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Guide to Student Career Planning, Internships, and Employment

When asked, over 52% of Americans claimed that they were unhappy at work. This number is more than 13% higher than those who were asked the same question a little over three decades ago. Of course, there is no way to predict precisely how your career will play out. Nevertheless, you can still strive to give yourself the best possible chance at a happy professional life by investing time into planning your career.

Career planning is a term that is often used around high school- and college-age individuals. While the importance of the concept is always stressed, though, the actual way to execute it is often left out of the conversation.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a high schooler trying to decide if you should go to college or you’re already at a university, you probably don’t want to spend the rest of your career unhappily job hopping from one gig to the next. If that’s the case, it’s important that you take time to sit down, set some goals, and create a road map to guide you. Here are some helpful resources and tips to help you do just that.

Career Planning for High School Students

When you’re in high school, the idea of a “career” may feel far off — and if you’re going to attend college, it may still be several years away. However, that shouldn’t stop you from starting the career planning process, even at this early stage in your professional development.

This doesn’t mean you need to chart out every aspect of the next 40 years of your life. However, you can still start the career planning process by constructively considering the following:

Exploring Your Interests

This is a great place to start. What are the things that interest you? Do you like to play music? Do you love to code? Are you an avid reader?

By investigating your natural proclivities, you can begin to unpack what it is that motivates you, makes you tick, and gets you excited.

Identifying Career Choices

As you begin to learn more about your interests, you can start to look for careers that accommodate them. This shouldn’t be a quick process. Instead, dig into subtleties and nuances.

For instance, if you have a passion for history, that doesn’t mean your only choice is to become a professor. Your interest in facts and figures may make a career as a private investigator a good choice, as well.

As you attempt to align interests and career choices, you may find your lack of experience a limiting factor. If that’s the case, try taking an aptitude test to identify skills. You can also ask adults around you what their jobs are like.

Researching Your Options

As you flesh out your career choices, you can begin to look into options for each one. Look for colleges or trade schools that will help you become certified in a field that you want to pursue.

Resist the urge to make major decisions right away. Instead, use this time to thoroughly vet your options so that you can make a wise and informed choice when the time comes.

By exploring interests, identifying career choices, and researching your educational options, you can begin to lay a foundation for your future career.

Gaining Career-Related Experience

Once you’ve identified a few different career avenues to explore, consider different ways that you can begin to gain hands-on experience in those fields. There are several ways to do this, such as:

  • Internships: An internship takes place when you’re hired, often without pay, for a temporary position in a professional organization. This gives you an opportunity to gain experience by seeing a workplace in action. It also can help to satisfy various educational requirements.
  • Workshops: A career workshop is typically an event or series of events in which a professional in a certain field leads an educational class. This is focused on what they do within their profession and can provide students with valuable insight and a glimpse of others’ professional experiences within a certain field or industry.
  • Camps: A camp or summer program functions much like a workshop. However, it creates a more immersive experience in which you are isolated from normal life, usually for days or weeks at a time. During this time, you can focus on a topic or industry related to a potential career. This can be an excellent way to get a feel for an extended time spent in a certain line of work.
  • Volunteer work: There’s more to your career than making money. Often, volunteer work with organizations like the Red Cross or Habitat for Humanity can help to broaden your professional aspirations. It can also do wonders for your resume.
  • Career programs: A career program provides a very specific educational experience that is targeted at a particular career or field. This can help you gain knowledge and experience within a potential industry before committing to getting a full certification or an entire degree in that field.

By looking for opportunities to get hands-on within a certain field, you can gauge if it’s a good fit before committing to the larger step of pursuing a degree in that arena.

Career Preparation and Exploration for College Students

Once you get to college, it’s time to put your career planning into motion. By having a plan in place you can save money, avoid unnecessary classes, and ensure that you move toward your career goal as quickly and efficiently as possible.

As your educational goals and objectives firm up, your class schedule falls into place, and you begin to churn out college credits, consider the following additional activities to help further prepare you for your rapidly approaching professional career.

Internships

If you’re able to land an internship while you’re attending college, it can be a tremendous extracurricular boon to your career — and your resume, to boot. It shows that you’re serious about your field of choice and are eager to get hands-on experience to give you an edge in the upcoming job hunt.

There are many resources available to help direct you toward a large variety of internship options, such as:

In addition to looking on internship sites, you can also go directly to many high-profile companies in search of an elite internship (just keep in mind that the competition for these will often be very intense). A few examples include:

Whether you apply for a low- or high-profile internship, the extra experience will always give your career path a significant boost.

Work-Study Opportunities

If you find that you’re tight on funds while you’re at school, you can take care of your finances and your career experience at the same time by utilizing work-study opportunities.

These are programs that are specifically tailored to help provide students with part-time work while they’re at school. Some programs even provide flexible working hours, allow studying while on the job, and permit you to choose between directing the funds toward your tuition or discretionary spending.

Consider the availability of work-study programs at whatever college you choose to attend. While they are common, there are many colleges that are better-known for their work-study opportunities. This can be a great way to capitalize on your time in more ways than one.

