Job advice for students before graduation

College seniors, what are you doing with all your free time?

Ha. That was just to get your attention; I know you don’t have any free time. Even so, I’m going to suggest you find a couple of hours each week before graduation to help cushion your entry into the “real world,” as post-graduation is so endearingly called.

And what should you do with those hours? I’ll tell you in a moment, but first, let me explain that the advice I’m about to offer is based on tips I give to people leaving a job. If you have advance notice of the departure -- from work or school -- you’ll benefit from laying groundwork for the next chapter of your life.

In the case of college seniors, who are frantically busy now but perhaps completely unscheduled two months from now, the logical impulse would be to wait until summer to catch up on tasks not related to coursework.

Nope, not a good impulse. The problem with that strategy is that many or all of the resources you need will be more difficult to access then, particularly if they’re related to campus. Again, the same is true for people leaving a job; it just isn’t as easy to ask a former employer for a favor as it is to deal with the need while you’re on staff.

Here, then, are some things you want to get done before graduating, while it’s relatively easy to do so.

1. Join at least one professional association in your field, using the discount that many offer to undergraduates. If money is tight, consider asking for the membership as a graduation gift.

2. Ask for reference letters from people on campus who know you outside of class. This might be a coach, student-work supervisor, music tutor, etc. The goal is to gather letters that describe you as a person and as a worker, not as a student, to present later to prospective employers.

3. Meet with your campus career adviser for advice and job leads, and also to learn about services available after graduation. Remember this very basic rule: The students who stay in touch are the ones who come to mind when an employer asks for candidates to interview. Plan to stay in touch.

4. Meet with your campus alumni coordinator for the same reason. You will soon be eligible for alumni services, so you should know what they are. Again, be sure the coordinator knows your work goals, so he or she can forward leads that may come in.

5. Find out what other services are available on campus after you graduate, such as access to the fitness center, use of the library, e-mail accounts and, most valuable of all, free or low-cost class audits. You might wince at returning to campus to audit a class, but consider this: One well-chosen course in public speaking, business writing or accounting can give you lifelong work skills.

6. If you don’t yet have a job, make your summer plans now. A good mix of weekly activities would include: one informational interview, one professional association meeting, 20 hours of part-time work or volunteering, five hours (one a day) of online job search, and 10-15 hours of direct contact with employers through mail, e-mail and phone calls to ask for meetings to discuss the possibility of work.

Including drive time, this schedule accounts for about 60 hours a week, leaving plenty of time for socializing, exercise and relaxation. Plan to get into this routine immediately, to avoid the habit of being unscheduled. To get started, schedule at least two appointments for the first week after graduation. If needed, ask your campus career adviser for help setting up informational interviews throughout the summer.

7. Capture contact information for friends you want to stay in touch with. Then, plan a get-together for midsummer to hang out and compare notes. You’ll be surprised at how much you’ll look forward to seeing people after even a few weeks of being on your own.

8. Set goals for the summer and fall, so you'll have something to push toward. As a college student, you’ve been on a constant schedule of deadlines -- which you have to admit has been productive, even if it’s also been tiresome. Now it’s your turn to set the objectives and meet them on your own terms. If you want to earn a certain amount of money, or get a job, or find a place to live, it will be up to you to make it happen. Set the goal, make your plan and get started. And welcome to your new life!

Amy Lindgren owns Prototype Career Service, a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at or at 626 Armstrong Ave., St. Paul, MN 55102.