Career Conversations Series: Preparing for Graduation


Is it your senior year of undergrad or are you completing a graduate degree here at D’Youville? Congratulations! All of your hard work will soon pay off when you earn that coveted degree and move on to your next adventure. For some of us this may be entering our careers, for others this may be a gap year of exploration or graduate school. You may find yourself going through a mix of feelings about graduating, such as excitement, apprehension about the future, or sadness that your college days are drawing to a close. Of course you’ll have a mix of feelings when you think about how you’ll be leaving the familiar warmth of the campus that has become a home to you throughout your time here. These feelings are all normal and a part of adjusting to the fact that you’ll be ending one defining period of your life and moving on to the next chapter of your life. The world is waiting for you and there are a few things you can do to prepare for it, especially for your future career!

Striking a balance between campus life and the outside world

Your senior year will be full of questions. One of the biggest questions you may be wondering about is whether you should start pulling away from campus life or if you should embrace it even more. The answer to this is really based on your own needs and preferences. If you ask a handful of professors, your parents, and others in your life you’ll hear different advice on the subject. Each person you talk to will have different opinions and it may be hard to decide whose opinion is “right.” For this reason, the advice I’m going to give you is to strike a balance between college and the outside world. Of course it is important that you start exploring the world outside of college; however, don’t forget that campus has a large amount of opportunities to aid in professional development and overall opportunities to enjoy your final year.

As you start looking for opportunities outside of college, such as potential internships, jobs, or places you may want to go to graduate school, think about what opportunities on campus may be able to aid you in those endeavors. Imagine you’re considering spending a year working abroad. Outside of school you have been trying to gain experience related to working with diverse populations to expand your resume. You’ve been volunteering with agencies that work with refuges and expanding your ability to think open mindedly. However, one day you notice that you haven’t been getting involved on campus anymore and the only time you’re really there is to attend classes or because your bed is there. Maybe you think you should get more involved on campus or are sad that it feels like it’s all rapidly coming to an end. This is when you should think about how you can combine the opportunities available to you on campus with your outside work. If you were in this situation you may ask yourself questions like, “what options exist on campus that can expose me to diversity and other cultures?” Perhaps you can work with the International Student Office or help plan a cultural awareness event with a group of international students.

Or maybe you’re a student on internship who has been spending the majority of their time off campus and you just want to get involved for the sake of being more connected with your peers. Coming back to spend time with a club or hosting events can help you maintain your campus ties, which will help with networking, as well as allowing you a chance to still feel like a part of your college community. 

Professional developmentprofessional-development

During your senior year, you should begin to work on professional development if you have not already been doing so. Professional development comes in many forms, such as taking a continuing education course to gain or improve your skills in a certain area, completing trainings and certification courses, undergoing an internship, and working on your professional branding. The goal of professional development is to enhance your knowledge and skills and create a professional image. Engaging in professional development early on will greatly improve your chances of being successful in graduate school and the workforce.

Engage in opportunities beyond the classroom to learn new skills

Now that you are nearing the end of your undergraduate or graduate career, you should begin engage in professional development outside of the classroom. Professional development courses aimed at developing or enhancing a specific skill can be taken on any college campus. They may cost you; however, the skills you gain through these courses will help enhance your resume. Some professional development courses offer trainings and continuing education credits that you can apply directly to your future career, while others are aimed at more general skills that can be applied to any professional work you do. These courses often cover a wide variety such as art therapy, how to use Excel, or are aimed at specific trainings, such as Dignity Act Training for those who are required to be certified in order to work as a teacher or a social worker.

You can also engage in professional development by gaining experience related to your future career or that will be beneficial for graduate school. Internships, volunteer experience, research, and other related experience can all aid in professional development. The knowledge and skills you learn by partaking in these different activities can expand your future opportunities. Having a resume that lists out of class learning and work experience, such as research or internship experience, will help tailor your resume to be more specific towards your career goals and enhance your abilities to take on the role of a graduate student or a professional.

Your senior year is a great time to engage in professional development if you have not already, as you can use this time to filling in the gaps in your resume/vita. Say you know you want to become a teacher, but you have no experience with children or have very little teaching experience. Now is the time to start gaining that experience, not when you’re scrambling to find jobs that you are qualified for and have loans to repay. Of course, a fulfilling and dynamic career will always have growth and you should continue to work on professional development well into your future career; however, you shouldn’t be just starting professional development after graduation. Utilizing the time and guidance you have as a college student to begin professional development will make it much easier than if you are just starting out after graduation.

