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Graduation Day Is Too Late: 5 Ways To Plan For The Future Today

Regina Cash-Clark -- College job seekers: Waiting to have your diploma in hand before you begin serious job hunting could leave you at the bottom of the résumé pile. Here's why.

"Every new day is another chance to change your life." — author unknown

If you're looking (or waiting) for the perfect career to just come your way, you may find yourself a day late and a few dollars short. Waiting to have your diploma in hand before you begin serious job hunting could leave you at the bottom of the résumé pile. So, if your graduation date is closer than your next summer vacation, it's time to take action now. Here's how:

1. Set a game plan—with accountability.

Students, especially college seniors, are often intimidated by the job market and continuous news of the growing but still recovering job market. Finding job prospects in a slower economy may seem daunting, but it isn't impossible.

Your game plan should begin with where you would like to see yourself within the next four years. Since your high school and college days probably averaged a four-year span, that should be a safe number to use for projections and goal setting. So, for example, if you want to work at Company A as an editor by the spring of 2020, how can you begin today? Maybe you can get an internship over the summer or during your last semester of college to get a feel for the company's style and corporate climate. Perhaps you can volunteer for an organization that offers experience in an area that is key to an entry-level position.

If you're interested in volunteering, you can begin by searching LinkedIn under "student volunteer" for a variety of job options in various fields, and you can also follow the companies and organizations that interest you most for notices of job openings and happenings. As far as the accountability factor, that comes in when you share your plans with a best friend, relative or career advisor. Have him/her check in with you regularly, perhaps every three months or so, to see whether you have taken any active steps toward that goal.

2. Pump up your LinkedIn profile.

You may have created a profile, but have you set it apart, or is it just a cut-and-paste job from your latest résumé? Let it work for you by requesting recommendations from those you have worked for in a professional or scholarly capacity. And make sure to fill in all of the options that apply to you under your profile settings so that your Profile Strength feature is at full strength. Consider adding additional content, such as courses taken, projects completed, skills & endorsements and languages spoken for added strength.

3. Find a mentor—or a coach.

Having a wise and experienced mentor in your corner can be priceless. The biggest step comes in asking someone. Your college or university may offer an established mentorship program, or you may have someone in mind that you know personally. If not, you can search online.

Depending upon your goals and your budget, there is also the option of a professional coach who can help you with advice and hold you accountable for your goals. Do your research carefully, and make sure you find someone who won't break the bank. Maybe you know a student who can use you as a test client, i.e. guinea pig. It could work out as a win-win.

4. Make and reestablish connections.

You'll hear a lot about networking as you chart a new career path, but in today's world of social media contacts, that can include virtual connections as well. So, as you keep in touch with the persons who have helped you along your academic journey (e.g. advisors, professors, employers), ensure that you're establishing new connections as well. You can do so via LinkedIn's "Connections" feature, via a variety of online groups (e.g. alumni) and through various forms of social media in general.

Sometimes it happens naturally. If someone comments on a feed to which you've also provided feedback, reach out to him/her. If you happen to see someone with an interesting profile within the same group, touch base with a short note.

5. Get out there.

All of the preparation in the world does nothing if you don't actually step out and explore the employment pool. Such exposure can include the traditional job fair and networking mixer, but you can also try more proactive methods as well. Attend company-sponsored events that are open to the public, and tastefully introduce yourself to employees when possible. Look for connections to current interns, entry-level employees or others via your networks.

As you follow companies that interest you, get to know the important names, such as hiring managers and internship coordinators. Reach out to them by name when you're sending out your correspondence and show that you know something about their company or organization.

Finally, familiarize yourself with the various divisions of your chosen company, and determine which are best suited for you. You might find yourself considering the prospect of relocation as part of the plan, but keep an open mind. As the saying goes, nothing beats a failure, but a try. So, develop your plan and get going.

Regina Cash-Clark is a writer and an associate professor of journalism at a state college where she teaches courses in writing and journalism as a full-time professor. She previously worked in the publishing and magazine industries as a writer and editor.

© 2016 Regina Cash-Clark

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