Boost Your Career Prospects With 3 On-Campus Activities

“Plan for what is difficult while it is easy, do what is great while it is small.” Famous Chinese military strategist and philosopher Sun Tzu likely was not thinking about careers after college when he penned this, but his sentiment is spot-on motivation for college students as they approach the middle of the fall semester.

One trait shared by many satisfied and successful professionals is dedication to expanding knowledge in advance and building relationships before actually needing to use them. In other words, people who focus on expansion have a much wider network and range of options than those who procrastinate. Not only do they reap greater benefits, but they also expend less energy and experience less stress in acquiring these assets.

So, in the spirit of Sun Tzu, here are three simple activities for college students to expand their professional prospects.

[Read: Hot Jobs for College Grads. ]

Strike up a conversation.

Relationships are the turbo-booster to professional endeavors for many reasons. They can provide personalized insider information to deepen your understanding of a process, business structure, job, profession or industry. They can help you gain a needed reference for a job application. Speaking to professionals of different seniority levels with a range of backgrounds can give you added confidence in future social and professional settings. And, as an extra bonus, building relationships allows you to learn about interesting people who can become part of your long-term network.

To build a new relationship before winter break, initiate a conversation outside of class with a professor, administrator, career center worker or other university employee. Sounds simple, right? It is — yet most college students don’t do it.

[See: 8 Careers for Creative People.]

A college campus is filled with an entire village of professionals who have chosen to add benefit to the lives of students. Helping you is not only in their DNA — it is in their job descriptions. Don’t let your nerves deter you from striking up a conversation. You can ask:

— How did you choose your career? This job? Your college major?

— What would you do differently?

— What’s your take on the job market?

— What dream job would you pursue?

— How have or might things change in your field?

— What can I do to figure out a career I love?

The list is endless. The key is to pick any question, ask a chosen contact if he or she has a few minutes for some advice and have a conversation. Be sure to be a polite listener (since you did initiate the discussion). Hide your telephone so you can be attentive. Show up on time for your meeting. And, thank him or her in person and via email or LinkedIn later.

Break out of your comfort zone.

The professionals who experience the most growth and find the most career opportunities are those who can learn, unlearn and relearn. The rapid change of technology demands an ability to move from comfort to discomfort and uncertainty over and over again. Know how to drive a car? In a few more years, they may drive for you.

To increase your flexibility, sit in on a class, lecture, presentation or event that is outside of your comfort zone. Feeling confident in your own skin while grasping new concepts, ideas, viewpoints and methods is a must — and it requires practice. Use the rich diversity of activity on campus to build a wide (or wider) range of interests, inspiration, influence and empathy.

[See: 25 Best Jobs That Pay $100K.]

Learn from a manager.

Find a manager and ask him or her, “What do you look for when hiring?” This can be a professor with a research team, the supervisor of the coffeehouse, a staff member at the career center or even a family member of yours.

The more times you ask this question, the more you will learn that while everyone has a few specific preferences, some desired traits are universal. In general, managers look for likable, coachable, respectful, honest and driven employees. With this raw material, you can go almost anywhere as an intern or new graduate. As you progress in your career, roles may require some more technical and tactical professional skills, but this combination of qualities continues to serve as the hiring standard.

The great news is that expanding your opportunities is a very manageable endeavor if you act on the “little by little” approach. Seize the simple, available activities whenever you can. The results will have a major benefit to your internship and career options.

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