Visit the Career Services Center

Another way to work on your professional image is to pay a visit to the Career Services Center during your senior year. The Career Services Center offers a variety of different services to aid in the career process. They can help you find internship placements, look for job listings, create and improve upon your resume, find scholarship information for graduate school, practice interviewing, and create your online image. This of course is only a small list of the services they provide, so if you are interested in learning more please read this blog post that talks about Career Services more in-depth. Taking advantage of the services the Career Services Center provides can help guide you through the process of transitioning from undergrad to graduate school or out into the work world, allowing you to confidently step out from the safety of undergrad or college altogether.

Build your resume

During your senior year you should be working on gaining experiences to but on your resume, as well as actually creating one. Your resume serves as history of what experiences you have, as well as a personal advertisement. Its content will create the first impression internship supervisors, grad schools, and potential employers have of you. In order to have a strong resume, you should consider visiting Career Services to get professional advice. Although you can look up how to create a resume online and it may seem pretty straight-forward, having professional guidance can help you determine what is right for your needs. Career Services can help you find the best way to market yourself using your resume based on your major and specific career path, as well as identify how to strengthen the presentation of your resume.

There are some key factors to keep in mind when building on your resume and updating it in the future:

  • Make sure your spelling and grammar is correct: Spelling and grammatical errors may be the reason that your resume doesn’t make it into the pool of candidates who are being considered for the job, so be sure to proofread again and again! Be sure that you’re using properly spelling, capitalization, and punctuation for the names of all of the companies you’ve worked for and that you get your alma mater’s name correct too! When you make an error such as not using the proper capitalization and punctuation for D’Youville College and writing it as D’youville College or Dyouville College, you convey the message that you either did not proof read or do not care to look up the proper spelling. If you can’t get the name of somewhere that you’ve spent a considerable amount of time, such as the college you graduated from, then you may look lazy to potential employers.
  • Using a strong objective statement: The purpose of the objective statement is to tell potential employers what you have to offer. Your objective statement should be clear and strongly reflect your skills. Using an objective statement like, “I want to work in a field of human resources so I can use my business background” sounds generic. An objective statement that says something like, “A dedicated recent graduate wishing to pursue work in the field of human resources in order to utilize my interpersonal and analytical skills to improve employee relations and management operations” conveys what you can do for a company. This first statement says that you went to school for business and are applying to be a human resource professional, whereas the second statement says you can work with others and analyze data to help them serve a goal. Tailoring your objective statement to fit with the company’s goals and display your strengths can give you an advantage over a candidate who has not done so, as it tells the person reading your application why you are a good fit for their company. If you are unsure of what to write for an objective statement, you can seek guidance from Career Services or your professors.
  • Do not lie or exaggerate: Your resume should accurately reflect your experiences and skills. Lying or exaggerating about your experiences or skills will not help you get a job. Interviewers will ask various questions to verify the facts on your resume, and even if you were successful in your exaggerations, it could actually cost you a job if you’re caught!
  • Avoid using confusing language and commonplace phrases: Having a clear, readable resume will get you further than having a resume full of cliché phrases (“I want to expand my horizons”) and five-dollar words that you don’t actually know how to use. Your resume should clearly convey what you mean and not leave the reader with a vague sense of what you are trying to say. If you’re trying to say you’re flexible and able to adapt to changing demands in the workplace, say that instead of, “I can go with the flow.”
  • Presentation: Make sure to use resume paper and put your resume into a nice packaging, such as in a sheet protector inside a portfolio or in a presentation folder with a swing clip so you do not have to put holes into your resume. Although you may be asked to submit your resume online, you should always bring a copy of your resume to your interview. Presentation is a key part of every interview, so taking the time and spending a little extra money to make sure your resume and other application material looks well organized is very important. This will give the interviewer the impression that you are organized and care enough about getting the job to put a lot of effort into the application material. 

Build a portfolio 

Having a professional portfolio is also another great way to enhance your professional image. A portfolio allows you to showcase examples of your work, certificates, and awards. It is a place where you can tie together your academic achievements and work related experience. A portfolio can also serve as a way of tracking your growth as a professional, as it should reflect all of your accomplishments. If you notice your portfolio is lacking something, such as volunteer experiences or research experience, this is a sign that you need to gain experience in that area. This way you can have a well-rounded portfolio and ensure you are a strong candidate for a job or graduate school.

