As a student, your number one priority is learning – paying attention in class, building knowledge frameworks and engaging with new ideas. But one thing you’ll discover sooner or later is that not all the required learning comes from course materials. Outstanding assignments and assessment marks are not enough to land your dream role. The most successful graduates are those who consistently look for learning experiences as widely as possible, and this means working on your professional development at the same time.
It’s crucial for students to consider professional development during studies, not just as an afterthought once you’ve already completed your courses. The cynical view is that professional development is about making sure your resume is as stacked as possible. That’s one aspect, but it’s also about becoming the best person you can be and creating new opportunities for yourself to grow into.
Here are the top eight ways you can start developing your job readiness well before you graduate.
1. Self reflection
The first step is reflecting internally to understand your strengths and weaknesses. Without this, you won’t be able to take action to improve areas you need to develop by building experience and learning from mistakes. Next, try a transferrable skills survey to start getting an idea, and ask a friend or mentor which areas you could improve in.
Whether you’re upskilling or changing careers, having an idea of where you’ll go post-graduation is a great idea. There are numerous different fields to go into in tech, and if you’ve completed a certification in cyber security, data science or software engineering, you’ll find an almost overwhelming selection of options.
But before deciding which career to target later on, find out as much as you can about that specific industry landscape and whether it will suit you. It’s important to ask yourself:
- What are the main positions available to graduates in this field?
- What are the required skill sets for those roles?
- Is it expected that you undertake an unpaid internship before you can aim for a paid position?
- How long could you realistically afford to devote to an unpaid or low paid role? Will you need to have another job on the side?
- Which role/s in the field do you ultimately aspire to?
- Could you be satisfied with the expected salary and conditions?
3. Leave your comfort zone
Once you’ve done some reflection and research, try to challenge yourself to grow in the areas that you’ve recognised as your weakest. The key competencies to think about here are communication, teamwork, sales and customer service, leadership, and problem solving and critical thinking.
These are all skills it’s difficult to develop if you spend time solely in the classroom or buried in the books. Set yourself some achievable goals. And remember, the only way to grow is to stray from what you’re comfortable with. You may develop new interests, meet new people and learn you’re capable of much more than you thought.
4. Diversify your experiences
More than half of paid graduate internships lead to job offers. So if you can organise a paid internship, either through an internship program or by reaching out and organising it yourself, that’s certainly a step in the right direction – but it’s not your only option. Try volunteering with a not-for-profit or charity aligned with the industry. Landing a volunteer opportunity is typically much easier than securing a paid role, and it gets your foot in the door while you accrue relevant skills and experience – not to mention building key relationships.
Meanwhile, get involved in everything you can. Take on new opportunities for experiences you haven’t considered before. Get a student job or play a leadership role in a student organisation. Without spreading yourself too thin, try to say yes to opportunities that will force you to grow.
5. Network, network, network
It’s never too soon to start networking. Considering that between 70 and 80 percent of jobs are never posted, building connections with other people is probably the most important thing you can do for your career outside of studying. While you’re a student, you have access to a fantastic networking resource – your educators! Get to know their special interest areas, engage with their intellectual passions, and ask for introductions wherever possible. If you show you’re motivated towards specific career goals, they’ll help where they can.
Join networking groups and put job fairs in your calendar. When you attend industry events, make an effort to be social and remember people’s names. Along with providing a chance to make new friends, being well connected may just be what sets you apart from your competition down the track – or how you hear about the opportunity in the first place.
6. Be savvy with your online presence
Soul-sucking though it may be, constructing a basic, up-to-date LinkedIn profile is a must when building your professional network. Twitter and Instagram, too, can be useful for finding work and building connections. It’s wise to lock down your privacy settings on any purely personal accounts to protect your online reputation. Even if you’ve decided not to use social media professionally, it’s important to review any content – make sure to try Googling your own name and Facebook presence to see what a prospective employer would unearth when they conduct their pre-employment checks.
And in case anything embarrassing or controversial shows up, it’s not the end of the world, but it is best to approach it head on rather than ignoring it. There are lots of tools to help you build a stronger personal brand by keeping personal information under wraps.
7. Practise writing a targeted resume
Why start writing a resume before concluding your studies? Because in the process of creating your resume, you’ll be able to assess your knowledge and skills, and work towards filling out any weak areas.
First of all, you’ll need to research the positions on offer. Make a list of the job sites and job titles you’re targeting, and get in the habit of checking that list methodically. When you have an ad you can see yourself applying for, make sure to tailor the document to the exact requirements of the role.
Don’t bother with a generic resume that doesn’t address the job description. Finally, make sure to get your resume checked by someone else for any common errors or typos.
This is where our Job Outcomes team can provide a wealth of support. Throughout your study with IOD, you get a dedicated career coach who will not only help you with things like writing and proofing your resume, but also helping you identify ideal roles to apply for, writing appropriate cover letters and even prepping for job interviews!
8. Be proactive
Finally, be proactive. Approach places you might consider working and build relationships there, even before you’re ready to apply for a formal role. Ask questions, be curious and get involved. As well, check out the career service of your educational institution to find out what help they can offer you.
You may have the skills and knowledge to succeed, but even the most experienced in the field know that jobs won’t just land in their laps. Finding the right role for you will take dedication, effort and hard work. And it might not always feel successful. But by being proactive, and taking every opportunity that comes your way – as well as finding some of your own! – you’ll find success much easier to achieve.
Ready to start working towards a resume that hiring managers won’t be able to put down? Book a career consult to find out which program would be best for you.