It’s true. As a student, you are cute and cuddly. Everybody wants to help a deserving student looking to make a name for him or herself in the world. Think about it: people donate money for scholarships so that worthy students can realize their dreams. They volunteer to come speak to classes as a way of “giving back” to their community. And, who doesn’t find it flattering to be asked by some humble (not pushy) youngster to give them advice on how they can grow up to be just like you someday?
You need to take advantage of your cute and cuddliness now because it will not last forever. In fact, you stop being cute and cuddly the day you graduate. On that day, you become the competition. The number of people willing to provide you with their time and insight will drop dramatically. So, now is the time to start to develop your networking skills and execute a plan to meet the kinds of people who can provide you with good advice about how to jump-start your career. The earlier you develop this plan and the earlier you begin to execute it, the bigger the gains you will realize from it.
Fortunately, the college provides you with a variety of ways to connect with experienced people who can give you advice on what it is like to work in their profession, what choices they made that helped them along the way, how they learned from their mistakes and what you need to do now to be successful later. So, in developing and implementing your plan, some things to do include:
Get to know some of your professors outside the classroom by attending office hours and asking their advice. I know they seem like strange creatures, but they are high-achievers who know a great deal about what they research. They love talking about what they do, have seen lots of students over the years and have strong opinions about what makes people successful. Many also have professional connections in the community and can help you meet people you want to meet.
Join one of the student organizations in the college. Do this as a freshman and remain active all four years. Almost every major has a student organization. These organizations tend to focus on career development and frequently have guest speakers from the community who talk about the profession and what it takes to succeed. Go to these meetings, ask the guest speaker questions, and mingle before and after the event. Leaving a good impression with a guest speaker might even bring an internship or a job.
In your junior year apply to be a part of the college’s mentoring program. One of the great things about UCF is that many of our alumni still live in Orlando and are eager to help you get a great start to your professional career. This is not just a matter of altruism, for your success is their success—the more successful UCF alumni there are, the greater the value of their degree. Many alums have volunteered their time to spend a day with a student at their workplace explaining what they do and engaging students in discussions about how they can achieve their aspirations.
Finally, when doing these things, ask the people you meet to identify other people you may want to get to know to help you navigate your career. This will likely open even more doors. If this sounds like a fair bit of work, it is—but the payoff will be large. So get busy. Remember your parents want you to graduate soon, so being cute and cuddly won’t last very long.
Paul Jarley, Ph.D., is the dean of the UCF College of Business Administration. He blogs every week at http://www.bus.ucf.edu/dean. The following post appeared on August 22, 2012. Follow him on Twitter @pauljarley.