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How to Build Your Post-College Resume to Find the Job You Want

Updated on November 3, 2012

I now have one close friend and one close relative who have and are graduating with degrees in Anthropology, and both have not and do not plan to pursue a career in this field. The friend is establishing a successful career in Real Estate. The relative is a year from graduation, and a bit undecided of her career path.

I am a big believer that college is vital for everyone, even if you don't need or obtain a job based on your degree: Higher education opens your eyes to the world and all it's possibilities like nothing else can.

But, then reality hits: you're technically an adult, and you've got to support at least yourself.

How to Prepare to Land Your Dream Job

Since you've been to college, you probably want to pursue some kind of dream job, whatever your definition of "dream job" is. Some people want to make a lot of money, others want to impact their community in a positive way. (Although, the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive.)

Recently, my extremely bright, motivated junior-year niece asked for my feedback on her resume, and I was surprised at some basic elements that were missing. The resume was tight, pulling out the best qualities of her school and job experiences.

But, having plenty of experience in successfully obtaining progressively higher paying jobs in my field (having graduated from the same college that both my friend attended and my niece is attending), I had some good advice for my niece, that I assumed she knew (in some ways, she knows a lot more than me), but was really surprised that she didn't know about or hadn't thought about. So, here are some basic concepts you need to pursue early, to land the job that will fulfill you:

  1. Time to quit messing around - decide who you really are and who you want to 'be.'
  2. Where do your personal expectations come from and are they realistic for you?
  3. Start beefing up that resume early.
  4. Find a career via an internship.
  5. Fash cash vs future earnings
  6. Practical internship tips: where to find the right ones
  7. Practical resume tips

1. Who Are You and Who Do You Want to Be?

There are tons of career counseling opportunities inside and outside of your university that can expertly guide you in this field. Don't be surprised if they come up with customized suggestions that you never expected. These suggestions are based more on your personality and what will bring you a sense of fulfillment in the long-term.

2. Authority Figures and Expectations

When considering a career counselor's suggestions, don't be swayed by the expectations of authority figures in your life. If your parents expect you to obtain a high-paying, 8-5 job, but you are actually more artistic or socially inclined, remember, you are an adult, and you now set expectations for yourself.

3. Start Early

Don't wait until your junior or senior year to pursue relevant internships. Start at the freshman level. This will help you determine which career fields you really enjoy or hate. Much better to discover this at an early stage, rather than when you're ready to join the working class. I heard so many experiences where students' expectations were totally changed - 180 degrees - after interning at a position they had previously firmly believed was their life goal. I had a cousin who was sure he was destined to be a Science teacher - come to find out, he couldn't stand the attitudes of middle-school kids. But, he ended up in a very successful career as a programmer for the Department of Transportation - go figure!

Another consideration in this category is being willing to intern out of state or even the country, especially if it's a summer internship. My niece pursuing a degree in Anthropology and a minor in criminal justice has decided she wants to work in the latter field. However, in our moderate size western town, there are few internship options in that category - but, there are multiple options (listed on her college job website) in the D.C. area with significant pay-outs, and I would assume, a leg-up when it comes to a permanent job.

4. Find a Career via an Internship

Which brings us to this lesson: The successful, fulfilling career my cousin landed was the result of an internship. This is a common occurrence - that students, having established their compatibility with others and their aptitude in the field, are offered full-time positions upon graduation. Internships are not just learning experiences for the student, they are try-outs for permanent, paying positions.

5. Fast Cash vs Future Earnings

The battle between earning fast cash vs building your resume for future earnings: It's quite understandable that students need cash to live. Thus, the relatively high-paying pizza delivery job may serve immediate needs, but does zero for your resume - in fact, maybe limiting your future options. It tells the potential employer what your real aspirations are. Many internships do not include pay; they do, however, include credits toward graduation and pump up your resume like no other.

6. Practical Tips: Where to Find Those Internships

Searching for the right internship can be an intensive job, therefore, you might not want to overload yourself with credits during the semesters you are looking for an internship. Places to find internships are all of the basic job search sites, your college job website, and most-importantly, the head of the department in which you want to pursue a job. If you are an Anthropology student who actually wants to pursue a job in criminal justice (hopefully, you've taken some related courses), track down the head of the Criminal Justice Department, become their best bud, and maintain an eagle-eye focus on any incoming internships. Make sure the department head has your contact information and knows how desperate you are to obtain the related internships. Ask for their advice. Check back weekly, bring them brownies, whatever it takes to establish a personal, memorable relationship with this person. There's no need to suck up, just be respectful and memorable, so that when that perfect internship comes up, they think of you.

7. Practical Resume Tips

Develop one resume and one cover letter per internship or job application. If you're not a writer, seek the advice of a resume expert, often provide in your college (check with the English Department). When you enter the post-college job search, you do not want to look like an aimless student - you want to have, not just 'work great with others, detail-oriented, good at multi-tasking' experience, you need real-world, 'I've been there, done that, my learning curve will be short, and I can slide right into this job due to my experience' type items on your resume.

Be an Asset, Not a Liability

Apply the above 7 principles. Think from the employer's point of view. Employees are very valuable and usually the most expensive resources for any company. What can you do to make yourself a value to your prospective employer? They owe you nothing. They don't even owe you training - this is a significant expense to them. Make it as clear and easy as possible for them. When they read your cover letter and resume, they should see that you won't be a financial liability, but a great asset.

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