Most adult students are finishing a college degree degree to make a career change or to aid in their professional development. Whether the desired change is a move to a totally different career field or to start out or advance in a particular field, earning your degree is a great first step to landing in a career path that works for you.
What many students may not consider while earning their degree is what else may be required by employers once they’ve graduated. This blind spot can cause adult students to realize that they’re missing critical pieces of the employment puzzle at the last moment, just when it’s time to search for their next position. So what can a student to do now to prepare for that next step in their career?
Following the four strategies below will give you an excellent start in becoming as employable as possible once you graduate.
1) Occupational Research (It’s easier than you think!)
The first thing you’ll want to do while earning your degree is to conduct occupational research in your geographic area. This can include creating a list of potential employers who regularly hire in your field and conducting an online search for positions you’d like to have.
Once you’ve located these positions, carefully review each job description for levels of experience, necessary certifications and any pertinent technology or software skills. Once you’ve reviewed a handful of position descriptions, see if you can find any repetitive information. Do all employers require a certain certification? Do many of them use the same software package or require a knowledge of the same technology? Are there certain tasks or duties that consistently show up? Make a list of things they require and keep it handy as a checklist toward landing the job you want.
2) Job Experience
Once you’ve got a good list of what’s required by your field, it’s time to start gaining some of the necessary experience. Does the position you want require three to five years of prior experience in the field and you don’t have that experience yet? Or perhaps there’s a specific set of tasks or duties listed in many of the job ads in which you have no experience. Your occupational research will be essential here in pinpointing the necessary experience you already possess and the experience you need to obtain before you’ll be an ideal candidate.
As daunting as gaining experience sounds while doing everything else, don’t panic. There are a variety of flexible experience building options available to adult students who are working full time and taking classes. These options, many of which can be tailored to fit your schedule, can include volunteering, flexible or virtual internships, work study or part-time positions. Each of these options will allow you to make contacts in your field, learn many of the necessary skills and competencies and add valuable experience to your resume.
Additionally, informational interviews and job shadows are other great ways to narrow to a specific position within an industry or learn in-depth information about a position that interests you. Plus, these forms of casual and informational networking can often lead to excellent industry connections and possibly even a future job offer.
3) Certifications and Professional Organizations
If your field often requires certification or certification is a desirable quality in a candidate and would help you stand out, spend the time and money to add a certification while earning your degree. There are a variety of certifications in each field and many of them are cost effective ways to give your candidacy a boost. This may be especially true in fields like Communications and Marketing, Public Safety, Human Services, and IT as certifications in these fields can help you specialize or deepen your knowledge in specific areas.
Joining a professional organization in your field while earning your degree is another great addition to your resume and can offer you many benefits such as networking, training and access to industry specific trends and knowledge. In HR, for example, joining a professional organization like SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management, is essential.
4) Technology and Software Training
Does your field require that you have an excellent knowledge of Excel? Or perhaps the ability to update web pages using Drupal or Wordpress? Maybe Salesforce or another database is a must. Once you have a list of what technology is commonly used by your field, it’s time to explore how you can learn that technology or brush up your current skills.
There are many completely online training options for learning technology and software, including Lynda.com, a company owned by LinkedIn. Spend some time investigating the cost, time and pay back on investment for learning software and technology now. You may find that having that extra skill will make the difference between you and another candidate.
There’s a lot to think about while earning your degree as an adult student, there’s no doubt you’re busy.
But, taking time to strategically plan your next career move is a must and doing so while earning your degree will mean that when you graduate you’ll be ready to take on a position in your field as a star candidate.