Summer. The best season of the year. That is, unless you’re drowning in the pressures to find something productive, life-altering, or incredibly meaningful to do with your few months off from school (or permanent graduation from school!), as college students everywhere have been doing relentlessly. Even as many schools end this month, not everyone has been successful in their search for a job or internship, and unfortunately this is often due to factors beyond our control.
If, like many others, you still haven’t secured a solid plan for the summer, you may understandably be panicking. You may start applying to anything and everything. You may be losing a lot of sleep (and a little bit of sanity). You may be feeling: a.) stressed, b.) hopeless, c.) afraid, or d.) all of the above.
Take a deep breath. Your success in life will not be determined by what you choose to do this summer. Taking the time off and giving yourself a well-deserved break is a valid choice. Summer is a chance to remind yourself what it feels like to enjoy life by revisiting childhood hobbies, taking that trip you’ve always wanted to go on, or lounging at home with your friends and family.
But maybe you’re itching for some professional development. What’s a student to do? As it turns out…a lot. There are countless opportunities waiting to be discovered and set in motion, as long as you’re willing to take some unconventional routes in your journey! Take a look at some of these options to gain experience, connect with career-focused people, practice and improve your skills, and better define your career path.
Find a Mentor
Of course, we have to start this list by highlighting our favorite professional development activity: mentorship!
Mentors act as trusted advisors who can provide tips based on their own experiences, stand by you throughout your career twists and turns, and cheer you on during every failure and success. A mentor could be someone you already know, such as a family member or a professor or a supervisor, or they could be someone new to you.
Of course, you may not find just one perfect person to fill this role — mentorship comes in many forms and you can have multiple people who act as mentors simultaneously or who simply show you what you are looking for in your next mentor. As you seek a mentor, remember these key points:
- Start by identifying what you want out of the mentorship. Don’t get serious with your search until you have a clear picture of what you’re looking for!
- Be proactive and put yourself in situations where you can find a mentor. This can mean going to networking events, or just taking the time dive into your LinkedIn connections and see who you can reconnect with.
Check out our previous blog post for a more in-depth look into finding a mentor!
If you’re ready to take your mentorship search to the next level, head on over to our website and sign up today! ✨
Online classes and remote boot camps
Even in summer, the learning doesn’t have to stop!
Summer is an awesome opportunity for you to learn some new skills (see above) or, if you’re still in school, to get ahead and knock some required classes out of the way. Online courses make learning accessible no matter where you are and platforms like edX and Coursera offer a wide range of courses at no cost. Remote boot camps are also growing in popularity, and can be a great way to hone your skills quickly and effectively.
Not only will you develop concentration and self-discipline, but you will also be equipping yourself with the knowledge that can aid your career growth.
Home décor and upcycled clothing are not the only things you can DIY — you can also work on your own personal project that lets you practice your skills and add to your portfolio.
Take your skills to the next level by doing some freelance work (you might even be able to make some money!). You can check in with people individually to see if they could use your talents, or announce your availability to your online networks and wait for people to reach out to you. It’s also very likely you’ll find some freelance job postings online that fit your interests.
You can take this a step further and try building your own project from scratch. Your project may be something personal that exists simply to test your skills and lets you pursue your interests; it’s perfectly fine to create something that never gets shared with the world! But if you’re ready to go the extra mile, this summer may even be the perfect time to start your own small business or company.
For many of us, volunteering is the first early step towards internships and jobs.
Volunteer roles can often be more numerous and easier to snag, and they can just as easily help you get your foot in the door of organizations, similar to an unpaid internship. Depending on the volunteer role, you can gain experience that is relevant to your career path. Check in on the organizations that you’ve been applying to and see if there are any volunteer opportunities, and then proceed as you would with a job or internship!
Volunteer programs are also a great option if you’re an undergrad who has less experience or is considering different paths for your future career. International volunteer programs can help you develop crucial global competencies like cross-cultural communication and a chance to explore the world. Some volunteering programs may even be eligible for academic credit!
Here are some programs and volunteer websites to check out:
- UN Volunteers
- International Volunteer HQ
- Translators Without Borders
- Be My Eyes
- Go Overseas
- United Planet
While the name might suggest otherwise, this isn’t some devious career hack — instead, it’s a pretty solid option to use once you’ve narrowed down your career options.
Job shadowing is when you hang out with and observe a professional for a period of time, usually somewhere between a day and few weeks. If you can can invest some time in an unpaid job, shadowing a professional is an awesome way learn more about a specific career path.
