Your college guide to career development

By Kenna Caprio
Photo and graphics by Dan Landau

A successful career starts well before you leave your alma mater. To gain a competitive edge, begin planning early, says Donna Jackson-Robertson, University director of career development. Follow her career advice, year by year, to make it happen.

Donna Jackson-Robertson 1

“We’re just trying to help you take this first step,” she says. “Every student should make a point to check in with career services every year.”

Here’s how to make best use of the resources available at the FDU Career Development Centers on campus.

Freshman year:

Take a breath. Jackson-Robertson does not want freshmen to force a visit to career development right away. “That first year we don’t have to see you first semester. Get comfortable with school. This is a new experience; it’s a transition. We understand that.”

She suggests instead becoming familiar with campus life, getting involved with student organizations and focusing attention on academics. “Make new friends. Figure out time management. Get that right first,” she adds.

Frosh career advice 2Come second semester, though, she recommends pulling out that high school résumé and revising it with help from career development. She says another key component of that first visit is to assess interests and identify potential career goals.

Students will also take “Preparing for Professional Life,” part of the University core curriculum, as freshmen. Class assignments align with career development recommendations: create a professional résumé, determine fields of interest and engage in mock interviews.

“There are so many universities that don’t have anything like this,” Jackson-Robertson says. “To have this career-readiness element embedded into core for all majors — not just the business or STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) majors, but for all students — is very exciting.”

Sophomore year:

“In that second year, it’s more about a deeper dive. Can we narrow down your 100 interests to a top ten?” Ask yourself, she says: “What are the ones that I’m really interested in? How can I go about exploring those?” The answers can vary: networking, volunteering, internships (on- or off-campus), talking to upperclassmen or an on-campus job can provide clarity and direction.

Sophomore career adviceNot every history major has to become a teacher, Jackson-Robertson says. “That is an option, but it may not be the only option.” Career counselors and advisors can provide additional industry insight, so that students consider options and careers they may have previously overlooked.

“It’s about being strategic, and then depending on your discipline, knowing what might be involved,” she says. “For instance — accounting is a very disciplined, sequential major and career field. It’s critical to talk to students early on so that we can map it out, because there are very specific timelines around recruiting.

Make sure you know the industry norm when it comes to hiring practices and timelines. Otherwise, she cautions, you might miss out.

“There are many employers who will look to hire students in between sophomore and junior year,” Jackson-Robertson says. “There are a lot of paid internship programs for students in that period.”

Junior year:

Get out there. “Now that you’re in your junior year, your coursework has really kicked in on your major, so now you have a little more knowledge under your belt. For undergraduates, this is really now where employers start to take you seriously,” she says.

Junior career adviceTime to be serious yourself and land a formal internship or part-time job in your chosen field. Jackson-Robertson calls this year, “Let’s try something.”

Mock interviews are critical at this time, as some candidates will be preparing for internship interviews and others, their first job interviews.

“At the same time, we try to reassure students that this doesn’t have to be the path for the rest of your life,” she says. “It doesn’t mean that you can’t pursue other interests.”

Career fairs or niche career events, hosted by career development and faculty, can provide students with access to formal, but less pressure-filled introductions to employers.

Students mulling graduate school should be prepping for the GRE, GMAT, LSAT, and/or signing up to take the exam.

Senior year:

“Now it’s time to assess before graduation: Where are you? What experiences have you gained? Are you fine-tuning your interests and work environment preferences? What is your outreach to your network? Where’s your résumé? Do you have different versions of it to reflect the different arenas that you might be interested in?”

Senior career adviceDetermine your audience, she says, and craft accordingly. “There’s this myth that you only need one résumé,” says Jackson-Robertson. As with cover letters, tailor résumés to the position.

“Sometimes I think there’s a misconception that the only things on the résumé are the things where you received a paycheck, and that’s not true,” she says. “It’s your experience collectively — whether you were paid for it or not, whether it was a formal internship or not — that’s not important. It’s what did you gain from it, and how can you present it?”

Look at that portfolio of skills and experiences you’ve built. What else do you need to do before graduation? What areas need fleshing out?

“Continue being an intern,” she says. “Sometimes you can strategically plan your internships so that you are the natural go-to for when a position opens up.”

Graduate:

“With graduate students, if you’re looking at a master’s program, by and large it’s only two years, which is not a lot of time,” says Jackson-Robertson. “It goes really, really fast. At this point, the expectation is that they are very focused.”

Grad career adviceShe wants graduate students to hone in on and solidify their interests quickly, and come into career development in during their first semester.

For graduate students pursuing an academic path, Jackson-Robertson suggests asking these questions: “How can you get engaged with research or publishing so you can make yourself a better candidate for an academic program? Have you looked at which universities are going to best for that Ph.D.? “ Faculty can help with doctoral program recommendations.

Those considering the employment path need to determine how they can use their undergraduate internship experience, plus new internships or positions, to launch them into their field.

Ultimately, realize that career paths can change. Nothing is set in stone. The job you have now isn’t the job you’ll have forever. And remember: Fairleigh Dickinson University alumni have access to career counseling, résumé writing and a host of other career-related resources through the Career Development Centers and the Office of Alumni Relations. Get out there and land that dream job!