What I’d tell my undergraduate self if I had access to time travel

Career Advising Fellow Kiera O'Donnell talks about the benefits of the Student Professional Development Center and reflects on her own experience.

By: Kiera O’Donnell, Career Advising Fellow

Kiera O’Donnell, career advising fellow

I’m still getting used to being a young professional. In many ways, my undergraduate experience is still fresh and I still vividly remember how much work I put into my grad school and job/internship searches. In the years since then, I’ve picked up a few tricks of the trade that I wish I knew back then. So, since I cannot go back in time and help my past self, I hope this finds someone who’s going through it now. May these tips save you some time (and sanity).

USE Your Resources

This probably sounds like a plug for our office, but I promise this is the most important advice I can give. I wish that I had access to the services that the Student Professional Development Center provides, but unfortunately, my undergraduate institution simply did not have the career resources that Elon has. Go on EJN and make an appointment or start checking off your tasks for the College2Career program (and pick up your free things!). I absolutely encourage all students, regardless of how confident you are in your resume or job search, to engage with the SPDC and see how we can assist you! 

You’ve been preparing for networking your whole life, it’s not as scary as it seems!

I always played networking up in my head as this terrifying thing that I would have to overcome in order to get a job. It’s absolutely not. Networking looks remarkably similar at first to the friendship making process, therefore you already have the skillset to succeed with networking. If you have ever made a friend on the first day of school, you’re halfway there! You’ll still need to break the ice with the person with some small talk. The conversation should absolutely still be an equal affair. You and your networking partner should contribute equally to the conversation and to the relationship. You never want to be a networking leech!

While the basic skill set is similar, there are also a few important differences between networking and socializing. I am an ENFP (What’s this?), and one of the characteristics of this personality type is to spend too much time socializing rather than networking. If you are interested in a guide to the differences between these two relationship-building processes, this article provides some great scenarios and how they may be approached from a networking and a socializing frame of mind. Remember, even though most of your practice may be coming from a friendship-making experience, these relationships are about your career!

Make a master resumé and cover letter

This is probably the advice I’m most upset about not hearing earlier in life. It’s a pretty intuitive idea, but I didn’t think to do it until after completing my graduate program, so I hope to save someone else some of the time that I cannot get back. Make yourself a master resumé and cover letter and save them as a template for future use. It will save you so much time when completing applications. Don’t worry about the length of these documents, these are just for YOU.

Your master resumé should include all of the positions that you’ve held that may be helpful in your eventual job/internship search. For each of these positions write out as many bullet points as you can think of. I wrote out over 10 bullet points for one of the positions I’ve held. There is no limit! If you think something you did was interesting, turn it into a bullet point. When it comes time to apply to a job/internship, you’ll be able to pull up your master resumé, duplicate the document and pick and choose which positions and bullet points are most relevant for that specific position. This way, the bulk of your resumé prep has already been done and all you’ll have to do is delete the non-relevant material, make some minor wording changes and prioritize the remaining material so that it fits nicely into a one-page resumé. This document will also be really nice to look over before an interview so you can refresh on everything you’ve accomplished and have some great talking points!

Your master cover letter is very similar to your resumé in that the length does not matter. When you submit your cover letter it should be just about ¾ of a page, but your master cover letter can be as long as you like it! Think of all of your experiences and turn them into stories. When you have a job description in front of you, you’ll be able to intentionally choose the stories that most display your qualifications for that specific position. Then, go through the same process of duplicating the document and making deletions and minor changes until it flows well and is perfectly tailored to the job description. The hardest part about these documents is that first step: actually making them. Once you have these master copies made, you’ll be able to add to them as you go which will drastically cut down the time needed to have a perfectly tailored resumé/cover letter for each position. Plus, you’ll have a nice resource for yourself to look over all that you’ve accomplished throughout your career!

Keep an organizer

An organizer to track applications is a game-changer. I started doing this when I was applying to graduate school and it completely improved that experience for me. My method is typically to create a spreadsheet with some general categories (Position title, Location, Deadline, etc.) and then fill in the categories with each position that I’m considering. It’s a bit hard to explain without a visual, however, luckily the SPDC has created a template that you can use. Just head to the SPDC resources page and click on “Internship/Job Search & Networking.” From the options, choose “Internship and Job Search Organizer.” Once you download this document, you can tailor it to fit your needs, whether you are applying to graduate school or a full-time position. Feel free to change the categories across the top and color-code as you see fit!

Happy organizing!

Try not to fall down the rabbit hole

While the job/intern search or grad school application process can be daunting and, at times, frustrating, don’t let it bring you down! I, personally, have a tendency to obsess over things like this. There were days when I would stare at my screen looking for opportunities to apply to or people to network with for hours on end. The best thing I did for my own mental health during the job search was to set a timer during my searching. Once the timer ran out, I had to put my materials away for the night and do something (literally anything) else. It can be easy to obsess and to continue tinkering with your application materials making sure they’re perfect. Give yourself a break, and NO CHEATING. When the timer runs out, your time is up for the night. While the job/internship search is important, it is not as important as your mental health.