You’ll usually get a chance to see the day-to-day tasks of the employee you’re shadowing and get a tour of the workplace, which is super helpful if you have your eyes on a certain company. Shadowing is effectively a low-stakes, behind-the-scenes look at a potential future job role. While shadowing, you can also connect with future mentors who can guide you throughout your career.
Of course, you can’t just show up and start following people around — more often than not you need to go through a more formal process to become a shadow candidate. Start out by talking to your school’s career center to learn about available options.
Conduct informational interviews
Sometimes, to become the interviewee, you first have to be the interviewer.
While you still have your student card, leverage it get some priceless advice. Informational interviews are usually informal and a great way to get firsthand insight into a particular field, industry, company or position.
To begin, make a list of your targets: this could include specific people, or it could be some general categories that you will fill in after doing some research, such as “project managers” or “sustainability-related roles” or “employees at Google”.
Besides preparing a list of people to reach out to, you will also want to prepare a list of questions. Some good starting questions to ask are:
- What do you enjoy most about the work you do?
- If you could do it all over again, would you choose the same path for yourself? If not, what would you change?
- Is there something that surprised you about your role when you first started?
- What are some of the biggest challenges you face day-to-day?
Review company websites, scour LinkedIn, and look up your interviewee to create specific and thoughtful questions as well. Researching your interviewee before meeting is also a fun way to find common interests!
Networking has become a buzzword that you may associate with faint memories of crowded job fairs and awkward conversations with your uncle’s cousin’s boss…but it’s much more fun and enriching if you do it your way.
Networking is critical to career growth and, like your career, you can do it on your own terms. Whether you’re a lover of networking events or prefer the cold emailing route, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to building a network. And with platforms like LinkedIn, it is easy to have all your connections in one place where you can easily communicate with them or add new people.
Your network will be a source of inspiration, advice, and encouragement, and it may even open up brand new doors on your career journey. Similar to conducting informational interviews, you’ll want to stay organized with a list of people you want to connect with: people in specific roles, leaders within your industry, fellow students who are on a similar career path…you may be surprised at how long your list grows!
Once you have your list ready, here are some handy tips for building a stronger network:
- Personalize your invitations to connect with a reminder of how you know each other, a common interest, etc
- Stay in contact with people in your network, even if it’s just commenting on their LinkedIn posts or tagging them when you share information they would find interesting.
- Keep expanding outward. Ask your connections to introduce you to their connections, and so forth. When you’re early in your career, you never know who might wind up being a valuable source of info or the way into your dream organization!
Review your skills
The job market is always evolving, but so are you.
Reskilling and upskilling are what students are best at. Knowing what qualities you possess and keeping track of what’s in-demand can help you sketch out a career path and market your skills creatively. Try doing this SWOT exercise:
- What strengths do you have? Are there any that you want to gain?
- What weaknesses do you want to overcome?
- What opportunities do you have to take action? What do you have the most control over?
- What threats stand in your way?
Here are some handy skills every young professional should work on:
- Public speaking
- Active listening
- Giving and receiving feedback
- Time management
- Conflict management and resolution
- Growth mindset
- Written communication
- Verbal communication
Once you feel comfortable with a skill, don’t forget to add it to your LinkedIn or other professional profile for recruiters to see!
Build your personal brand
We are all familiar with many well-known brands (ever heard of Opal? 😉)…but have you thought about your brand?
One key ingredient to career success is building a personal brand. Your personal brand is how you want the world to see your unique combination of skills, experience, and personality. It’s your story.
Crafting a personal brand requires self-reflection and introspection, and the long summer days can be the perfect time to do this. Sit down and get thinking about your strengths and weaknesses (remember your skills list?) and what you really stand for. Think about what you are and what you are not, what traits people associate with you.
Remember — no matter how you choose to build your brand and network, stay honest and genuine. It will get you miles farther than faking ever will.
While it’s not too late to snag a job or internship for the coming summer, we encourage you to consider other options as well to help lessen your stress and try something new. Do you have any alternative summer plans that we missed? Let us know, we’d love to share them with everyone!
Looking for more great ideas and inspiration? Check out our previous blog post about virtual fall recruitment (still relevant today!) and about taking care of yourself during the job search.
Check out our recent social media post where some of our Opalites (including the co-authors of this piece!) share internship stories and advice.
Many of the ideas shared in this piece come straight from our Shine a Light On podcast series — and it’s full of many more great resources! Check them out (and keep the cycle going by sharing what you’d like to see in future episodes, or chatting with us on the next episode!)