Try This 4-Year Career Checklist

Try This 4-Year Career Checklist

Feeling confused and overwhelmed when thinking about your future career? Fortunately, there's a strategy you can use to make the whole process a little easier: Pursue specific career goals each year you're in school.

Use the following checklist to make better sense of the career-development process and move through it more easily.

Freshman Year: Know Thyself

Get to know yourself first. Learn what you enjoy doing (your interests), what you're good at doing (your skills), what's important to you in a future career (your work values) and what makes you, you (your personality). You can:

  • Take a few career-interest tests at your school's career services office. 
  • Work one-on-one with a career counselor. 
  • Take a career-planning course, if available. 
  • Ask family and friends to help you identify your important career-related traits.

Other options to learn about new careers and interests: sign up for a few off-the-beaten-path academic courses, join a student organization or start reading about various majors and careers.

Sophomore Year: Explore What's Out There

Once you reach sophomore year, you can start investigating major and career possibilities.

  • Learn about your school's majors by reading the academic bulletin and talking to faculty in programs that sound interesting. Meet with a career counselor to learn about the types of careers various majors might lead to. 
  • Talk to people who are working in interesting careers. How did they prepare -- both academically and through experience -- for their jobs? What’s their advice? 
  • Get a part-time job or internship, or pursue a volunteer experience that relates to a field that interests you.

You'll likely be ready to declare a major by the end of sophomore year, though you can adjust the schedule as necessary if you need more time.

Junior Year: Get Experience

As you move through your junior year, you'll want to focus primarily on gaining experience in your fields of interest. One of the most common ways to do this is through an internship or co-op program, which you can set up with the help of a career counselor, professor or, in some cases, on your own. Or you can gain experience through a related part-time job, a volunteer position or a student organization.

Junior year is also a good time to:

  • Develop a resume and cover letter, either on your own or with a career counselor's help, and learn how to tailor each document to an employer’s specific needs. 
  • Start researching companies or organizations you may like to work for someday.
  • Attend campus job fairs to get a sense of what the job market is like. 
  • Try to develop alternate career options in case your initial major/career choice doesn't work out.

Senior Year: Search and Transition

You'll spend most of your senior year focusing on your job hunt and upcoming transition to the real world after graduation. What to do?

  • Continue getting experience through an internship, volunteer program or co-op. 
  • Practice interviewing with a campus career counselor to become comfortable answering and asking employment-related questions. 
  • Put the finishing touches on your resume and cover letters. 
  • Take a job search course, if your school offers one. 
  • Use your school's career services office, Web sites like Monster, newspapers and your network of connections to find job openings. 
  • Research companies and organizations you'll be interviewing with, prepare thoroughly for those interviews, and land yourself a job.

You may have to modify the checklist to suit your unique needs, but it can be a useful tool to help you successfully identify, prepare for and pursue the right career for you.