It may be early in the academic year, but you're probably already wondering what to do once you've graduated from college. It's smart for college seniors to start planning now for life after college.
Tackle this checklist, a bit at a time, and by graduation you should be ready for life after college:
1. Strengthen your relationships
The old adage, "It isn't what you know, it’s who you know," is only partially true. But connections do matter in the professional world.
Get in touch with professors, coaches, older former classmates and other mentors who have been important to you. Let them know how much their mentoring has meant and that you want to stay in touch. Has someone been particularly helpful to you during college? Invite them to lunch to say thanks.
Connecting with your school's alumni network, even well before graduation, can give you a leg up on your future job hunt as well. Locate a local alumnus who is doing work in your field and ask if you can take him or her for coffee to chat about the profession. Attend student-alumni events on campus to meet alumni in your field.
2. Clean up your social-media profiles
Don't wait until graduation. Do it now. Employers routinely eliminate potential candidates after seeing rants, inappropriate photos, etc. on social media.
3. Create, or improve, your LinkedIn profile
While many college students find LinkedIn to be boring compared with other social media, it's the place to be when you're establishing your career and looking for a job. In the course of the recruiting process, many hiring managers may turn to the LinkedIn profile to learn about a candidate's experience, so it’s important to make sure that your photo makes a good first impression. You should be alone in the picture, looking straight ahead and poised, and dressed for business.
Make your Summary statement sound like the first paragraph of a killer cover letter. Mention volunteer work in your work experience. In the "Skills and Endorsements" section, mention specific keywords, which will help when potential employers are doing a search. Avoid business jargon that can be difficult to understand.
4. Create a professional email address
While college students often communicate via email less than they do through texting and social media, in the working world email still rules. If your current address includes words that make you sound less than professional, you should get a new address to use for your professional life and job searches.
5. Update your email signature
Make your email signature work for you when you start your job search. First, customize your LinkedIn public profile URL. Without customization, your LinkedIn URL is a generic, auto-generated address. With customization, you can include your name and/or professional brand. After you’ve done that, add your new LinkedIn address to your email signature, along with your other contact information. Remove anything from your signature that doesn't give a professional impression.
6. Craft your elevator pitch
The elevator pitch is a concise, carefully planned, and well-practiced marketing message about your professional self that can be clearly stated in the time it would take to ride up an elevator.
Creating your pitch forces you to figure out your primary skill set and what makes you valuable so that when someone says, "Tell me about yourself," you can be prepared and avoid the deer-in-headlights look. Aim for a 15-to-30-second sound bite. Remember to smile, look the person in the eye and (try to) relax!
7. Update your resume
While paper resumes are not used much these days, you will still need a resume to email to prospective employers and to upload to job-search websites. Stick to one page and keep it simple.
8. Check your credit score
It's not only landlords and car dealerships who check your credit score these days. Go to annualcreditreport.com to get a free credit report. This site is sponsored by credit-reporting organizations Equifax, Experian and TransUnion and allows consumers to get one free report, covering all three, once per year. Check your report for potential errors that could affect your score and request that errors be corrected.
This may sound like a lot to do, but if you start now and take it a step at a time, by graduation you'll be in great shape to take on the job market, knowing you are presenting yourself like a pro.
Moving on to life after college also brings new financial responsibilities and opportunities. It's never too early to learn the basics of investing and financially prepare yourself for the future.