After graduating from college in 1989, I moved to New York City and landed my first job in publishing.
Unlike most of my peers — many of whom graduated from prestigious universities like Harvard, Dartmouth and Yale — I didn't go to an Ivy League school. And yet, in a highly competitive industry, I was able thrive in my career. Today, I'm the CEO of Hint Water, the fast-growing, multimillion-dollar flavored water company I founded in 2005.
I'm successful now because I hustled like hell, especially during my college years. I'm not saying that current students shouldn't try to enjoy an unforgettable four years, but I do believe that the biggest priority should be focusing on what kind of career they want to have ... and then to start planning for it right away.
Here are five things I did in college that helped me reach my professional goals:
Most students are asked to declare a major before arriving to campus. Or they may be enrolled in a specialized division that might narrow their class options.
Still, it's wise to take on coursework unrelated to your major. Doing this taught me how to view problems from different angles and learn skills that came into play later on, as my career path began to shift.
In the process, you may discover a passion you hadn't considered before and, perhaps, a new field of study or career path. (This is completely normal: Research shows that a third of first-time college students change their major within three years.)
Even if you're absolutely certain you want to be a doctor, taking classes outside of medicine could give you some ideas about what kind of doctor you want to be.
There are many ways to get a preview of what your future career could look like. You could join a political interest group or volunteer at an environmental awareness event on campus. If you aspire to be a journalist, consider interning at a local magazine or TV station.
In addition to gaining incredible experience, having extracurricular activities on your resume will set you apart from other candidates when it's time to start applying for jobs.
According to a recent survey from Pew Research, 65% of millennials said they regret not getting more work experience in college.
Whether it's brewing cappuccinos or organizing files at a law firm, working a part-time job or a paid internship can teach you invaluable interpersonal skills. You'll work with people of all ages, handle responsibilities that you wouldn't otherwise and learn the value of a hard-earned dollar.
When you get that paycheck, don't make the mistake of spending it all at once. Put your money in a savings account, so that eventually, you can afford to take on a low-paid (or unpaid) summer internship that is more directly related to your chosen field.
(The harsh reality is that many internships or entry-level jobs that look great on resumes don't pay as well as service industry jobs. My first job, for example, was at a big magazine company — but the salary was barely covered my rent.)
Being savvy and in-the-know about current events impacting your chosen industry is crucial to helping you find success in your future career. Also, it's a surefire way to stand out during a job interview.
I recommend blocking out some time each week to read about what matters in the world of finance or politics or media or the arts — or whatever field you want to work in. Building expertise is just as important as building a resume. Plus, you won't ever regret learning.
Alumni of most colleges love meeting undergraduates and recent graduates. They want to hear about how their school has changed, the energy at football games, and whether their favorite professor is still teaching.
But here's the best part: They are more than willing to offer career advice and even career opportunities. So don't be afraid to reach out to your school's alumni and ask for academic or career guidance.
Do some mingling on days when graduates return to campus, such as homecoming weekend or class reunions. Often, these events include career-based networking receptions that are open to undergraduates.
Kara Goldin is the founder and CEO of Hint Water. She is also the founder of The Kara Network (TKN), an online resource for aspiring business-minded people. Listen to her podcast, Unstoppable, where she interviews entrepreneurs and industry disruptors. Follow Kara on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
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