My College:
Career Prep

A Career Prep Timeline

Tami Campbell

Preparing for life after college becomes a high priority during senior year, but forward-looking students (and parents!) know it can start almost as soon as freshmen settle on campus.

Here are guidelines to help you — and your student — understand what can and should be done each year.

1st year — Explore Career Options

With so many new experiences, it’s easy to overlook career-related activities. But with no deadlines looming, the first year of college is the perfect time to seek information on various fields. Three strategies to suggest:

  1. Join new organizations to get a feel for different areas of interest and possible related careers.
  2. Attend job fairs. Although your student may not be eligible for an internship or co-op position quite yet, this is a great chance to see how job fairs work without the pressure to impress everyone they meet. Your student can make note of:
    • Which companies are participating
    • What positions they’re hiring for
    • What qualifications they’re looking for (major, GPA, year in school, past experience, etc.)
  3. Conduct informational interviews and job shadowing. Often overlooked by students, these are terrific ways to get a real sense of what a particular job is like daily and start building a professional network.

2nd & 3rd years — Find an Internship or Co-op Position

With most employers expecting real-world work experience in their new hires, it’s important for students to gain as much hands-on experience as they can before graduation. Many students aren’t aware that the college recruiting schedule is six months to one year ahead of the start date. This means students can start looking for an internship or co-op position in the fall. Some recruiters interview for these positions as early as October, with pre-interview activities taking place in September. Other summer internship opportunities will have deadlines in January and February.

Internship: A one-term employment period, usually full-time during the summer but occasionally part-time during the semester. Internships can be paid or unpaid and usually relate to a student's field of study.

Co-op Position: A more structured work arrangement where students alternate full-time employment one semester with full-time study the next, requiring at least two or more terms of work. Co-ops are paid positions directly related to a student's field of study.

Ways to support your second- or third-year student:

  • Make sure they have a strong, updated resumé that highlights their past accomplishments instead of just listing their job responsibilities.
  • Remind them to prioritize enrolling in the college career center’s online system. Many schools require this to RSVP for events, sign up for interviews, and apply for jobs.
  • Encourage them to attend as many recruiting events as they can:
    • Job fairs
    • Information sessions
    • Employer panels
    • Employer-led workshops
    • Other networking events

Each recruiting event can be approached as a networking opportunity. Encourage your student to talk to the employer representatives, get a business card and follow up with a thank-you email.

  • Though most students have large social networks, they often struggle with the concept of a professional network. Talk about the importance of building a professional network and share ideas on how to do this. Great people to have in their network include professors, career services staff, alumni, guest speakers, etc. Your advice and wisdom in this area could go a long way in laying the groundwork for their future career.

Senior Year – Career Launch!

Graduation and a degree may be right around the corner, but there’s a lot to do during this final year of college. As with internships and co-ops, recruiters start making offers in the fall for permanent full-time positions that begin in May or June. Seniors who put off their job search until the last couple months of spring semester, or the summer after graduation, will have missed out on many opportunities.

Things to know and ways to help:

  • Most students are so focused on making it through their last year that the idea of also starting a full-time job search can be overwhelming. Encourage your student to find a balance, but don’t let them procrastinate. If they accept an offer in the fall, second semester will be much less stressful!
  • Now is the time to clean up social media accounts. Yes, many employers will Google students before offering them a job. If your student hasn’t updated their various social media accounts to present a professional image, they should tackle this task before getting too far along in the job search.
  • Most student resumés look the same. Make sure your student is prepared by having a resumé that makes them stand out from the crowd. And, just like the resumé, their interviewing skills must be top-notch. If they can’t explain how their skills and experiences match an employer’s needs, they’ll lose out to someone who can. You can help by encouraging them to visit the career services office to fine-tune their resumé and interviewing skills. If they need more one-on-one help, find a professional experienced in these areas to coach them.

Click to view the downloadable PDF.


Tami Campbell is the owner of Level Up Career Services, a firm specializing in working with college students and recent graduates on their job search. With over a decade of experience in career services and campus recruiting, she now puts her background to work guiding students (and parents) through what can be a daunting and overwhelming process.
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