While it’s important to get good grades and attend class, landing a job in after graduation requires much more from a resume than a bachelor's degree, even for those graduating with honors.
“There was a time many moons ago when just having a college degree was good enough to get you a job, and that is no longer the case,” said Amber Bieneck Thom, a career specialist in the Career Development Center at the University of St. Thomas, which has a staff of specialists trained in helping St. Thomas students maximize their time here. “If you just go to class, you are setting yourself up for a hard time.”
Fortunately, opportunities for professional and personal development abound at St. Thomas.
Make yourself interesting
In contemplation of a life well lived, Benjamin Franklin is thought to have said, "If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth the reading, or do things worth the writing." It also happens to be sound guidance for an education well spent.
College provides fertile ground and the space to experience different things. St. Thomas hosts a vast selection of clubs, including academic, hobbyist (e.g., fishing, anime, photography), athletic (e.g., marital arts, hockey, ultimate Frisbee) and even musical. It's these interests that have the potential to make for memorable icebreakers and possible connectioncs with interviewers.
Get to know faculty members
This is a great way to take the intimidation out of networking, as it involves casual, one-on-one conversation. And if you're thinking about applying to graduate school, get to know faculty members' areas of research.
Laura Bru, student research grants coordinator in the St. Thomas Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, noted that approval from a faculty member is required before a student applies to do research. But more importantly, faculty members can give guidance to develop a strong proposal.
Get specific, then research
Bru coordinates eight of St. Thomas' research grant programs, which include the Conference Travel Grant program, the Young Scholars Research Grant, Collaborative Inquiry Grant, Community-based Research Grant, Sustainability Scholars Grant (just added summer 2017) and Inquiry at UST.
"I hope students are already making meaningful connections between what they're thinking in class and what they can do outside of class and beyond graduation," Bru said. She encourages students to specifically identify what drives them and to ask themselves what they hope to gain in terms of knowledge.
"If they can start early thinking, 'What can I make, what can I contribute?' they'll be better equipped to locate the faculty who can help them apply those potential skills and get them on a path," Bru said.
Undergraduate Research Opportunities offers a convenient hub for students to discover tools and support for getting their research dreams off the ground. In the 2016-17 academic year, 117 students presented on 100 research projects with assistance from the office.
Other research opportunities are offered through the Excel! Research Scholars program (Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program), the Luann Dummer Center for Women and the School of Education faculty employ student researchers.
With only 11 percent of students nationally studying abroad, venturing to a different country to study can set job applicants apart from the herd. Aside from full immersion in another culture and perhaps language, studying abroad "allows students to demonstrate soft skills that all employers are looking for: increased sense of independence and self confidence, comfort with ambiguity, increased resiliency and problem-solving skills," said Sarah Spencer, director of study abroad in the Office of Study Abroad.
Spencer noted that while abroad, students can leverage their experience by engaging in local clubs, volunteer work or activities, meeting with St. Thomas alumni living in the country – particularly if the alum works in a field of interest to them – and avoiding the bubble of U.S. students studying abroad by choosing to live in a homestay or international residence hall.
Space it out
Bieneck Thom noted that it is important to be involved in university life but knows finding time outside of classes, homework and socializing can seem daunting. She emphasized that there are viable ways to build a robust resume or (curriculum vitae) without stressing.
"It's not that you have to do everything all at once in addition to classes," she noted. "Frequently students take classes, maybe work part time, or not, and they're part of clubs ... they might have a few consistent things that don't require daily commitments. Then maybe one summer they'll do an internship."
A word on networking
"Networking tends to scare a lot of people, but the bottom line is that it's not as scary as you think because everybody has a personal network," Bieneck Thom said. "All it takes is one person to get started." Think of it as having interesting conversations rather than pinballing between employers in a gymnasium.
Bieneck Thom sees an individual's first contact as the start of a cycle that reaps rewards in unpredictable but fruitful pathways. "If you can find just one professor who can talk to you about going to graduate school or careers in certain areas, that can start you on a path. ... [A] professor [can] refer you for a research project or a class that is up your alley, or introduces you to someone else who might know about a job you'd be interested in, and so on. That's how the cycle starts.
"No two people get to the same job in exactly the same way ... there's no one formula," she said. "Once you set up contacts, it sets you up well to have connections when it comes time to apply for internships and jobs. Cultivate those relationships ... stay in touch on LinkedIn, ask for advice on how to apply to a job or ask if they can put in a good word for you."
Informational interviews count as networking. And the payoff could be big. Most jobs, Bieneck Thom said, never get posted because employers prefer to fill jobs with people they already know.
Not sure where to start?
If you aren't able to attend any of the classroom or club talks given by a Career Development Center specialist, make an appointment at the center. Results from the First Destinations survey conducted by the center indicate that students who use the center’s services nine times or more in their time at St. Thomas showed higher employment rates over students who did not visit the center.
In addition to resume-writing and interviewing-skill guidance, the specialists can help steer students in the direction of internship and volunteer opportunities.
Specialists from the CDC also speak to classrooms and clubs throughout the year and encourage club leaders to invite them to speak at meetings and events.
Students also may contact Bru to learn more about specific research grants.
Above all, keep in mind that ...
There is no right way.
"There is only one wrong thing to do – nothing," Bieneck Thom said.