When I wrote my last blog entry on April 30th, just over a week before graduation, I never would have imagined I’d have a job offer in my field of choice six days later and start my career in Marketing only a couple of weeks after that. The past six months have flown by faster than I could have imagined and I have learned an incredible amount in my new role as a Marketing Specialist for America’s largest building products distributor, BlueLinx.  While the time since I graduated in May has been a complete whirlwind for me in many ways, I have often found myself reflecting on my time at UGA, in my marketing program at Terry, and as a CDI at the Career Center. I’ve put together a list of tips and some of the most important things I have learned in my short career thus far that I hope will help each of you as you look forward towards your own careers!

Invest time in knowing yourself, your goals, and your skills. College is the ideal time for discovering yourself, who you are, and who you really want to be. Take advantage of this time to really reflect on what makes you want to get up in the morning, what inspires you, and what you want to accomplish before graduation, in the first few years of your career, and in your life. Trust me – while you may think you’re too busy to handle any “reflection time” now, time only speeds up from here and you will miss the unique opportunity you have now to figure these things out. Truly understanding yourself and your goals will help you tremendously when looking for your first job, throughout the interview process, and even more so when you begin your fabulous career. I am a firm believer in the fact that you should never just settle for a job that doesn’t align in some way with your passions and/or goals. Even in a rough economy where your dream job may be hard to come by, you can still find a position that will teach you skills and give you experiences that will help you along the career path you desire. Don’t settle for anything less than that.

Learn, learn, learn. Almost daily I find myself relating projects I’m working on or conversations I have at work to what I learned in school. Whether it’s finance or accounting terms I hear in a meeting with management, marketing terminology that comes up in a conversation with my boss, or Microsoft Excel tricks that save me a ton of time on a spreadsheet, I am constantly grateful that I paid attention in class, did the reading (for the most part), and really tried to absorb the lessons from projects or case studies I had to do throughout my coursework.  That being said, there are almost as many times where I’m kicking myself for not paying attention to that management lecture or not pushing myself to really get more out of that marketing simulation for my capstone class. What I’m getting at is this: there are so many times I remember thinking that what I was learning in my classes was not really relevant or wouldn’t be useful in real life. While there are definitely quite a few topics that I still think hold true to that belief, there are so many more things than I realized that are relevant and, even beyond that, are expected of me to know. I think that one of the biggest lessons you can take away from this blog post is the fact that when you graduate college and begin your career with, for instance, a degree from the Terry College of Business, you are expected to have a certain business acumen, to be able to understand a range of business topics, and to be able to intelligently communicate these principles. Keep that in mind as you go through the rest of your college career, and take advantage of this time to get ahead of your peers when you enter the job market.

Every day is an opportunity to network. You’ve heard it before and you’ll hear it again – it’s all about who you know. An unbelievable percentage of jobs are filled through inside referrals. Now that I have been on the other side of the hiring process several times, I can vouch for the fact that referrals significantly help a candidate’s chances if only for the reason that I trust that someone won’t put their name on a person if they don’t know they can perform. It is never too early to begin building your professional network. Join organizations related to the industry you’re interested in and get involved – introduce yourself to leaders in these organizations, attend special events with speakers and meet them afterwards, and set up informational interviews with people you admire in the field you want to work in. Make these efforts now and I guarantee they will pay off later.

Your dream job will not find you – finding a full-time job is a full-time job! I cannot tell you how much energy I put into finding my first job in marketing throughout my Senior year of college. I thought that by merely starting early with the Fall Career Fair, I would no doubt have a job lined up by Spring Break at the latest. While this may have been much more common five years ago and while this may work much better for some people, it’s just not that easy. Start early. Be aggressive. Don’t give up. Make an appointment with your Career Consultant today. Start talking to everyone you know – friends, family, organization leaders, family friends – about what you want to do, what kind of job you’re looking for, and why you’d be great. Begin checking online job boards like DAWGlink, LinkedIn, Career Builder, etc. on a regular basis and apply to jobs that you’re interested in and qualified for in a timely manner. However, be careful not to “blanket” apply to a bunch of jobs just to say you’ve applied to so many – take the time to research the company, really read the job description, and write a professional cover letter tailored to the position, specifically stating why you would be the best candidate. I promise you that it makes all the difference in the world.

I could go on and on for hours with what I have learned in my career so far and what I have found really works in the job search process. But what it really comes down to is this: be confident in yourself and what you want. Take advantage of the opportunities you have at this point in your life to learn and to experience – truly making the most of this time will help you more than you can imagine! Good luck to you all throughout the rest of your time at good ‘ole UGA and as you enter your own careers. Say hello to the Classic City for me! Go Dawgs!