Career development doesn’t begin on the first day of your job, nor does it begin when you first step foot on campus. It’s a micro-process that runs parallel to a grander, lifelong process of personal development.

College presents the first opportunity to make decisions about your future career. For some, it’s declaring the major they’ve always wanted to pursue. For others, it’s continuing the earlier stages of personal development until ready they’re ready for the next step. However, for most students, that first year encompasses an initial, crucial stage in the career development process.

Exploring options and opportunities (1st year of college)

Yes, you should explore even if you’re 110% sure of the major and career you’re considering. 

We’re not saying that you have to explore career options, but it never hurts to prepare. Don’t rush into a major or career based on societal pressures or expectations; not everyone is as dead-set in their initial plans as they seem! In fact, 80% of US college students will change their major at least once.

Take time to explore what your campus has to offer. Check out the career services offices on campus to find out more useful information about your major and career options. Network, find advice online, and ask others who pursued the same career path how they achieved the goals you’re chasing. If you need help getting there, Handshake gives you access to a community of recent grads so you can ask these questions! You can also start your internship search early through Handshake — just to see what the prospects are like. 

In general, students remain in an exploratory stage for a few semesters — up to a year. It’s really the best time to reflect on your interests, skills, and values and how they can affect you in the next stage.

Deciding and preparing for the future (2nd – 3rd year of college)

This is when your career goals begin to come into play. Once you’ve decided on a major and/or career, try laying out the trajectory to see where it will take you. 

Strategizing goes beyond just what classes you need to take. When interviewing for an internship, your interviewers don’t want to hear about your grades or the classes you took; they want to know what you did with that experience! Detail how you transitioned from classroom to shadow or volunteer. When you’re ready for that entry level position, interview questions are further disconnected from your college experiences and rely more on “real world” experience 

Making firm decisions in your career goals and path ensure your preparation for your career by engaging in the relevant professional experiences mentioned above. They’ll also help you start building your resume.

Transitioning into the next steps of life (4th year of college)

This transition period starts with your first serious job search, and finding the right entry-level or no-experience job relevant to your major, skills, and experiences. With a strong resume and several cover letters in hand, this is when you start the application process. Doing so before graduating will make the transition easier. This is especially true when employers on Handshake are actively looking for students by attributes like “expected graduation date.” Many times, these employers hope to fill these spots by the end of graduation season. This makes pre-graduation a high-demand time for employers.