10 things to do senior year of college to set yourself up for career success
Monster asked career experts what college seniors can do to prepare for their post-graduation job search. Check off these senior year to-dos to get ready for the competitive job market ahead.
As a college senior in this day and age, you've got to contend with a whole new set of challenges. And that's in addition to whatever required courses you need to finish. But don’t lose sight of the end game: getting a job after graduation. To set yourself up for better job prospects, you need to create a plan for success during your senior year of college.
If it seems like the majority of college graduates you know are talking about how they’re out of work or underemployed, that’s because they are. According to a 2018 report by Burning Glass Technologies, 43% of college graduates are underemployed in their first job.
We asked 10 career experts to each contribute an essential piece of career advice for college seniors, so you can best prepare yourself for the job market—and still leave time for some final hoorahs with all of your friends. (Tip: Monster's grad site has loads of useful info.)
1. Clean up your social media profiles
Regardless of how great you look in that Instagram photo or how funny you think your tweet is, your future employer does not want to see pictures of you twerking at frat parties or read tweets about how you spent every lecture playing Animal Crossing—and yes, they will know.
According to a Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) survey, 84% of companies use social media to find candidates. Making sure you don’t have anything publicly available that could damage your chances at securing a job is a good first step in professionalizing your digital footprint.
“Any unprofessional photos, posts, tweets, etc. should be taken down, and all profiles should be set to private,” suggests Jennifer Magas, vice president of Magas Media Consultants LLC and clinical associate professor of public relations at Pace University in New York City. “Social media is oftentimes the first thing a future employer turns to when considering a new hire, so be sure that all of your public posts and friends are things you’d want to represent yourself.”
2. Create a personal website or blog
Sharing a consistent output of professionally relevant work on social media channels will help show recruiters you’re a serious candidate. For Ryan Erskine, director of VIP client service at BrandYourself, a New York City–based online reputation management company, this output stemmed from his website and blog.
“When I applied to BrandYourself, I was thrilled to discover my website had played an essential role in landing me an interview,” Erskine says. “The head of HR had seen my website, was impressed by my portfolio page and blog, and felt compelled to reach out.”
And remember, your online portfolio is a living, breathing representation of your best work, so don’t treat it like the dentist—make sure you’re updating frequently.
3. Learn a new skill
For some credit-rich college seniors, your final year yields the opportunity to take fewer classes. While this might sound enticing, consider which new skills you could learn in a class you haven’t gotten the chance to take that would help you find a great first job.
“This could be a coding or marketing course or something else relevant in your field,” says Alissa Carpenter, a career coach at Everything's Not Ok, And That's Ok Coaching in Philadelphia. “Look through job descriptions and see what skills employers are looking for, and start learning them while you are already paying tuition.”
4. Network as much as possible
There are many ways to network, and many valuable contacts to be made. From speaking with alumni to meeting with professors and family friends in the industry, networking is a time-tested way to get hired.
For Kirk Hazlett, adjunct professor of communications at the University of Tampa, networking sparked his career.
“As I tell my students, the best PR job I had in my entire professional career came as a result of networking,” Hazlett says. “The job wasn't advertised, but the person I had met knew the organization was looking for someone with my particular skills. He picked up the phone, called the organization's president, connected us, and I got hired.”
5. Find a mentor
Finding a mentor senior year of college can not only help you find your first job, but it can also pay career dividends for years to come.
Not sure how to find a mentor? “Use your college's alumni network or mentor programs to identify professionals in the field(s) that interests you, and conduct informational interviews,” says Shireen Jaffer, co-founder and CEO of Edvo in the greater Los Angeles area. “These interviews will help you find the person you can trust and rely on for long-term professional guidance.”
6. Line up at least three professional references
On top of a resume and cover letter, most prospective employers will require you to submit a short list of professional references (usually three to five) in your job application. These can be people like internship managers, your thesis professor, your part-time job supervisor, and others who can vouch for your skills and work ethic.
“It's important to ask referees to serve as references approximately one month before the job search starts,” says Santa Ono, president and vice chancellor of the University of British Columbia. “It's also important to carefully select references that are most appropriate for the job in question. Students should always be sure to keep their references informed of possible contacts from prospective employers.”
7. Complete at least one internship
What’s the No. 1 way to know if a career path is right for you? Take it for a test drive. Internships are the perfect vessel for discerning whether or not you want to dive into a particular industry, and they’re an absolute must for college seniors, no matter your major.
“Many of my students want to be news and sports reporters or work on films or TV shows,” says Andrew Selepak, director of the master's program in social media at the University of Florida. “I tell them that even while they are at school, they should work for local TV and radio stations, work for online media companies creating content, or work with other students to create short films they can share on YouTube. The most important thing is to not wait to see if they really want to do what they think they want to do.”
8. Hone your elevator pitch
You may have a rock-solid resume, a carefully curated cover letter, and references willing to sing your praises, but when you start interviewing for jobs, you’ll also need to be able to effectively communicate your value in person. That’s why your elevator pitch—your professional story—is so important to master.”
“It takes some time and reflection, of course, but there are so many partners on- and off-campus willing to help students with brand building and communicating their strengths and talents as part of the recruiting process,” says Amber Graham, strategic initiatives program director at the University of Rochester in upstate New York. “Career services is an excellent place to start, but parents, alumni, faculty, peers, university staff, and other network partners can give great input and feedback on how to communicate your story.”
9. Actually go to Career Services
Part of your tuition goes to funding your college’s career services center, so why not get your money’s worth and have professionals review your resume, conduct a mock interview, suggest internships, or take advantage of other valuable career services? Career services can also tell you about any virtual recruiting events that will be taking place that you should check out.
“Not many [students] take advantage of the services offered through their career services department," says Linda Pophal, owner of Strategic Communications in Minneapolis and a member of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). “I've had many students after graduation tell me that they wished they had spent more time getting advice and taking advantage of these services.”
10. Tailor resumes and cover letters to companies
Forget one size fits all. Working off of a cover letter template or resume template is a great start, but they should serve as just that: starting points to tailor your cover letters and resumes to the companies and positions you’re applying for.
“My best piece of advice is if you find a role or company you are really passionate about joining, write a custom letter specific to that role or company,” says Mollie Delp, lead analyst at EAB. “Show me you are willing to put the effort in to get noticed, and tell me what makes you excited specifically about this role at this company. If you do that, I will be sure to notice your passion and excitement, which gets me excited.” Similarly, review job ads thoroughly to pick out the important keywords, and use them in your resume.
As a college senior, you have your work cut out for you. Not sure if your resume is working as hard as it should be? Get a free resume evaluation today from the experts at Monster's Resume Writing Service. You'll get detailed feedback in two business days, including a review of your resume's appearance and content, and a prediction of a recruiter's first impression. It's a quick and easy way you can get your resume in top shape for a job search. (Plus, having Monster's experts give you a hand means your resume is one less thing you have to worry about this year.)