5 Tips for Career-Seeking College Students

The more expensive college gets, the more students (and parents) wonder whether it’s worth it and how it prepares them for life after college. These questions are particularly apt now that the most common home address for recent graduates is their parents’ house, thus cementing the reputation of Millennials as the “Boomerang Generation.”

But college isn’t just about books and classes. You shouldn’t wait until you have a diploma in hand to think about your career. In fact, there are loads of things that you can do right now, as a student, to prepare for post-college life.

Here are six tips:

1. Build Your Network

Here’s a secret: 70 percent to 80 percent of the job market is hidden—that is, it’s never posted publicly. The vast majority of hiring is done by friends and acquaintances hiring other trusted friends and acquaintances. This means you need to get to know people.

The vast majority of hiring is done by friends and acquaintances hiring other trusted friends and acquaintances. This means you need to get to know people.

So build your network, but don’t call it that. People aren’t transactional resources just to help you get jobs. They’re made in God’s image for his purposes. Get to know who they are—their interests, their families, and their stories. Love them as yourself (Matt. 22:9). Love them as Christ did (John 13:34).

In college, you can build your network without even stepping off campus by befriending your classmates. Get to know upperclassmen who are entering the working world before you. Then keep in touch. By the time you’re a senior, you’ll know people who are two or three years into their careers.

Get to know professionals, too, by leveraging the college season as a “seeking knowledge” time. In college, it’s easy to approach people and say, “I’d love to know what you do every day.” Take people in your church to coffee or have lunch with your parents’ friends, and be curious about what they do and why they do it.

2. Master the Minutia

Most college students want to change the world, but the reality is that your first boss is more likely to ask you to change the coffee filter than the world. My first job was on Capitol Hill—a job many would say qualifies as world changing. But do you know what I spent most of my time doing? Email.

Your first boss is more likely to ask you to change the coffee filter than the world.

At The King’s College, we encourage students to approach their current job—their job of being a good student—with professionalism. “Professionalism is the new participation grade,” we often say. So in my classes I don’t just grade students on content; I also grade them on timeliness, etiquette, attention to instructions, and grammar.

These things matter. My bosses—from high-ranking government officials to corporate executives—never sacrificed the small things for their big missions. When I worked at the State Department, for example, the Secretary of State held a daily senior staff meeting at 7 a.m. and locked the door right at 7. If you were late, you missed it. No one ever missed twice.

Be faithful with little, and you’ll be trusted with much (Luke 16:10).

3. Have a Bias Toward Action 

There is no evidence that we have pre-existing passions to discover. In fact, most of us have loads of interests and are vocationally nimble. We just need to try things. You don’t know what you’ll like until you do it.

This is why I often tell overanalyzing students, “Do something.” Your courses are your classroom, but your life is your lab. Test the reality of your ideas in class by engaging in your city, your town, your club, your job, or your internship. See if they hold up and, if they don’t, make adjustments.

You don’t know what you’ll like until you do it. . . . Your courses are your classroom, but your life is your lab.

4. Develop an Entrepreneurial Mindset

Even if you never become an entrepreneur, every job these days requires innovation. Plus, as Christians hoping to do redemptive work, we must develop our imaginations to see what can’t be seen or to create what doesn’t exist—from new products to humanizing workplaces.

Yet college students are rarely asked to innovate. You’re successful if you follow a syllabus and get good grades, which makes entering the working world quite jarring since there’s no syllabus and you’re judged based on the value you create, not the essays you write.

At The King’s College we partner with Praxis, an organization that seeks to create cultural and social impact through entrepreneurship. Each year we send a handful of students to Praxis Academy, where they learn from some phenomenal entrepreneurs who work at the intersection of theology, culture, and entrepreneurship. And we aim to encourage an entrepreneurship mindset on campus, too, exhorting students to start new organizations or ventures that can serve their neighbors.

5. Fear Not

Most of us tend to play it safe. When we’re in positions of need, we grasp anything within reach we think will fulfill us. For good students, this often means graduate school. Since finding a job is intimidating, and since they know they’re good at school, they often pursue continuing education out of fear, not calling. For others, it can mean taking the first job offered, even if it’s morally questionable, or marrying your college sweetheart, even if he or she isn’t following Christ. Fear can lead us into much foolishness—not only in college but also later in life.

Fear can lead us into much foolishness—not only in college but also later in life.

Yet “fear not” is one of the most common phrases in the Bible. Repeatedly, we’re told not to be afraid. Why? Not because we are strong and courageous or have a positive self-image, but because God is with us. As Jesus told his disciples when they saw him walking on the sea and were terrified, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid” (Matt. 14:27).

The antidote to fear about career questions isn’t landing an internship but getting good theology about God’s sovereignty over all things and his love for you. He cares for you. He died for you. So don’t be anxious (Phil. 4:6). He’ll provide for you in more splendid ways than you can imagine (Matt. 6:25–34). Just seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well (Matt. 6:33).

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