By Judy Panagakos, Career Coach

Fall marks an important transition for students everywhere. Whether you are getting settled into a college campus for the first time, or returning for the fall semester, this is the time to consider your career dreams and to ensure you are taking actions that will turn those dreams into a reality. Your job search will be uniquely shaped by your interests and passions, and it is never too early to start. At Priority Candidates, our career coaches always help students kick off their first semester back with the following suggestions for how to start making career planning an ongoing and easy to manage process that will ultimately lead to a full-time job after graduation.

Network using all available tools. Start by building out your LinkedIn profile, or refreshing it with your activities and work experience over the summer. Throughout your career, you will be building and enhancing this profile as employers increasingly rely on LinkedIn as their go to resource to find people, validate information, and see how you have had an impact on others. Additionally, if your school has a peer-to-peer and/or student-to-alumni networking tool, take time to complete those profiles. The key to networking is to find some simple connection point – the same high school or volunteer organization, summer program or home town, can sometimes be an easy launching point.

Practice professional engagement. One simple approach to professional engagement is to attend a career fair or company presentation, where you will interact with the employers. You do not want to wait until you are truly in “job search mode”, to understand what this experience is all about. Prepare a quick way of introducing yourself, for example: “Hello, I am Jane, a Freshman finance major, originally from Seattle, and I would like to learn about internship offerings at your company.” After the event, follow up with people you met and invite them to connect with you via LinkedIn. These campus events allow you to practice work-world interpersonal skills while you learn about internships and full time jobs, as well as the steps involved in seeking them out.

Take your leadership to the next level. If you just arrived on campus find a few activities that interest you and sign up.

Fraternities & sororities, student government, and organizations that plan large-scale campus events are all good avenues to explore – they can provide access to leadership experiences and alumni connections based on shared interests. The stepping stone to being a leader is being engaged in the work of the group – learn what is involved in planning and running the events and always offer to pitch in.

Employers need to know that you have skills and have applied them in ways such as project planning, budgeting, marketing via social media, leading others and handling issue resolution. By getting involved, and ultimately taking on leadership roles, you will be able to speak to these employer-sought skills in an impactful way in future interviews.

Make your course work count. Take difficult courses related to your potential career goals – by thriving in challenging courses, you will position yourself to translate academic successes into career opportunities. Create an academic roadmap with your advisor to account for any study abroad experiences or summer coursework – this will keep you on track to graduate, and will ensure you make the most of your college experience.

Connect with those around you. It is important to engage those closest to you, such as family and friends at home, as well as to build relationships with important people on campus. Academic advisors, professors, Resident Advisors, and peers are all valuable resources you should rely on throughout your college career. Engage whenever you can – attend office hours, and ask if you can assist with any research projects or other activities. Be proactive in developing these relationships – you may find a mentor, or gain access to a network that can lead to off-campus projects, internships, and entry level jobs. Discuss your career goals with your professors and advisors, and proactively seek advice.

Prepare to push your boundaries. College is a time to learn more about our larger world, and is full of opportunities for intellectual growth. To maximize these opportunities, learn about your professors and what they did before they came to their current position. Find out their points of view on global issues and, personally, find out what they like to do in the community. Attend lectures and cultural events that you might not have had the chance to experience before. Develop your own opinions about the new ideas you are exposed to and understand all counterpoints to your opinion.

Still not sure? That is okay. If you are doing the steps above and do not yet feel that you have a clear vision for your early career, we can help. Your career aspirations need to incorporate many factors such as your inherent personal interests and your behavioral, cognitive and emotional assets. You might want to take a professional assessment administered by an expert to generate personalized reports and analysis that tie your assets and interests to jobs that exist today. Priority Candidates career coaches can arrange career assessments, and provide the springboard for you to research and refine fields, industries and job positions where you will thrive – and will help you get the job.

By mastering these tasks, which are used throughout one’s professional life, students can make the most of each college semester to position themselves for long term success.