7 Everyday Ways #SAPros Can Help Students Prepare for the Workforce

It’s easy to get caught up in supporting students solely through the lens of the functional areas in which we work.

However, every student affairs area has something in common:  We aim to empower students through the matriculation of their academic experience and into their post-graduation goals.

To do our best work, it’s important we remember why students pursue higher education: To fulfill post-graduation goals and begin the careers they envision themselves in. 

Remembering this can shape the way we support students’ growth, along with the advice we offer. Although graduation is an amazing milestone for students, many new alumni will suddenly find themselves without the same support they received while attending college. 

Therefore, it’s never too early to help develop a student professionally and prepare them for post-graduate success. The following tips will help you give career support to all students — regardless of what year they’re in. 

1. Teach students how to access career resources

Did you know only 52% of undergrads utilize their campus career services, and that first-generation and transfer students do so at even lower rates? 

Campus resources can seem overwhelming, especially to students who don’t know what’s available in the first place. Many students don’t think to use the career center until the last minute when they need to craft a resume or prepare for an interview. 

Fortunately, SA pros can help! One of our greatest opportunities for support is resource referral. When we understand a student’s needs, we can direct them accordingly. 

When it comes to career service referrals, don’t wait until a student is job searching!  Send them over so they can:

  • Get connected to alumni within their field for mentorship or advice
  • Explore career pathways related to their interests and studies
  • Learn about on and off-campus employment opportunities available to them now
  • Discover internship or leadership opportunities that are offered cyclically 
  • Get set up with resources covered by their student fees, such as career assessment tests or  LinkedIn Learning 
  • And more!

I suggest learning about your campus center’s offerings so that you can direct students accordingly. The more informed you are, the more helpful you’ll be to students.

2. Encourage students to create unstructured resumes

Resume writing is a skill in and of itself. When you add in having to jog your memory about things you did years ago, creating a thorough — yet impressive — resume can become daunting.

So, encourage students to start by developing an unstructured resume through which they’ll brain dump bullets of accomplishments and responsibilities throughout their academic journey. This should be an unstructured document. Rather than worrying about the formatting, students should focus on capturing each experience they’ve had. That way,  when they eventually need to create a resume, they’ll have ample content to pull in! 

3. Connect students with personality assessments

Do you have a student who is struggling to identify their skills or interests? Consider encouraging them to take a personality assessment! Many institutions offer discounted rates or cover the costs of assessments like the Strong Interest Inventory, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, Type Focus, and Clifton Strengths.

These assessments can be great launching points to give students words and phrases for getting to know themselves and marketing their skills. Encourage students to visit the career center and consult with a counselor on the best options. 

4. Help students get started on LinkedIn

Like resumes, crafting a LinkedIn profile can feel overwhelming if you tackle it when you need it instead of developing it over time. 

LinkedIn is a great way for students to keep up with colleagues, mentors, and faculty. In addition to networking, many institutions cover the cost of LinkedIn Learning, which houses a module library on a multitude of topics. Users can even earn a certificate or badge to display on their profile, impressing employers and signaling career interests. 

5. Continually collaborate with career services

As you plan events and initiatives throughout the year, check in with your career development colleagues to see how they might be able to add professional growth elements to the agenda. For example, if you’ll be hiring student staff, consider requiring resumes. You can incentivize students to connect with the career center by having career counselors host resume reviews or prep sessions in your office.

Career centers often interface with alumni and local employers who enjoy interacting with students. As you plan out a learning session or leisure event, consider bringing in alumni and local professionals who work in a field related to the session’s topic. This can begin to prime students to network on their own given that the setting will hopefully be less intimidating than formal networking events. 

Speaking of networking, you should definitely be encouraging students to network long before graduation! This brings us to the next tip…

6. Prepare students for networking

Given that 70-80% of jobs are found through networking, students need to learn this valuable skill. Whether a student already has an established network thanks to familial and community connections or is starting from scratch, they can benefit from engaging in networking while in college. 

When it comes to encouraging students to network, meet them where they’re at and take into consideration their individual background and career goals. In general, help your students understand these four facts:

Everyone in an academic program and campus community can (and should!) be a part of their network

Professionals often think of networking in terms of their profession. Likewise, students often think it’s only critical to network with established professionals within their particular field of study. But, remind them that their classmates will one day be working professionals! Additionally, their academic adviser, admissions recruiter, or res life coordinator will all know graduates from a variety of backgrounds with whom they may be able to connect a student with.

Help students see the value of creating connections with everyone, not just professionals in their own industry. 

Informational interviews open doors 

Informational interviews are a great way to get to know other professionals and learn about a company of interest. If a student doesn’t know what an informational interview is, teach them! These conversations can be insightful, helping students confirm their potential interests or fit within a company, field, or role. 

Relationships take maintenance

Networking isn’t just about meeting as many people as possible; it takes continued maintenance. You can’t expect someone you met once to readily help you; they won’t be able to speak to your skills and experiences. So, when you meet someone who you want to bring into your network, you need to work to nurture the relationship over time. Here’s some great advice to offer your students on how to maintain their professional networks.

Career fairs aren’t just for job seekers

Hopefully, you’re noticing a theme: students shouldn’t wait until graduation to enact the tasks that will help them land a job. Encourage students to attend local or institutional career fairs as a way to practice introducing themselves to employers and creating connections. If a student can meet a recruiter or professional at a company of interest, they can establish rapport that will help them tremendously if and when they eventually apply for a role. 

7. Connect students’ experiences and skills to their goals

Holding a part-time job or serving in a student leadership role on campus might not seem immediately relevant to the career students are pursuing.  Yet, campus jobs and leadership roles help students develop in-demand soft skills that employers will adore. 

As of 2021 multiple sources, like LinkedIn, have identified some of the most needed soft skills include:

  • Adaptability
  • Collaboration
  • Active listening
  • Creativity and innovation
  • Productivity
  • Relationship management
  • Self-awareness

When you witness a student implementing soft skills, identify and name them to raise that student’s awareness of their abilities. And if you know what their future goals or career aspirations are, help them connect that skill to what they want to do. 

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Hopefully, these tips help you feel equipped to bring career development into your work with students. 

Remember: even if you’re not a career development professional, students look to you for guidance, resource referral, emotional support, and advice. The career development seeds of advice you plant throughout their academic journeys might take shape later on, but don’t miss this opportunity to help them succeed post-graduation. 

We’d love to hear how you’ve helped students prepare for the workforce! Connect with us on Twitter @HelloPresence.

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Nilza Santana-Castillo

About the author: Nilza Santana-Castillo is a proud graduate of Clemson University's Masters of Counselor Education, Student Affairs program. Although she started in housing, her greatest passion area is career development. Most recently, she's been working in education technology developing career programs and support for non-traditional educational programs. Learn how we can help get your students involved.

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