When Courtney Frost was an undergrad working through a double-major in English and history, she asked her faculty adviser what careers she could pursue with an English degree. She was told to Google it.
“I never knew there was a career center or anything like that,” she says.
These days Frost, who is a career coach at LSU’s Olinde Career Center, is working hard to make sure today’s college students avoid similarly unhelpful experiences when mapping out their own careers.
Her role at LSU focuses on preparing students within the College of Engineering for internships, co-ops and the all-important job search. She splits her time between the Career Center and the College of Engineering. This fall Frost will move into a dedicated space in Patrick F. Taylor Hall, where she will have easier access to the engineering students she guides through the career-planning process.
“It allows me to be more embedded in the college, the culture there, and to get to know people and be more involved in the college,” she says. “But it also just allows me to be more accessible to students.”
We asked her for her favorite advice for getting off to a great start on your career. Here’s what she shared.
Start Planning Early
Although career planning and searching for a job can be a daunting experience for college students, Frost encourages them to treat it like a classroom project, spread out over multiple semesters. The process doesn’t have to happen all at once. “Just break it down into tiny, manageable pieces,” she says.
With that in mind, Frost suggests beginning career planning early as possible by scheduling a meeting with the Career Center. She says students could use their first semester to focus on adjusting to college life, but after that should at least start discussing their career aspirations with a professional.
“They can have more time to be intentional about what they’re looking for and more opportunities to get some experience,” she says. “If they decide the path they’re on is not for them, they have a lot of time to pivot and go in a different direction.”
Test Out Your Options Via Internships
Frost says internships and co-ops — which enable college students to receive career training with pay as they work with professionals in their major fields of study — are extremely important for job seekers.
“The No. 1 thing we hear from employers is that they want directly related work experience,” she says. “That’s the first thing they’re going to look for when looking at a job applicant of any type.”
When working to secure internships, students should remember that employers aren’t looking for them to have deep experience in the field already. Rather, they are seeking students with transferable skills such as leadership, teamwork, communication and project management.
“If students can describe those types of skills, how they have them and how they use them, in their resume and cover letter, that will help set them apart as a really competitive candidate,” Frost says.
Practice Makes Perfect
While a team of advisers at the Career Center helps students make decisions, Frost largely focuses on students who have already chosen the career they want to pursue and helps them develop the skills needed to apply for jobs.
Frost assists engineering students with job-search strategies, resume writing and securing internships, as well as one-on-one preparation for job interviews. She recommends students schedule an interview-preparation appointment as soon as they begin applying for jobs. These appointments allow students to work through the ins and outs of everything they should do before, during and after a job interview. “A lot of students may have never had an interview, so that appointment just gives them an opportunity to understand what’s going to happen,” she says.
After that, Frost conducts mock interviews with students, creating an environment that is as close to the real thing as possible. For example, students are encouraged to wear professional attire and receive feedback on their appearance.
Some students provide job description information that allows the mock interview to be tailored to a particular position. But even without that information, Frost takes steps to customize each mock interview for the type of job the student is seeking. “I have a set of questions for almost every different engineering discipline,” she says.