When you were little you were often asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” As you get closer to college you are also asked, “What are you going to major in?” And as graduation approaches it becomes, “What are you going to do after you graduate?”

In fact, college students ask themselves that last question all the time. After all, they are working hard to earn a degree that is supposed to set them on a career course after graduation. But, for some, getting that degree creates even more questions and a need for some guidance. Fortunately, college resources and programs are available to guide the soon-to-be graduate. 

“The process of graduating and getting ready for the real world begins way back when the student begins their Redbird experience with us,” said Mike Minton, Associate Director of the Career Center at Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois.

One of the biggest concerns that students have is that the major they chose will define the next 30 years of their career. “We encourage students to think about the non-linear career path if they are interested in doing something different than what they studied,” said Minton.

Sometimes students don’t quite know how to turn their major into a job. “They should look at transferable skills that they developed from internships, part-time jobs, and involvement in campus leadership and think about how those could be applied to finding a career.”

And meeting with a career advisor can help. Minton tells the story of a sociology major named, coincidentally, Mike. Mike was unsure about a career and thought it would be wise to visit the career center. An advisor performed a personality assessment and determined that Mike loved talking to people. Based on this assessment, the advisor gave him several career options, including recruiting and sales. Mike’s part-time employment helped him to develop even more marketable skills, and ultimately Mike landed a sales position with a logistics company.

“Within less than a year, Mike was promoted to the company’s recruitment team and now travels to college and university campuses to recruit students into a logistics career,” said Minton. “Students need to be conscious that they don't just have one career path. Multiple paths exist for their future. They also need to know what their skills and strengths are to be able to capitalize on the other opportunities that exist.”

Career advisors also work with students to help them find themselves. “In addition to the personality test, the advisor uses programs that uncover skills of value that the students have as well as their interests,” said Minton.

The career center hosts on-campus recruitment fairs and assists students in obtaining internships. “We help them review their resume and improve interviewing skills, so that they are competitive applicants for internship positions,” said Minton.

To help increase their chances of landing a position after graduation, Minton encourages soon-to-be graduates to connect with alumni or professionals in positions they want. “We encourage them to ask questions about their education and training,” said Minton. “They should find out what prepared them for the position they are in and what the outlook is for that industry. Then, they can ask what a student interested in that field could do to pursue it.”

This gives students a chance to practice their elevator pitch and talk directly with recruiters. Illinois State’s InstaCareer Department brings employers in who make hiring decisions. “Research a company to see if that position's a good fit for you and your values, interests, personality and skills,” said Minton.

As commencement approaches, what’s the worst thing a student can do? “Nothing,” said Minton. “They hear it from their professors and from their parents. The most important thing they can do is seek out assistance.”

Graduation is filled with a lot of emotion, fears and questions, but by starting early and working with a career counselor, your student can put their mind at ease that their efforts to find a job — the right job — will succeed. And so will they.

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