Between the classes, the parties and the people, it's easy to forget that at college, you're also supposed to be preparing for gainful employment. However, in today's ultra-competitive job market, you'll need every advantage you can get upon graduation.
The trick is knowing how to navigate the demands and opportunities you have as a student. And every major school in this city has a department dedicated to helping with that very thing. It's critical to take advantage, early and often, of your school's career services department.
We sat down with local career development professionals and whittled down their expertise to five crucial bits of advice.
1. Know thyself
At the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, career center director Bev Kratzer notes regretfully that "Regularly, students won't come and visit the career center until after they graduate."
How do you get motivated to drop in? The impetus may be as simple as stopping to think about where you're headed after you snag that degree.
"Hopefully you're getting a great education ... but while you're doing that, think about: 'What am I going to do with this?'" says Larry Stimpert, acting director of the Colorado College career center. People like him can help you find what you do best, and then how to get the right folks to notice.
"It's hard to do effective networking if you don't know what it is that you want to pursue," says Stimpert. "When you connect with an alum or anybody in a network, one of the things they're going to ask you is, 'What are you interested in?' If you can't articulate that, it's going to be very tough for people to help you."
2. Cast a wider network
According to Colorado Technical University career services director Jason Ramsey, only 15 percent of jobs are ever advertised. The other 85 percent go to friends or colleagues, before they're ever posted.
How can you join the 85 percent? One way is to become a friend or colleague of an industry fixture. "You can reach out to them and they can give you the insight into those jobs that aren't advertised," says Ramsey.
When looking for someone like that, it helps to keep your eyes wide open, adds Jason Owens, associate director of employer relations at CC: "Any time in your life, you're up for a potential impression that might be on an employer."
3. Make the grade (within reason)
Emily Conway's adviser at CC introduced her to her future boss. But Conway had already been making herself a catch, working toward a magna cum laude designation and the Kenneth J. and Elizabeth Hare Curran Award for Outstanding Economics Student.
"I worked really hard to maintain a great GPA," Conway says.
Fellow 2012 grad Emily Burton-Boehr's grades weren't as exemplary: "I was a few points from cum laude, but nothing to write home about, really." That said, she clearly knew her stuff, had accumulated useful work experience, and knew how to network.
Both Emilys now work for Lexidyne LLC, a Springs-based consulting firm that develops "analytic computer models to help clients better understand how the future will unfold," in Conway's words. These models interpret data and forecast industry trends.
It's definitely not your typical entry-level job, which backs up Burton-Boehr's belief that "you can succeed without the perfect GPA."
The keys are balance, and knowing how valuable a high GPA will be to employers in your field.
"When the economy is bad like it is now, you're going to get lots and lots of applicants for most jobs. So companies have to come up with fairly objective ways to screen people," says Stimpert. For example, "they will use a GPA cut-off — if you don't have a 3.0 GPA, you're not going to get an interview."
4. Intern, intern, intern
Even a short-term, part-time internship can show employers you have real-world experience. It also will help you build your professional network.
"More and more data comes out every year that says how much more those who have internships are hired than those who haven't," says UCCS' Kratzer.
Getting an internship will require the same skills and networking as getting a job will. However, internships are designed with students in mind, and have a high turnover rate — so if you get passed over for one, keep looking. More listings will appear quickly. Better yet, leverage your professional network and create your own.
Internships are "very competitive, unfortunately," says Burton-Boehr, "but doing projects, even unpaid stuff, can serve to bulk up your résumé."
5. Be a show-off
You never know when being the captain of your chess team or holding that student government position will make an impression. Wherever you've shown skill, ability or leadership, work it into a conversation, or slap it on the ol' résumé.
"Companies are looking for people with diverse skills: people who can think, who can write, who can bring a diverse perspective," says Owens. "Companies are always looking for that fresh perspective or that thing they haven't thought of before — that's why they recruit at colleges."