The following items are typically included in a portfolio:

  • A cover letter or introduction including your professional goals
  • Your resume
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Examples of your work, including internship experiences
  • Examples of research you have worked on
  • Copies of certifications you have received or a list of trainings you have completed
  • A summary of contributions you have made to the community and your college
  • Honors and awards

In order to put together a portfolio you should start by identifying what it is you are trying to present to those who will view your portfolio. If you’re trying to impress grad schools with your portfolio, you’ll want to include a lot of strong academic work and examples of your ability to engage in research, write proficiently, as well as bring in anything else that shows that you can succeed in graduate school. If you are wishing to become a nurse, you’ll want to include work, certificates, and awards that demonstrate that you’re good at working with people, knowledgeable about the human body and medicine, and have the competencies required to be a nurse. After you have determined the focus of your portfolio, you can then start collecting work from your academic pursuits, extracurricular activities, work experience and trainings, volunteer work, and other areas that fit in with the message you are trying to convey.

Create a LinkedIN profile or join another website intended for networking

You’ve probably heard multiple times already that networking is a tool that can open up many doors for you. Effective networking helps spread information and increase your opportunities. It may even lead to acceptance into a competitive internship or job.

In order to maximize your networking opportunities, consider signing up for a professional social media website like LinkedIN or Purple Briefcase. These sites allow you to create an online professional brand and further your ability to network. You can also post your resume, list career interests, and find job and internship opportunities.

Clean-up your online image

online imageHave you ever searched your name on Google? If you haven’t, take a moment to do it now. What kind of things came up? Your social media profiles on websites such as Facebook and Twitter were probably some of the top hits. Are the kinds of things you’re posting on these websites something you want to show your future employer? Employers will see the same things you saw if they search your name in Google, so now is the time to make sure your online image is presentable. Follow these tips to make sure your online image is something that you can let anyone see:

  • Understand privacy settings: Even if you think your profiles are set to private, information still leaks out. Make sure you understand that what you post on the Internet is never private. Your profiles may be set to private, but what about your friends and family? What about the non-private sections of websites that you have no control over, such as group pages or company pages? The posts you make on someone else’s wall or these non-private areas may turn up in your Google searches so be careful. You can still have fun online, but remember that you don’t want to post anything offensive or damaging to your image!
  • Think about what you’re posting: It’s easy to get caught up in the idea that you can say whatever you want on the Internet, especially because sometimes the consequences are not immediate. However, you never know when that picture you posted of yourself drinking at a party or your argument over Facebook will come back to bite you! So think before you post: would I want a future employer knowing about this?
  • Don’t post information you don’t need employers to see on your professional social media websites: Since the purpose for websites liked LinkedIN or Purple Briefcase is to network and meet your other career related needs, the content you post on these websites should be strictly professional. This means that post about your dog or your argument with your significant other shouldn’t go on your Twitter if you set it up to use as a part of your professional branding. You also want to avoid posting things such as your political affiliation (unless you’re in politics), sexual orientation, disabilities, and religion. This may affect potential employer’s opinions of you and they may not even be aware of the judgments they are making, so it is better to leave this information out. Even if it is a legally protected class, the unconscious decisions people make about others still affect our judgments, and providing this information can lead to decisions against your favor.

References and letters of recommendation

One of the great benefits of networking and being active on campus is that people know your name and can vouch for your achievements. This is where asking references and letters of recommendation come into play. You’ll need them for job and graduate school applications, and you’ll need strong ones that can truly reflect your knowledge and skills. It is essential that you identify people who can be a strong reference or write you a strong letter of recommendation. This means you shouldn’t ask your freshmen biology professor you haven’t seen since then or someone you’ve only worked with a few times. Look for those people you have developed a professional relationship with. Do you have anyone who can say how hard of a worker you are and give solid examples? By solid examples I mean more than, “They came to my class every day and got A’s.” I mean something along the lines of, “I have known this student for two years and they have always challenged themselves to do well in my classes. They have always been very willing to engage in classroom participation and offer insightful comments that have enhanced the classroom experience for other students.” This gives a deeper understanding of the kind of work ethic you have than the first example and gives concreate examples of how you stand out from others.

So when you’re thinking about asking someone to be a reference or write you a letter of recommendation, be sure that they actually can say something about you other than give a generic example of how you’re fit for the position. If you can’t think of anyone who can do this, now is the time to deepen your connections with professors, supervisors, or anyone else you work with who could be a potential reference for you. However, keep in mind that your references should be people who can speak about your professional behavior or character, not your parents, siblings, significant other, or someone else who you have an intimate relationship with.

Save money

Woman with coins in jar

So you’re going to be entering the real world soon? Or maybe you’re going to grad school? Either way, now is the time to start saving money if you haven’t already. There’s going to be a lot of costs that creep up on you as you near the end of college. Graduate admissions tests, certification courses, grad school and job interviews, relocation costs, rent, and student loans are a few of the potential costs you’ll encounter during your senior year and after graduation. You never know, maybe there’s a job opening across the country and you have to fly there for an interview. Saving as much money as possible now can help prepare you for these situations and any other financial unknowns that may creep up.

