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In the Spotlight: Career Independence
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 Featuring Shannon Johnson, Work Experience Education Coordinator, Pasadena City College


For many students, summertime means independence from classrooms, libraries, and all night studying. Yet for students looking for an edge in their academic and career pursuits, heading to the beach all summer may not be the best choice. What about using some summertime freedom to build the resume and gain career experiences? This summer, help your students find a balance between having fun and focusing on the future. Encourage your students to use their summertime wisely and do one, two, or more of the following:




During the academic year, students get pulled in many directions and good intentions fall through the cracks; often those good intentions include their career development. You have a student who attends the resume workshop and plans to come back for the cover letter workshop, but a big class project is due soon and the cover letter goes undone. In the summer, offer a boot camp where students can devote a half-day or whole day to focus on a “package” of career development. Get their resumes updated, cover letters drafted, LinkedIn pages created, e-portfolios designed, and interview strategies practiced in a dedicated day.




As talented as our students are, there are always additional skills they can learn to increase their career competitiveness. Are your employers looking for specific software skills that your students don’t have the opportunities or time to learn during the academic year? Encourage them to use the summer to learn new software or even gain a certification. Microsoft, for example, offers certification on a variety of software with pricing discounts for college students.




Professors can be a great resource for your students to get or stay involved on campus during the summer. Professors may have opportunities for students to engage in consulting work or assist in research labs. This is also a great option for students who may still be in summer classes or working on campus, why not add a couple of hours a week working with a professor. Students will not only add experience to their resumes, but also gain recommendations. Thus, its important students get to know their professors during the academic year and stay in touch over summer in case opportunities arise on campus.




Students have summertime free and so do many of their friends. Encourage a collaborative project related to their career pursuits. A student-generated project can show an employer that a student is self-motivated, self-directed, and entrepreneurial. Find competitions, hackathons, student incubators, and conferences for your students to align their projects for added opportunities. And students get the added bonus of hanging out with their friends.




The schedule of an academic year can restrict a student’s ability to work, but employers want to see work experience of some kind on a resume. If a student has no work experience, a summer job is a great way to start. Although students usually take a summer job for income, encourage your students to find a summer job related in some way to their desired careers. For example, if a student wants to pursue a business discipline, retail provides exposure to many business-focused areas: management, marketing, finance, supply chain, logistics, and so on.




Summer internships allow students to gain professional experience with less competition from their coursework (and with less effect on “time to degree completion”). Internships provide opportunities to explore career options, develop professional networks, and possibly early money. If an internship isn’t in the cards, encourage students to volunteer in areas related to their careers. For example, many companies limit their internship programs to junior and seniors, which creates less opportunity for freshmen and sophomore; but non-profits welcome the talents of college students and the commitment can be as minimal as a few couple per week.




Encourage your students to use their summertime to take advantage of the various off-campus career resources around them. Students can conduct informational interviews or job shadow; and they can start with their own families, family friends, friends, friends of friends, and so on. Once comfortable, encourage them to reach out to alumni and friends of the campus. These opportunities expose them to the world of work and build their networks. In addition, students can join professional organizations and begin attending their summer meetings and events. This allows students to learn about industry trends/happenings and build their networks. Many professional organizations offer student membership discounts, so make sure your students seek out any discounts available to them.


The key to a fun and focused summer is balance. We all have students we feel aren’t doing enough and students we feel are doing too much. I often tell my students, “You don’t have to do everything, but you have to do something.” Encourage your students to use their summer independence wisely. Then help them select options that will move their career development forward and also allow them time to kick back and hit the beach every so often.


Shannon Johnson, Ed.D. is the Work Experience Education Coordinator at Pasadena City College (PCC). In addition, Shannon is a College One Instructor and New Faculty Coordinator at PCC. She can be reached at sjohnson21@pasadena.edu or on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/shannon-johnson-7a4a1b55

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