Planning your future

With thousands of students graduating from college every year and looking for jobs, student need to be prepared as early as possible to be the best candidate for job. Traditionally, many students start looking for jobs in the last year in college or at graduation time. It is a big mistake, because it is too late. Students must learn to prepare for their career as early as second year or third year to give themselves some advantages upon graduation.

When enter college, students must select the area that most interest them and investigate the job prospects of that area. Students can start by identifying three things: what they are good at, what they enjoy doing, and what will bring them a good paying job. Of course, it is not easy but they must do it. This is probably the first important decision that students have to make in college. To start, students must create a list of things that they are good at doing. Next, they should create a list of all the things they are passionate about. By compare the two lists and find commonalities then they can find the field of study where they can combine their ability and their passion to select a career where they will make a living when graduate.

Of course, they may have found a career that they are passionate about maybe something that does not provide the salary that they are expecting. This is the “Reality aspect” that they need to make some adjustments. For example, if art is what you really like. Being an artist is your passion but it may not help you to get a good paying job. In that case, you may want to adjust to something relate to art such as being an art teacher. A teaching career can help you make a living from your talent and passion. If you like to write, being a writer may be difficult to earn a good living so you may switch to study journalism and become a journalist or an editor. The goal is to find the “intersection” of your ability, passion and reality then you can make it into a career that you love.

Many students focus too much on the degrees but ignore the knowledge and skills. Please keep in mind that the “degree” is NOT a guarantee for job. Having a degree is NOT a guarantee for future success. Companies are more interested in the knowledge and skills NOT degrees. After getting hired, companies will be concerned with performance, work ethic, and skills of their employees. If they do NOT have what the companies needs, after few months, many will find themselves “out of jobs”.

If student have specific career interests, they should learn what skills are most desirable and select their courses accordingly. Many jobs are “interrelated” so it is important to have knowledge and experience across several different fields. For students studying information technology, I always advise them to take additional courses in business, finance to broaden their scope because technical skills are NOT enough to stay competitive. For some first year students that are still unsure of their future, taking classes across a broad areas will help them narrow their career interests but remember that they only have a short time to make decision. When interested in a specific area or industry, students should focus themselves in the current trends of that industry even while in school. They should read industry magazines, blogs, and publications to stay informed. It will make them more knowledgeable, help their job search and can be helpful during their job interviews.

Every college has career center with counselors to help students select the best courses and degrees to reach their goals. They can also be the place in helping find summer internships. Many students do NOT understand the important of summer internship or jobs that are related to their field of study. Many do not even work during the summer or select summer jobs where they can make more money or where they can have fun. The most common summer job is working in department store to sell things. It is easy to find, it is more fun since they meet more people. Unless your future career is in selling, marketing you must consider summer jobs as something that preparing you for your future. Summer jobs are where you get the experiences as they will make your resume much better than someone without experience. Each year, in the U.S. every industry receive thousands of student applications for summer jobs, many are willing to work with minimum paid or even volunteer to work with “no pay” just to get the experiences. The data indicated that in the U.S. and Europe, a majority of students worked during the summer but in Asia, the number is much less which means either Asian students do not consider “temporary job” important or summer jobs are not available to students. However, I think it will change soon.

With globalization, there are very high demand for skilled graduates in specific areas to work with foreign companies or working oversea. Being able to speak a foreign language can set any job candidate far ahead of the rest. The obvious benefits are better salary, more travels, more opportunities and better career advancements. I think by investing in learning a foreign language is probably the best investment that you can make today.

A student who plans ahead and wisely uses his time at college to prepare for his career will have a much better chance at finding a better job after graduation.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University
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