Suit or business casual? iPhone or Android? Hard copy resume or personal website?
Preparing for the workplace isn’t as easy as it used to be. Even the term "work attire" can mean different things—a business suit at a law firm, jeans and sneakers at a creative agency. So how can you prepare as a job seeker? And what should you expect as an employer?
In a recent survey, Bentley University’s PreparedU research project identified several ways to help Millennials, college faculty and staff, and business leaders better meet each other’s needs. The survey revealed plenty of practical tips to help college-age Millennials prepare for their job search. Here are a few that Millennials could follow right now:
Do your research. When it comes to careers, do things like informational interviews, team-based exercises, and strength and interest assessment tools. Is this particular industry one in which you could see yourself learn and grow?
Test yourself. Explore a new path that’s out of your comfort zone. Make friends with someone from a different culture. Try a new sport. Intern at a nonprofit if you think you’re headed to Wall Street—and vice versa. You might discover a new path that suits you better than the one you’re currently heading down.
Is there something you’ve always been passionate about? Have you always envisioned working with children? Or maybe you’ve always pictured yourself at an exciting startup company or in a creative agency? Come up with inventive ways to combine your passions with your skills. Maybe it’s working for a business on a cause you’re interested in or starting your own business project. Make it happen.
Believe it or not, your parents have a wealth of experience about school and work, know you well, and want only the best for you. Ask them what they would do all over again and what they would do differently. Take advantage of their insight and experience but remember that in the end, it is your life.
Don’t just look at college as a way to fulfill academic requirements. Make a point to grow emotionally, culturally, and socially because these will be as important as any professional or technical knowledge you garner. And when it comes to academics, push yourself. Don’t settle for the "gut" course. Take a demanding course load that will challenge you and prepare you for the multitasking, constantly busy and "on call" culture that defines many careers. Put yourself in a position to understand what a career really involves. Get an early start with your career-planning office. Mine the contacts they offer and network like crazy.
Let’s be honest: Some experiences do not help your job search. Question whether internships that are essentially clerical and don’t offer professional development are worth the time. The same goes for internships and "immersion" experiences that don’t have a lot of supervision or mentoring. The whole point of these experiences is to learn as much as you can about the company and the business it’s in. It’s all about gaining new connections and making yourself more marketable. That doesn’t mean you have to like every internship. Your objective is to discover what you want to do—and what you don’t. Whether in class or on the job, make sure you pay as much attention to the soft skills such as teamwork and communication as you to do the hard skills such as data analysis or writing software. Those soft skills will pay off big time in the long run.
It’s true in every aspect of life: When the bar is set high, you’ll elevate your game. Choose friends who are as motivated about finding a rewarding career as you are. Friends also can provide a sounding board on classes, internships, careers and, yes, even the career you’ll pursue. Friends in classes ahead of you can become mentors and provide recommendations to employers who are looking for more good employees. So when searching for an internship or deciding on a career, don’t forget your friends. They may be the most valuable asset of all.
—Susan Brennan is the executive director, corporate relations and career services at Bentley University.