7 Ways a College Student Can Start Becoming a Professional Now

Photo Cred: Jasmin Cormier

Whether you’re about to graduate in a couple weeks or you have a few semesters ahead of you, there are lots of things you can do to get started on your career.

I know I know, you want to enjoy your days at school while you can without having to worry about the “real world” that lies ahead.

You don’t have to devote all of your free time to developing your career.  There are little things that you can get started on now, that will pay off dividends after you graduate.

Want to get your career off to a good start after you graduate?  Here are some tips.

  1. Plant your seeds. If you’re not sure where to get started networking, just look around you.  You’re surrounded by future professionals (classmates) and seasoned vets (professors).  You also have a huge network of active professionals (alumni).  Sign up for Linked In, and start connecting with EVERYONE that you know.  You never know when a simple Linked In connection could lead to a big opportunity.  Here, you can start by connecting with me.
  2. Participate in projects. There are tons of things you can do around campus that will look great to future employers and will give you some great experience.  Start writing for the college newspaper.  Or better yet, start your own as a blog!  Start communities for students in the same position as you.  Just start something.  If you fail, who cares…?  You’ll learn a ton and it will look a lot better on your resume than whatever other crap we tend to fill that POS paper with.
  3. Attend events. Have you met Patrick Johnson?  No?  Well there are a ton of PR professionals who do because the kid is at every conference he can make it too.  Think you can’t afford it? Guess again.  Most conferences have student discounts, and pretty much ALL conferences take volunteers.  I’ve had the opportunity to meet some amazingly prominent professionals by volunteering at conferences.  Usually how it works is you work for half the conference, and the other half you can do what you want.  Start shaking hands.
  4. Join communities. There are hundreds of communities online for professionals.  You can find them on Linkedin, twitter, facebook, and niche social networks.  I got started in my career by joining 20 Something Bloggers and Brazen Careerist.  Just join them and start asking questions.  Professionals respect a student that’s taking the initiative to get out there and learn.
  5. Start writing. Whether it’s for your blog, for someone else’s blog, in your own private notebook…whatever.  Writing will help you learn and grow as a professional.
  6. Establish mentorships. It’s not something you can just set up usually.  By participating in communities, attending events, and networking, you’ll start to build stronger relationships with professionals.  Email them.  Ask them for skype chats.  Ask questions.  When you dive off the college cliff into the rapids of the real world, a mentor can be your life vest.  (Take that home…chew on it).
  7. Ignore me and do whatever you want. These tips are what worked for me.  They may or may not work for you.  If you have the motivation to kick off your career right, just do.  The first and biggest thing I’ve learned since graduating is that the doers will flourish.  No matter what I, or anyone else tells you, you just have to do what you think will work for you.  Just do.

Do you have any more tips for college students?  If you’re a college student, do you have any questions?

19 thoughts on “7 Ways a College Student Can Start Becoming a Professional Now

  1. Thanks for mentioning me, David. You’ve said something here that resonates with me, no it wasn’t saying my name. But in the third point you talk about attending evnets and volunteering. My wonderful start into the PR/SM world in NYC all started cause I offered to help out.

    @db asked if I would man the door at the opening Social Media Week party and the rest is history. I’d do it again if he need too. It does wonders, especially being at the pivotal place where everyone enters and leaves. Volunteering is the best way to meet people! Do it if you can!

    1. haha exactly, and look at how much opportunity came out of that one volunteer opp. Even though it might have sucked at the time (you had to stand outside and missed a lot of the party) you made the best of it and ended up getting more value out of the meet up than anyone there.

      Good stuff.

  2. Good stuff, David. I think the most important advice (stolen from Nike) is “just do it.” Whichever pieces of anyone’s advice the student chooses to take, it doesn’t work until the jump in and do it!

    In the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt:
    “It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.”

    1. A career is an intimidating thing. There are so many different ways you can approach it, that you can get overwhelmed, and often end up doing nothing. Just taking the first step, as small as it may be, will get you on your way.

  3. David, definitely agree with your 7 tips. I wish I had known what career path I wanted to take earlier so that I really could have had more time to do things like these. A couple of additions I would provide:

    This sort of combines mentorships and projects, but find a Professor who studies in whatever field you’re passionate about and really pick their brain. Heck, see if you can help them do any research. They can definitely teach you a thing or two.

    In the same vein, there are a ton of campus organizations who need help in areas like marketing, PR, etc. and would give you a great chance to get some real experience, even if it is on a much smaller scale. This gives you specific results and projects that you can point to when talking to potential employers (not to mention it shows you’re very proactive).

    Great stuff man!

    1. Great addition. I knew a few students who got to work with professors on real projects. It’s an amazing way to get some real experience, and learn from your professors in a hands on environment.

      Actually just heard about a company that aims to give advertising students the opportunity to run campaigns for brands who are looking to reach students at that school. No reason that can’t be done for any communications profession.

  4. I love this post, It seems like you are echoing many of the things I have been telling my friends. I cannot however seem to convince many people of the power of blogging. It seems to have the negative connotation to it that I do not understand! How can positioning yourself as a thought leader hurt?! But, I am preaching to the choir I suppose! Also, I am on a paid internship with a marketing firm and only a few classes left till graduation so it really hit home with me! Side note, in tip 3 I am guessing it should read: “Think you can’t afford it?”

  5. As a college senior, I relish each piece of advice. I especially appreciate your mention of the importance of writing. I’m a firm believer that effective writing skills will open many professional doors.

    1. If you’re in any media or communications related fields, writing is an extremely important skill. Really glad you enjoyed my advice and I hope it helps. Good luck!

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