I’m a first-year college student majoring in business. I don’t want to end up with a lot of debt, so I’m trying to help pay as much tuition as possible. I got a part-time job at a big-box retailer over the summer and I decided to continue it through the fall and spring semesters because the pay is decent. I’m wondering what I could be doing in my job to prepare myself for something more corporate after I graduate.
I’m glad to hear that you’re aware of the need to prepare yourself for a career in business by boldly seeking out opportunities to hone your skills beyond the classroom setting.
The most common major in the U.S. continues to be a bachelor’s degree business. Of the 1.79 million bachelor’s degrees conferred in the America in 2012, about 20% of these degrees were bachelor’s degrees in business (National Center for Education Statistics, 2013). While obtaining a degree in business is a great start to a future career, this is a saturated field, so you’ll definitely need to go beyond the classroom to stand out from the crowd.
Develop your professional network.
Begin creating a professional network by connecting with business leadership and co-workers at your retail position and by connecting with professors and alumni (via your school’s alumni association) who are willing to share their wisdom gained from years of work experience in a variety of settings. These influential connections may be able to help you find job shadowing and internship opportunities on or off campus, and job openings after you graduate.
Also, get connected with the career center on your campus and make sure that they get to know you and your personal career goals. The career center is a valuable resource to help students prepare for the workforce. The staff can help you stay connected to the business world and help you to be aware of job opportunities as they come up. Ask them about any partnerships your college may have with businesses (both local and otherwise). These relationships often result in career opportunities for students in the form of job shadowing, internships, and potential job openings. Again, the career center at your college is the place to start to learn more about these opportunities.
Seek out opportunities to attend informational interviews to get to know business leaders and hiring managers at various companies. Make a good impression and add these people you your network.
Find ways to gain real-world experience.
Since you're still in your first year of college, you might want to consider replacing your retail job with an internship or part-time job in a field of business that's of interest to you. There is so much more you can learn in a business setting, encountering real-world challenges as you gather experiences. These experiences will be an incredible asset to secure a fulfilling job in the future, since hiring managers prefer candidates with relevant job experience.
If you decide to stick with your retail job, absorb as much as you can about all facets of the business to develop your business acumen. Keep track of any transferable skills that you're gaining in your role. These are skills (such as communication, time management, problem solving, etc.) that can be applied to a corporate job setting down the line.
Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone by asking your supervisor for permission to observe how different departments operate. This will enable you to learn what works and what doesn’t, and develop an awareness for the general flow of operations. Share your interest in advancement with your supervisor and don’t be afraid to express your interest in managing others. Also consider finding a mentor you respect to show you the more detailed ins-and-outs of the business.
Search for ways you can bring your classroom knowledge into your retail role to improve the execution of your assigned tasks; the key is to seek out ways in which you can save time and money for the company. Be sure to document these quantifiable improvements to keep track of your accomplishments by adding them to your resume. Experience is highly sought after by employers, and you will want to add these accomplishments to your resume and portfolio with specific examples of the talents and skills that you bringing to the table.
Many companies are connected globally, so there’s little doubt that you’ll need to be able to work effectively with people on other continents with different cultural customs in the future. Most big-box retailers are part of a national or international chain. If the retail chain where you work is an international one, take a look at how the company conducts its overseas operations, marketing, sales, and distribution. You can start this research simply by visiting its corporate website and by reviewing its annual report.
Be curious about other cultures and learn as much as you can about the cultures and customs of areas around the world in which you’re interested. Stay up to date with what’s going on in international news: connect to BBC World Service or another reputable source and make it a daily habit to update yourself on what’s happening in the world around you. You may also want to take this a step further and get experience working in another country at some point before you graduate. If you’re interested in pursuing this, you can find internships, jobs, and volunteer opportunities on sites such as Idealist, TakingITGlobal, and A Broader View.
It’s a good idea before you head into the work world to know what you like to do, what you’re good at, and what you value in your career. Consider taking a career assessment to better recognize your particular areas of interest and to better identify what skills you have (or may be lacking) to be successful in your field. You may also want to identify your top work values so that it’s easier for you to make tough decisions between different work opportunities that are presented to after you begin applying for job positions.
As you implement some of these ideas, continue to be mindful of all the existing opportunities available to you to develop your resume and show off your business skills. Be willing to think creatively and find unique ways to gather the experiences that you need to help you achieve the corporate position you desire in the future.
I sometimes ask my clients to write what they imagine their ideal resume would look like. Then, take the first step to work toward making your dream a reality.
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