College juniors, now’s the time to start career prep

It’s almost May, which means that a new stable of college graduates will exit the classroom and find themselves smack-dab in the middle of a crowded job market. In a perfect world — or at least a more prosperous one — these graduates would be thrilled to toss their studies aside and start carving out new careers. They’re young and well-educated. They should be overflowing with excitement.

But many recent grads are jaded. They’re tired of hearing about the challenges of landing a job in a tough economy. Exhausted from listening to conversations about eye-rolling cutbacks in the workplace. Drained from scouring the Internet for jobs.

Yes, this year’s graduates are a unique group of young professionals. With their recent training and first-hand understanding of the economy, they should be considered serious job hunters. They need reliable information and sound career advice to help them overcome their world-weary attitudes and make an exceptional impact with employers. And while many of them would benefit from a kick in the pants to get off the couch, these up-and-comers can achieve great things if they let go of their cynicism and forge ahead in their job searches. Jaded or not, they have what it takes to succeed. They’re ready.

This is why I am writing today’s column specifically for the class of 2013. That’s right. Next year’s grads. Juniors still have another year to fuss around with courses, professors and research projects. They have time to apply for internships, volunteer positions or part-time jobs. And, if they do it right, they can use the 12 months ahead of them to scrape off some of the pessimism that plagues so many professionals — young and old — and leap into the job market on a positive note.

The key is to develop the groundwork for a successful career down the road. Here’s how:

Create a new e-mail address using Gmail, Yahoo or whatever service you choose that doesn’t have the name of a college or university in it. Make it professional. And set up the account so that your full name appears in the “From” field when you send messages.

Develop a resume that highlights the value of your education, work history and campus activities for a competitive job market. If necessary, seek out writing advice from the college career office or other people who know how to prepare powerful, concise resumes. Don’t worry if your experience is a bit light. You’ll add to it later.

Network like a grown-up. Join associations in fields that interest you and attend local meetings. Ask professors, coaches and family members if they know anyone in your industry. If they do, see if they’ll introduce you via e-mail and try to schedule informational meetings. Remember, these folks may become future bosses, coworkers or referrals. Be open to feedback and advice.

Pursue relevant jobs or internships. Do your best work and learn as much as you can. And stay in touch with your manager and coworkers after you leave the job. A year from now, when it’s time to dive into a serious, career-focused job hunt, reach out to them (and everyone else on your contact list) and ask about full-time job opportunities.

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