Due to the ease of creating professional profiles online, students are planning for their careers earlier than ever. But how necessary is LinkedIn, anyway? And what should students be doing to make themselves attractive job applicants? They should be constructing a narrative, Gary Miller said.
Gary Miller is the director of University Career Services. Staff Writer Emily Galvin spoke to Miller about how students can prepare for a career after UNC.
The Daily Tar Heel: What is the most frequent question asked by students, and how do you answer it?
Gary Miller: There’s one category around exploration, and that’s usually what to study and what that might lead to, or if they’ve selected a program of study, what options they have with that. Most students are pretty surprised by how many options they actually have.
The second big category is how to best tell their story. At Carolina, there are a lot of very active and involved students, so they come to us a lot to try to gain clarity about how to best tell that story. Sometimes that’s in the form of a resume. Sometimes that’s in the form of interview preparation or personal statements, but a lot of times it’s just reflecting, building meaning and making a narrative for themselves.
DTH: How can a first-year best prepare for the job market? How about a senior?
GM: One thing that’s changed a lot over the last 10 years or so is the pace at which people need to be thinking about career stuff. It used to be that people could do an internship by their senior year and call it good, and now people need to take a lot of earlier action. For a first-year, there’s still time to explore and investigate what interests you, but I think the most important thing for a first-year is just starting to understand your skills and apply them somewhere so that you have things to build on. Undertaking that process of self-understanding and application.
For seniors, honestly, it’s about being super active, and it looks different for different industries. For some students there’s going to be a whole lot of on-campus activity in the fall. For other students there’s going to be a whole year of networking building up to job applications two weeks before they graduate. It’s about understanding what’s needed for where you want to go and being really engaged in that.
DTH: There seems to have been a rise of LinkedIn usage by students. Is LinkedIn even necessary? Do employment prospects look at it, or is it more of a social platform?
GM: It depends on where an individual student is going. There’s never a time where it’s problematic. If you have a nice setup, it’s not going to hurt you; it can only help. For some students, it’s a really good place to meet people and make connections. For other students, it might be about doing research on career paths and where people have gone to inspire themselves.
For a lot of students it can be a way to just be a better applicant. There’s a lot of industry information that can help you feel more engaged with the work that you want to do so that when you go into an interview, you can feel really connected to what’s happening in the field or what’s happening in the company.
DTH: How can you make your LinkedIn profile as strong as it can be?
GM: Having a professional headshot is going to matter. Making sure that your summary and your headline are tight and concise. Using the profile to outline your experience is important, but I think what makes it different than having a resume is the ability to add projects, presentation, media, writing samples, or pictures. Whatever makes sense to round out your story — things that really add substance to the story you’re trying to tell.
DTH: If you had one piece of advice to give students unsure of their career path, what would it be?
GM: It’s a cliche to say this, but you have to start addressing that as early as you can. Know that there are a lot of people who want to support you in that process so you’re not alone. A big part of that process is going to be figuring out how you’re going to get the help you need — that might be talking to alumni, that might be meeting with professionals. It’s too easy for folks to have their head down and do good coursework and forget that there’s this whole other dialogue they need to be having with yourself. Deciding what you’re going to study and deciding to do well is a big part of the collegiate experience, but it’s a separate decision to decide what you’re going to do with that after you finish up.
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