I went to a commuter university.
While in college, I diligently went to class and went home without giving much thought to the resources or opportunities that surrounded me. I remember during orientation, student leaders kept talking about how the 4 years would fly by and that we should invest time in joining clubs, working on campus, and making connections. Me, a commuter who travelled over an hour to get to school and natural introvert, said: “no thanks” to this advice. Now looking back on my post-secondary experience, I wish that I utilized more of the opportunities that were around me. The littlest opportunities that I turned down could have been the life-changing opportunities that bolstered my resume and made it easier to find a job after graduation.
A few months ago we wrote two articles on pandemic resume-building tips for recent Black college graduates. If you didn’t check it out, we recommend that to do so here. Today, we want to give you a list of tips for Black college students. We hope that with these tips, you can maximize your professional opportunities, explore your interests, and make the most of your college experience.
1. Network, network, network!
When I arrived at university I had a peer mentor and a career mentor who emphasized the importance of networking. They were throwing this word around like a hot potato, yet I had no idea what it meant. I understood that I had to make professional and academic connections, but how what I suppose to do this? Before arriving at college, I was learning mathematical equations and how to write a 5-paragraph essay (which I would soon find out would be completely useless). I was never taught that networking would be important, nor how to do it. Before arriving at university, I didn’t know it even existed.
I now know that my lack of understanding of networking partly had to do with my low socioeconomic background. I went to a small, underfunded, inner-city high school. The administration didn’t have the budget or the staff to teach students about professional job skills. My parents, both from the Caribbean, didn’t know about networking or job skills themselves. My more affluent colleagues in university went to higher-funded high schools. There, they had the chance to take job skill courses. My other upper-class classmates were taught about networking from their corporate-staffed parents. These are the students who went on to get job offers, research assistantships, and other career-boosting opportunities.
Let me tell you that networking is very important in university.
Honestly, you should start doing it before your first semester classes even begin. Networking can be the difference between determining who gets a reference letter and who does not. It can be the deciding factor when figuring out who gets the research assistantship position. Networking can be useful after graduation, as professionals and professors who you’ve connected with may be looking to hire new graduates in their field.
Note that networking is not just getting someone’s name, phone number, and business card. It does not mean that you get their information and then never follow up with them. Like a regular friendship, networking means that you maintain consistent and long-term communication with professionals. In networking, you exchange information, business leads and other vital resources for your career. Your professors are your first and most obvious people that can be a part of your network. They are the people who are willing to help you, not just academically, but also professionally. If they see that you are eager to learn and grow, they will introduce you to members of their network, who will also be eager to teach and help you grow.
PRO TIP: Network with people outside of your field. This way, you get to meet people with different knowledge-sets; plus, you become their expert or “go-to” person on the topic that you are most knowledgeable about.
I have family members who don’t agree with the concept of volunteering. They often say “why do the job for free when you can get paid?” This mindset is easy to fall into. In school, I had this fantasy that I would get a job offer to work for a huge firm right before graduation, and then I would go on to earn hundreds of thousands of dollars and do all the things I’ve always wanted to do. Sometimes I still fall into the pattern of thinking that I can be launched into a career without having decades of experience, and then reality slaps me in the face.
Volunteer work is important. Not only can you expand your “network”, but you can gain the practical experience needed to bolster your resume for the entry-level jobs that you may soon be applying for. Most universities have hundreds of on-campus volunteer opportunities that you can squeeze in between your classes. Some of these opportunities have scholarships for those who volunteer. Trust me, if you took out student loans as I did, your 30-something-year-old self will be thanking you for applying for those scholarships.
PRO TIP: Don’t just apply for volunteer positions that are in your field. Be versatile. Many of the skills that employers are looking for are transferable skills (i.e. communication with multiple stakeholders or with people from various backgrounds). What will give you an advantage is if you show that you are knowledgeable, flexible, can learn multiple skills, and adapt to new environments. Lots of employers look for someone who has these abilities.
3. Join clubs
Joining clubs is probably something that you will hear about during freshman orientation. Don’t be mistaken, this is one of the easiest ways to expand your network (noticing a theme yet?), have fun and make new friends. Thankfully, I went to a college in a relatively multicultural city; however, I was thankful for the presence of Black faces in my classrooms and Black student collectives.
