choose will have a huge impact on how many calls for interviews you get on the job hunt, and are one of the most important things you can do to improve your career while in school.
This is because the biggest concern of any hiring manager is whether or not they think you can do the job. Fresh graduates usually need a lot of training on basic workplace skill sets. If you can add the right skills to your resume, you will get a massive advantage over other candidates.
Employers say the biggest problem they have with fresh graduates is lack of communication skills and professionalism. Regardless of your major or field, it will help your job prospects to put that fear to rest to any manager reading your resume. Take a class on business communication (and take it seriously), and apply what you learn when crafting your CV and cover letters.
Beyond communication, there are usually a few courses in every major teach specific skills. These can be the most valuable classes you take, even if they feel worthless at the time. If you learn something in a class that you can list with your “skills and competencies”, it will be worth 5 times as much as a course under “relevant coursework”.
Find Your Dream Job Posting
There are two things you should be looking at every time you pick your courses. First, see how much closer it brings you towards graduation. A very close second is job postings for the job you want after you graduate. This second point is ignored all too often by students, only to deeply regret after graduation.
Every job posting lists the company, job title, responsibilities, and required skills. When you search through postings to find a job that you would really love to grab, you can use this information to choose your coursework to help build the exact competencies potential employers are looking for. If you can cater your academic record to match what your potential employer is looking for, you stand a much stronger chance of landing an interview.
StockTrak has a job search tool build just for this: you can search over 500,000 jobs and internships to find the one you want the most, then build your academic record to match.
We have written at length the exact value of paid versus unpaid internships, but the cold, hard truth is that internship experience is the #1 thing employers look for in fresh graduates. There is no true classroom replacement for work experience, and a good internship can both give your resume a big boost, or even secure a job offer outright.
Why Internships Matter
Internships matter because it is the only real way for your potential employer to see how you work in the “real world”. Your internships can show you proactive you are with the job hunt, and the references can be invaluable. Most importantly, great internships can lead directly to a job offer, letting you skip the job hunt entirely. An internship is a fantastic way to build work experience, network with people in the field, and gain valuable references for later.
So Why Not Just Skip Everything Else?
There are many upsides to getting as many internships as possible while still in school, but the process is not quite that simple. Getting an internship is almost exactly the same as getting a job, so do not expect landing one will come naturally. Internships are also in very limited supply – it can be a major challenge to land one, let alone the internship of your dreams. Since internships are being pursued almost exclusively by students (or recent graduates), all of the other suggestions for what you can do while still in school apply double for internships – whatever you can do to set yourself apart from your peers will help.
Apply for internships early and often – the StockTrak job search tool also includes tens of thousands of internships looking for candidates for next term, so start searching now.
Getting professional certifications is one of the most overlooked ways to start boosting your resume while you are still in school.
If you want to work in the securities or brokerage industry, almost every position requires at least some certification. Usually the first is the Series 7, so one of the big frustrations for finance companies is that they need to spend the first couple of months for every new recruit on preparation for passing the certification exams.
Many brokerages skip the middle man and just require Series 7 certification as one of the core job requirements, even for “entry level” positions. Since you need to be sponsored by a company to sit for the exam, this puts up a big roadblock to fresh graduates.
The Certification Secret
The secret to jumping over this hurdle is that you can actually get pre-certified for the Series 7 while you are still in school from the Securities Training Corporation. This is the same course that over 80% of Wall Street require fresh hires to complete before they can start work, and passing this means you are ready to take the certification exam without any additional instruction.
You can take the Series 7 pre-certification course today and add “Series 7 Pre-Certified” to your resume. This is a great way to get noticed both for the job market after graduation, but internships as well. Click here to start!