Student at career center
Story Student Success

4 Things Every Student Should Do Now for a Great Career

Michelle Baik

In the first installation in a new series, “College to Career,” we ask career center directors and counselors at CSU campuses to share their single best piece of advice on how students should prepare to launch their professional lives.

Student at career center

From doing research to building your network, it's crucial to start thinking about the job you want early on in your college career. Photo courtesy of CSU Channel Islands


​​​​​​If you're juggling a full course-load and maybe even a job or other responsibilities, it may not help to hear that you should also be thinking about the career you really want after you earn your degree.

But the truth is that if you want to graduate truly career-ready, that process should start from the time you enter the CSU and continue until the day you cross the stage to pick up your diploma.

Read on for some tried-and-true advice from the CSU's campus career experts to help you prepare for the world of work.

Start early.

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​"Career development is part of your educational experience that begins freshman year. The sooner you start this process, the easier it will be. Finding your career is like a marathon; you shouldn't run a marathon without practice and training." – Patty Dang, career development services counselor, CSU Channel Islands

"Get engaged in career development and planning while you are in school and not after you graduate. See a career counselor when you are a freshman. Take a career assessment, attend career-related workshops (resumes, interviews, etc.) and job fairs, practice interviewing, and participate in campus recruitment. Attend networking events to meet people in the industry [you're interested in] and to be exposed to potential careers. Do an internship, volunteer or find a part-time job relevant to your career interests." – Debbie Young, interim director of the Career Development Center, Fresno State

"Research shows students that use their career centers early and often have more opportunities upon graduation." – Pamela Wells, director of the Career Center, CSU San Marcos​​

​​​Do your research.​

​"Research the regional economy where you are seeking a job or internship to determine if it has the potential to support viable career options. Once you have verified the viability of the region, do further research to identify resources for networking (e.g., professional associations) and employment opportunities." – James Tarbox, Ph.D., executive director of Career Services, San Diego State

"Take the time to make full use of resources available to you both on- and off-campus. Research career paths and speak to professionals in fields that interest you." – Pamela Wells, CSU San Marcos

Build your network.

"Never underestimate the power of showing up. Make it a point to connect with employers when they're on campus." – Markel Quarles, Ed.D., director of the Center for Career Education & Community Engagement, CSU Bakersfield

"The ability to network is one of the most beneficial career development skills that you can have. You can cultivate your network by initiating informational meetings, job shadowing, attending career fairs, and connecting with alumni on LinkedIn! Your network can provide you with industry-specific career advice, as well as connect you to internships and jobs." – Shimina Harris, assistant dean of students and director of the Office of Career Services, San Francisco State

"Students who acquire professional development skills and seek opportunities to practice those skills (public speaking, presentation, research, including informational interviewing, leadership, etc.) often feel most comfortable using their time as a student to create a robust network. Identifying contacts and creating and cultivating those contacts while still a student positions upperclassmen and recent graduates to activate their network to uncover the opportunities that can propel their exploration of what they can do with their major."  – Arlene Burgess, academic, Equal Opportunity Program (EOP) and career advisor, Stanislaus State

Stay open and engaged.

"Career readiness is not something that is given to you, but something you have to create for yourself and work towards. It's a process that requires time, planning and action in order to live a life you always dreamed of and develop the person you want to become." – Ann Morey, director of the Career Center, CSU Northridge

"Students need to be engaged in their lives and curious about possibilities for their career and life goals… Beginning with self-inquiry about their goals, how they want to serve and utilize their gifts will guide their decision-making process and ability to identify resources to help them move forward. From there, it is about being aware and in the right place at the right time. Scheduling time with a career counselor will provide students safe space, mentoring, information, and next steps to jumpstart this process of self-inquiry and career exploration." – Eileen Buecher, executive director of Career Services, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

"The best way to prepare for life after college and beyond is to be open to experiential learning experiences that happen both inside and outside of the classroom... These experiences help build students' resumes, build their professional skills, and further strengthen transferable skills that can help them land their first professional job and or prepare them for graduate/professional school. Experiential learning experiences come in various forms, but most often come in the form of job shadow programs, internships, part-time and on-campus job opportunities, volunteer and service learning opportunities, informational interviews, leadership and on-campus involvements, study abroad opportunities, research experiences, professional associations and conferences, mentoring programs and the like. By engaging in experiential learning experiences students will begin to expose themselves to opportunities that will augment their academic learning, further enhance their skills and abilities, strengthen their professional network and professional brand, and in many cases solidify their career and professional plans. Students should take advantage of early planning and engage with their Career Center to establish an individualized plan that meets their unique career, academic, and personal goals and sets them up for career readiness." – Elizabeth Zavala-Acevez, Ph.D., director of the Career Center, CSU Fullerton

"You don't have to plan the next five years of your life to start on your career. You just need an idea of one small career step you want to take, a willingness to take that step and test out an experience, and the ability to choose your next career step based on that experience.  Just like an entrepreneur prototyping a new product, you can prototype your career this way. Each step will help you learn what you like to do, what motivates you and what is important to you. " – Catherine Voss Plaxton, director of the Career Center, San José State

Click here to read more stories in the "College to Career" series.