If you’re a student preparing to enter the working world, here are three things you can do to start laying the groundwork for the transition:
1. Attend trade conferences. Every industry has trade associations. See for yourself: type into Google some combination of “national association” or “society” or “of America” and your desired industry. Got some hits, right? Now look around on those websites for the events calendar, because every trade association hosts conferences. It’s how they justify making members pay dues. And who goes to these conferences? Everybody in the industry, all of them looking to schmooze. So you should be there too, preferably not sitting in a corner being shy fiddling with your cell phone. And because trade associations are always looking for new blood, they usually make it easy for students to go by offering special student rates, or even better, let students attend for free in exchange for helping with grunt work. So take advantage, go meet some folks, take a few business cards, and send some follow-up emails the next day. Ask people out to lunch or coffee. You’ll pick their brains, they’ll pay, they’ll remember you down the road. It’s that easy.
2. Blog. Penelope covers all the bases on why blogging can be great for your career. If you have an interest area, you should be blogging (and if you don’t have an interest area, you should be exploring). Just like every industry has trade associations, every industry – no matter how boring the subject matter may be – has bloggers. And those bloggers are often experts in the field who know everybody you want to know. So find the blogs in your industry and start taking part in the conversation. Post frequently about things that interest you in the discipline. Leave comments on other blogs so that people can follow your trail back to your site. Be a good blog citizen: credit others when it’s due, link to people you read and respect, and keep your comments constructive. Not only will you build relationships that might translate into real-world hookups, but you’ll also learn a lot about your area simply by reading and writing about it so much. Win-wins all around.
3. Do projects. In the law, this usually translates into writing long papers that require extensive research (or articles for trade association publications – see #1). But projects don’t have to involve footnotes. Host a panel, organize a networking event (happy hours are always popular) – just do something that requires you to make things happen. You don’t need to be part of an organization or have anyone sponsor you, just take the initiative and do it yourself. Handling a project that brings people together or immerses you in a subject area forces you to develop and draw upon skills that will serve you no matter what you ultimately end up doing. A person who can communicate effectively and organize to get things done is always in demand. Be that person.
Notice that these are things that anyone thinking about moving into a new job can do to pave the way, not just students. Attending trade events, blogging, and doing projects are the best way to distinguish yourself from the field of people just blasting their resumes out to everyone in their Contacts list and praying. The goal is to not even need a resume; the lead-up work you’ve already done should speak for you. The rest – fielding offers, weighing options, deciding which is the best fit – is just follow-through.