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Expert Career Advice for College Juniors

Dec. 3, 2013
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Junior year is the most important time to pursue an internship, as it’s the last chance to really explore career options through hands-on work experience before graduation. According to a recent study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, 56.5% of paid interns in 2013 received full-time job offers from their employers. With an internship, students can increase their chances of getting a job offer, improve their resume and learn more about the industry they want to enter.

Because junior year is so important, we asked career experts from colleges across the country to share their advice for these students. Here are five simple steps that college juniors can take today to increase their chances of receiving a job offer by graduation.

Not sure how to go about securing a summer internship? Check out what the experts said here: How to Find an Internship: Expert Career Advice for College Sophomores.

[Want more career advice? Check out our Job Search Guide for Gen Y.]


1. Join a professional organization

Most professional organizations have special memberships for students who are pursuing related degrees. While joining a professional organization is often expensive, student memberships are frequently highly discounted or even free. Human resources majors, for example, can join the student chapter of the Society for Human Resources Management. There are also professional organizations targeted at specific minority demographics such as the National Hispanic Business Association and the Association for Women in Mathematics.

Career expert Dale Buckholtz suggests joining a professional organization to gain access to industry-specific information and increase your networking opportunities. He also says this is a great resume builder because “employers like seeing you have gone the next step in transitioning from academics to industry.” Once you’ve joined the professional organization, consider attending local or national conferences and other events. These are great opportunities to network with professionals and learn about potential internship and job opportunities.


2. Participate in experiential learning

While internships are a great way to participate in experiential learning, students should also consider practicums, community service, leadership opportunities, research and international programs. James Westhoff, a career expert at Husson University, believes that experiential learning is essential for students. At Husson, he explains, “most of our students are required to do internships or clinical placements in our health majors.”

Career expert Kim Whiteside advises her students to do a “growth project,” which is a 6-12 week project with a non-profit organization. Kim suggests choosing a project that is both related to your major and supports a cause you believe in. “Not only will you gain volunteer experience,” Kim explains, “but you’ll add an important element to your professional portfolio.”

Students can also consider doing a co-op, which is a cooperative educational experience that involves working for a company for more than just a summer. Expert Brian Partie explains that during a co-op “the employer’s goal is to on-board, train, and professionally develop a student that is interested in spending multiple semesters with their organization.”

3. Research your field

Junior year is a great time to start doing in-depth research on your industry. Career expert Jeff Nevers suggests committing one hour a week to researching and studying your industry. That’s right, if you get off Facebook for just one hour a week and instead browse the headlines, read relevant articles, and explore companies that interest you, you will be a huge step ahead of other job candidates when you interview for jobs. Not only will it be apparent to the interviewer that you’ve done your homework, but you will merely have to brush up on the latest news rather than trying to do a crash course in Industry 101 the night before your big day.

You can also browse online databases and websites such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook. Attending career fairs, even if you are not actively looking for a job, can be a great way to learn about the entry-level jobs that are available in your field, make contacts, and explore various companies.


4. Improve your professional soft skills

Now is the time to work on improving your professional skill set. Through your classes and experiential learning, you will develop the practical and hands-on skills necessary for the workplace. It is important, though, to also work on developing your soft skills, which are not as easily taught. Expert Dale Buckholtz explains, “When I think of solid soft skills, I think of someone who is enthusiastic, communicates effectively, is friendly, works well with others and understands the value of professional relationships and knows how to actively build them.” He suggests talking to friends and family members who you trust to give you honest and constructive feedback about your soft skills. You can then work with your career counselor or an advisor to practice and refine these skills. You can also attend an etiquette dinner or soft skills workshops on effective communication to brush up on these skills.


5. Visit your career office

As always, our career experts highly encourage students to visit the career office on their campus. By junior year, you will hopefully already have a relationship with your career counselor. Even if this will be your first trip to the career center, call and make an appointment today. The career center staff can help you prepare for interviews, edit your resume, and eventually, find a job.


About our Experts:

Name:  Dale Buckholtz

School: Colorado State University-Global Campus

Position: Director of Academic Operations

Other claim to fame: Former Intelligence Officer for National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency

Dale says: “No one cares more about your career than you. Begin establishing yourself as a serious professional that cares about the industry you’re seeking to be part of as early as possible.”


Name:  Jeff Nevers

School: University of New England

Position: Career Services Coordinator, Portland Campus

Other claim to fame: Adjunct faculty, Department of Physical Therapy, Strategic Communication Coach

Jeff says: “Work is repetition, so you want to uncover what you enjoy repeating, be it writing, counting numbers, partnering with others in projects, working alone, troubleshooting, inventing, talking, writing, or researching.”


Name: Kim Whiteside

School: Bellevue University

Position: Career Services Manager

Other claim to fame: Adjunct Instructor for the BU Discover Your Value MOOC

Kim says: “Start working on a professional portfolio. Your portfolio is a collection of work samples, class assignments, certificates, acknowledgements, projects, and other documents that showcase your accomplishments and achievements … It’s one thing to tell an employer what you can do; it’s quite another to show them.”


Name: James Westhoff

School: Husson University

Position: Director, Career Services

Other claim to fame: Adjunct Instructor for the BU Discover Your Value MOOC

James says: “Don’t be afraid to talk to experienced professionals about why they like and don’t like their work to learn more about fields. Most people are very happy to help you if you ask them nicely and treat them professionally.”


Name: Brian J. Partie, Jr.

School: Central Michigan University

Position: Associate Director, Career Services

Other claim to fame: President, Michigan Career Educator and Employer Alliance; President of Michigan HR

Brian says: “Develop a career path, but remain open minded to the outliers that may shift your original thought and present opportunities for personal and professional growth.”


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