Happy New Year! January is a time of transition. Soon to be grads and students are planning for summer employment, recent grads may still be finding the right career fit, and high school seniors are making their decision on where to attend college. Next Great Step is starting the year by sharing advice from a guest blogger who is a very recent grad. Evan Finkelstein graduated Penn State University in December of 2018 (yes, last month) and has already launched his career as a Retail Analyst at Shell. We are honored to have him write about lessons learned from his college career and share advice for students and grads on how to achieve success in taking their Next Great Step.

College is one of the most difficult parts of life. Being thrown into a brand-new environment, with brand-new people, doing brand-new things is not an easy transition for first-year students. It is overwhelming. How are you supposed to be forward-thinking about your career, when you may not even know what you want to study in college? After all, you are competing with thousands of other people just like you to get a job that likely could be taken by any of your peers. No pressure or anything! I found myself focused on transitioning from high school and settling into a new mindset that there is a larger purpose in going to school. I was forward-thinking, but I wish I could have started helping myself get ahead earlier on. As I graduate a semester early this December and quickly approach the light at the end of the tunnel, I have reflected on my undergraduate career at Penn State University. There is much that I wish I could have been told and made aware of when I started this new chapter. So, for anybody out there looking to get ahead in their career and who cares about their future, I have compiled career advice that I wish I knew coming into college.

GPA is a priority, but not the only priority

Don’t get me wrong, achieving high grades is very important. However, worrying about small things like attaining an A rather than the A- you received on your last exam, just is not worth it. In these situations, I like to imagine myself in one month, six months, or even a year from now, and ask myself if this situation will matter then. More likely than not, it will not. Understand that there is more to succeeding in college than whether you have a 3.0, 3.5 or 4.0. We are more than numbers. Give yourself time for other activities that make you happy.

Get involved in a few meaningful organizations

My freshman year, I joined the Lion Ambassadors (prospective student tour guides), the Penn State renowned THON organization, and a club ultimate frisbee team. Joining an organization fosters time management and priority setting skills that are the basis of professional skills. Getting involved in organizations also allowed me to get to know a variety of people and form relationships and you never know when these relationships might come into play in the future. I also found it helpful to seek out a leadership position to understand how to collaborate and communicate with people – an incessant transferrable life skill.

Seek out your Career Services office

Career Services seems to be one of the most underutilized resources, which is unfortunate considering how much they have to offer. It is important to understand the distinction between our social selves and professional selves and Career Services is a great way to start figuring out that distinction. They usually are more than happy to help improve your professional self so I would recommend:

Get experience early and often

I found that having two internships after my freshman and sophomore years was one of the best ways to get a variety of experiences in a short period of time. This is extremely helpful in learning, improving and marketing yourself when looking for internships and jobs because recruiters want to know how you will add value to their company. There is no such thing as “too much experience.” (Learn How to Lock in the 2019 Internship)

Do your research

When looking for a position, it is important to find companies with missions you can get behind and believe in. Before any interview, research the company, its mission, any of their current news and come prepared with specific questions. This will show preparation and that you care about the company and your potential position.

Create a LinkedIn profile

You never know when relationships you’ve created will come back into play again, and LinkedIn is a great tool to manage those relationships. I recommend connecting with people you meet, know from your life, family friends, past teachers, and even professors. LinkedIn is a great resource for networking and the job search, but especially for informational interviews. Whether you know or you do not know what career path you want, LinkedIn can help you seek out professionals in career areas of interest and set up an informational interview to learn more. If you are still interested after speaking with a contact, you can even ask about possibly shadowing a day in their life.

Be wary of mental health

I find it important to mention that mental health is always something to be conscious of. College is overwhelming. The career and job process is overwhelming. The pressure and competition are as high as they’ve ever been. According to the National Alliance for Mental Illness, one in four young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 have a diagnosable mental illness and more than 25 percent of college students have been diagnosed or treated by a professional for a mental health condition within the past year. Be conscious of how you feel, and remember it is important to put yourself first. There is no shame in getting help whenever you might need.

The tips I have covered have been discovered through personal experience, advice, and through making mistakes. Learning from mistakes and reflecting on experiences are an important part of self-improvement, becoming a stronger person and enhancing your career. As a famous leader put it best, “Without hard work, nothing grows but weeds”.

Keep these tips in mind as you grow, learn and work hard as an undergraduate student and you’ll achieve success and eventually be able to formulate your own personal career advice and give to others to pass it forward.

Evan Finkelstein
The Pennsylvania State University | Winter Class of 2018
Smeal College of Business | Bachelor of Science in Marketing