Joining clubs is is actually something that I did try to do during my college years; however, I often had classes that conflicted with club meetings. When I did have available time, I didn’t know when or where the meetings were because club officials did not regularly update the meeting schedule. I say this to tell you that if you decide to start a club (which would look excellent on your resume) that you be mindful of these things to make your club accessible. Accessibility, situationally and physically, is especially important a large portion of your student population commutes.
PRO TIP: Don’t just fill up your resume with leadership positions from countless clubs. Less is more. When you participate in a multitude of clubs, it shows you do not commit. Be intentional in the clubs you join and the responsibilities you take on.
4. Participate in research projects or internships
You’d be surprised at how many of your professors are currently conducting research. On the other hand, maybe you aren’t surprised. A lot of professors like to talk about the research they are doing. If your professor plugs in their latest project during your lecture period, take it as a hint that they want students to inquire about the ways they can get involved. Research assistantships are excellent accomplishments to put on your resume or graduate school application. Additionally, they show the depths of your knowledge, your strong work ethic, and adaptability.
Your professors may also share information regarding internships during lecture periods. As previously mentioned, professors have connections to leaders across their fields. They are most likely aware of student internships that are currently looking for students to fill upcoming positions. Even if professors do not mention internship opportunities during lecture, ask them! These are great opportunities to great high-quality, hands-on experience for the field that you are interested in pursuing. Also, some of these positions are paid!
Student hiring for summer/year-long internships and summer positions usually take place between November to March. If you are looking for a year-long internship, keep your eyes peeled for postings from November to December. If you are looking for a temporary or summer position, look for postings to go up from January to March. Keep in mind that these timeframes may differ depending on where you live and what time your summer break occurs.
5. Self-care is important
I know from first-hand experience that university is demanding and tiring. Sometimes, finding a moment to nap is impossible. Either you sacrifice your health or sacrifice your grades. If you are ambitious and working towards graduate school like I was, then the choice to sacrifice your health doesn’t seem so bad. If this is what you are thinking, let me tell you that you are very wrong. Nothing is worth sacrificing your health over, even if it means receiving a few percentages off of your essay.
After completing my program, I realized that I was chasing after high academic goals because I associated my worth with my intelligence. There is nothing wrong with being a box-checker or having high goals. However, this becomes a problem when you become co-dependent upon your goals to make you feel good about yourself. I thought that high academic goals meant that I would have more, higher-paying opportunities that would then lead to my version of success. As a result, I neglected my health, which put me in compromising situations. It wasn’t until my physical and mental health got bad that I had to assess myself realistically and determine why I was doing what I was doing and what was most important to me.
We wrote an article on self-care that you can check out here. This piece has a wide range of tips on how to build your self-care routine. We hope that you check it out so that you can gain ideas on how to treat yourself the way you deserve to be treated.
6. Don’t be afraid to share your experiences or your Blackness
I mentioned earlier how I was fortunate enough to go to university with a diverse racial population and adequate Black population. Before going to university, I had not thought much about my race or race in general. I was colourblind. I thought my country and society were beyond the primal habits of judging people because of the colour of their skin; but, boy, was I wrong.
It wasn’t until I reached university that I realized my society, my country, and the world was not beyond racial discrimination or anti-Blackness.
I had met Black people from all walks of life who had encountered overt and covert forms of racism. I heard stories about how someone was made to feel inadequate because of their Blackness, and how people had opportunities taken away from them because of a police record created in a racial profiling incident. It was during university that I learned about the history of Black people in my country for the very first time, which I now see as very alarming. Because I was challenged to look into racism and anti-Blackness throughout history and society, I became aware of my disadvantage for the first time.
If I hadn’t taken a course on social inequalities, then I wouldn’t have taken a course on anti-Black racism. In turn, I wouldn’t have opened myself up to my Black community on campus and talent he time to learn about my community. If those things never happened, I would not have The Melanin Series or be pursuing the career that I am now. Our Blackness is unique. It has the power to send ourselves down a path that we would otherwise never find ourselves exploring. We should embrace our histories, racial or otherwise, as they can help us to form our identities. Our stories have the power to teach, inspire, and help others to do the same.
In exploring yourself while in college or university, you may find that it is your interests and passions that make you the ideal candidate for your desired career path. Tap into your experiences and see what you can learn about yourself.
Do you have any additional tips to share?
Drop your advice in the comment section below. We want to hear from you!
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