Finding a Job

You may find that you have the stamina to tackle a formal job while you’re in school. If this is the case, it can be an ideal opportunity to rack up some career-related experience as well.

Working a job while at school has become more accessible for students than ever before, particularly thanks to the rise of both remote work and the gig economy. There are several places where you can look for both part- and full-time jobs while you’re at college. Here are a few examples:

  • College Central focuses on helping students jumpstart their careers.
  • MyFirstPaycheck.com offers a wide variety of college-friendly employment.
  • Fiverr has a massive collection of freelance jobs that can provide an easy side income while you’re in school.

You may also be able to find employment right on your campus at times. By working a job while you’re in school, you can build your network, gain direct experience in your field, and even get a paycheck tossed into the deal.

Working Part- or Full-Time During College

The question of whether to work either part- or full-time during college is a difficult one to answer.

On the one hand, full-time employment allows you to pay for personal expenses, room and board, and even your tuition rather than resorting to expensive student loans. Of course, working full time can be exhausting, even without a full course load.

If you work 40 hours a week while in college, it can lead to burnout and poor mental and physical health before long.

On the other hand, working part-time helps you keep some cash flowing in without compromising your school schedule. While it is easier to manage, you likely won’t have enough income from a part-time job to cover both school and living expenses, making borrowed funds a greater necessity.

Employment After College

For many students, the question of where they’ll work after college is daunting. If you are able to studiously invest in your career planning throughout both high school and college, it can have a powerful effect on the entire trajectory of your career.

When you don’t have a career plan in place, it’s easy to spend time both in college and after graduation wandering around aimlessly looking for a job that sparks your interest. This can lead to time and effort wasted on idleness, procrastination, and even working in a field you don’t enjoy.

However, if you spend your later academic career charting out and prepping for your professional future, it will help you hit the ground running once you cross that stage at graduation. Rather than passively looking for any kind of work, you can take the next step in your career without hesitation.

With a clear vision in mind, all you need to do is start visiting job boards to find career opportunities that fit your skills, interest, and career path. Some of the more popular sites of this nature include:

Having a career plan in place makes the process much smoother as you dive into the often overwhelming task of finding a job after college.

Job and Internship Tips

While a career plan is a wonderful blueprint to have on hand, it isn’t the only factor that will lead to career success. There are many other factors that are also worth considering as you launch your career. Here are a few tips and tricks to keep in mind as you officially kick off your professional history.

Application Advice

When filling out applications, there are several things that you can do to improve your chances of standing out from a stack of other potential candidates:

  • Be prompt in applying for a job, as the longer you wait the greater the chance that another candidate will be hired before you apply.
  • Cater to applicant tracking systemsby being thorough, using keywords, and formatting your application properly each time.
  • Remember that many employers will require you to undergo a background check to review your financial history, existing debt, potential criminal record, and so on.
  • If you’re concerned about your background check causing an issue, you can impress employers by focusing on an area well within your control: improving your credit score.
  • Always be honest on applications and have a list of professional references handy.

The application process is your first chance to catch a potential employer’s eye. Make the most of it.

Cover Letter Tips

It’s tempting to skimp on the cover letter and let your resume speak for itself. However, this is a bad idea. Many resumes look the same, at least at first glance, and it is often your cover letter that will help you stand out from the crowd. Whenever you write a cover letter:

  • Take the time to do it well.
  • Use a unique hook early in the letter to draw in the recruiter.
  • Share your personal story and experiences.
  • Show passion and use words purposefully.
  • Always be simple, concise, and make sure that everything is applicable.

Your cover letter is often your first and best chance to wow a recruiter. Make sure that every word counts.

Resume Tips

When it comes to your resume, you want to have everything required and nothing else. A modern resume should be concise, no more than a page, and should effectively encapsulate who you are as a professional. Other tips include:

  • Using industry keywords and personal metrics in your resume copy.
  • Tailoring your resume to each job that you apply for.
  • Making sure that there are absolutely no grammar, spelling, or punctuation errors.
  • Including education, experience, and skills on your resume.
  • Starting with a proper header followed by a brief summary of who you are.

Your resume should feel like a streamlined summary of your entire professional life. At the same time, it should be highly applicable to the job that you’re applying for and should not be filled with extra fluff.

Interview Tips

Finally, after applying, writing a cover letter, and tailoring your resume, you’ll likely need to pass an interview before you land a job — and possibly more than one. When you meet with a recruiter or hiring manager, either online or in person, use these interview tips to help you give a strong first impression:

  • Always research the company and the industry that it operates in before attending an interview.
  • Arrive early and take time to compose yourself before you enter the building.
  • Strive to stay relaxed and confident with your facial expressions, tone, and body language.
  • Bring your own questions to ask your interviewer if the occasion arises.
  • Don’t be afraid to send a thank you note and then follow up after waiting for an appropriate amount of time.

From planning your career to crushing each interview, there are countless ways you can smooth the path toward your future career.

While you can’t predict how every step of your professional life will unfold, there are many ways that you can influence the journey right from the start. Doing so will help ensure that you end up with a happy, healthy, and rewarding career for decades to come.