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Online, No Waiting: Prepare for Career Decisions in 2013

I know, I know, summer has just ended and fall doesn't officially begin until later this week, but I am already talking about next year. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, "You may delay, but time will not."

A preliminary report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) reminds us all that 2013 is right around the corner. It predicts a hiring increase of 12% in the coming year in an early look at their annual Job Outlook 2013 survey, which ends later this month. The project asks employers to provide input that "offers insight into the climate of the job market for the Class of 2013."

While the overall economy still struggles to improve, and there are hurdles yet to clear, you've got some decisions to make. How will you prepare for life after graduation? The amount of information available can seem overwhelming, but there are steps you can take to reduce the stress and set yourself up for positive action in the coming year.

Majors, Minors, and More

The NACE report also identifies the academic majors that are the most in demand by the employers surveyed. For the third year in a row, the list includes: finance, accounting, computer science, electrical engineering, and mechanical engineering.

What if your major isn't on this list? That doesn't mean you won't find a job, but there are a few things you can do to boost your marketability.

  • Build your skills and knowledge base. Your online program consists of a series of courses designed to help you reach specific learning goals. Do you have the opportunity to take electives or add a minor area of study? Work with your academic advisor to discuss the options available and select courses that complement your program as well as lead to marketable skills.
  • Find ways to gain practical experience. You may already be working in your field, as many online learners are enrolled in programs with specific career advancement goals in mind. Can you incorporate your work into class assignments? Take a proposal to your instructor and discuss the possibilities. For career changers, internships and volunteer service are two ways you might get real-world experience in your new field before you graduate.
  • Collect relevant resources. Monitoring your intended industry for trends and expectations in your geographic area is essential. Assemble your list of "go to" resources that will inform your decisions along the way. Bookmark helpful web pages (using free tools like Delicious and Diigo), subscribe to association newsletters, and organize your efforts so you'll be able to find the information again when you need it.

Job Search Preparation

Finding a job involves multiple tasks ranging from submitting applications and requesting recommendation letters to interviewing and writing thank you notes. Don't wait until you need a job, to start planning to apply.

  • Draft your resume. A central component of the job search is the resume, which is evolving, but still widely used by employers. If you don't have one or haven't updated yours in a while, get started. The first draft is the hardest, but it lays the foundation you'll continue to build upon and update every academic term as you gain new skills and experiences.
  • Begin networking. Professional networking isn't just about conferences and formal meetings. Start now, in your classes by getting to know your classmates and instructors. The professional relationships you build in your program will continue even after you graduate. Make connections, where appropriate, via social media (e.g., LinkedIn) and keep in touch with those who have similar interests. Keep in mind that networking is not a one-way activity. Just as you seek help from others, you may be able to assist them, too.

You can increase your chances of career satisfaction and job search success by taking small steps while you are still a student. Make decisions now that will set you up for success later on, so you aren't just reacting to situations as they happen.

Keep an eye on NACE's final report, coming soon, as well as the other resources this organization makes available online, including the Salary Calculator and Job Choices Online guides.

Remember that you don't have to do all these things on your own. Your school's career center, whether it's virtual or on-campus, is staffed with professionals with goals of helping you identify relevant information, work through the decision-making process, and ultimately connect with hiring employers. The center may also be a part of the NACE network with access to even more resources.

What are you doing to get ready for the changes your career will undergo in the coming year?

Image credit: psd, Flickr, CC-BY