Applying for jobs or graduate schools

global travel

As graduation day comes closer and closer, you may start feeling a little anxious about what’s next. The idea of searching for a job or looking at graduate programs may make you feel even more nervous and you might be thinking about putting it off until graduation. However, this will only make the anxiety after graduation even worse. Starting to look into your opportunities early will help you determine what kinds of things you need to do while you’re still in school to make yourself a more competitive applicant.

If you’re looking to go to grad school, you should start looking into your options as soon as possible and create a timeline for when application material is due. Typically application material is due in the late fall (November to December) or early spring semester (January through March), so it is imperative that you make sure you look at deadlines immediately and determine how long it will take you to complete the application requirements. You may also want to attend informational sessions and take a tour of the colleges you’re interested in, so it is good to plan in advance in order to save in case you have to make a long trip.

For those of you who are heading off into the work world, you can use your senior year to fill in the gaps in your resume/vita and look for job openings. During your final semester you should start posting your resume to job boards and filling out applications. You can utilize the different services the Career Services Center offers to help you in your endeavors. This way you can take some of the burden off of your shoulders, as you’ll already have started the job search process and won’t have to scramble to figure out what to do once you’ve graduated.

Understand the Terms of loan repayment

During the final weeks of your senior year you will get notifications about your student loans ending their deferment period soon and how they will be entering repayment soon. These notifications let you know about information such as the interest rate on your loan, when repayment starts, how to keep your school informed about changes of things such as your address or name, what to do if you have trouble making payments, and how long you have to repay your loan. You must pay back your student loans, otherwise your future credit will be negatively affected and you won’t be able to do things such as buy a home or open lines of credit. You may even have future wages and tax returns collected by the government or be sued! Sounds scary right? This is why you should carefully read the terms of your exit interview and make sure you understand the different options you have, such as deferment and forbearance.

Typically you have a grace period, which is the period of time before you have to start paying on your loans. So start saving as soon as possible and develop a budget based on your expected monthly payments, which you can determine through your exit interview and by staying connected with your loan provider.

Saying thank you

Before you leave the warmth of college, make sure you thank those who have supported you throughout your time as a student. Thank those who have supervised you, allowed you to conduct research with them, written you letters of recommendation, and helped you through challenges or inspired you; but also consider saying thank you to the professors you have had multiple times. Formal thank you letters should be sent to those who have given a great amount of time to you individually, such as those who supervised you or wrote you a letter of a recommendation. Depending on the atmosphere of the agency, a formal letter may be typed or hand-written. If you worked in an agency with a small staff or were very close to your supervisor or professor, a hand-written thank you may be more appropriate. An informal thank you, such as the one you may give to a professor you’ve had for class more than once, can be written or given verbally. Showing your appreciation goes a long way. You never know what the future holds, so making sure leave on a positive and memorable note will be to your advantage. Saying thank you doesn’t have to be grand to make an impact.

Enjoy your senior year

There’s so much to do during your senior year, but don’t forget to also enjoy it. For some of you, this may be the last time you ever set foot on a college campus. It may also be the last time you see some of the people you’ve made friends with while in college. Participate in campus events like movie nights or go see a game. Spend some time studying with friends in the library or visiting a local café. Partake in school traditions, such as going to the Honor’s Convocation and Interfaith Hooding Ceremony. Yes, it’s important to get good grades and work on your professional image, but it’s also still essential to make the most out of your senior year. You’ll probably be exhausted and anxious about graduation, but taking a few moments throughout the year to just be a college student for the last time will allow you time to destress and create amazing memories. So, don’t forget to have fun during your senior year!

Graduation day

hat tossing ceremony at graduation

Finally, when graduation day comes stand tall and revel in the fact that you’ve done it! You’re graduating! As you don your cap and gown, reflect on all that you’ve done during your senior year. If you followed this guide, your senior year should reflect that you’ve built a resume, created a portfolio, cleaned up your online image, continued networking by participating in campus events, filled in the gaps in your resume through internships, saved money, applied to grad school or jobs, thanked those who have helped you make it this far, and spent some time with you friends. Of course, your list may not include all of these or it may include even more things, but if you follow the advice in this guide, then you’ll be able to walk across that stage feeling more prepared to take on the challenges the world has to offer.

The Career Conversations Series is researched and written by Brittany Souliske, a senior in the Psychology program who will be graduating in May of 2016.

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