The UW Daily sat down with career coach Caitlin Goldbaum to talk about how first year students can start career exploration and set themselves up for success.
The Daily: To start off, broadly, what kinds of ideas should freshmen be thinking about in regard to their career as they finish their first year of college?
Goldbaum: Hopefully during that freshman year students have had an opportunity to do some exploration, to try out some different kinds of classes, to settle in to being students at the University of Washington. When it comes to thinking about next steps, what I recommend is to continue that exploration and start finding some student organizations that they can be a part of.
Student organizations — RSOs — are a really great way for students to find their community. That sophomore year can be a time where you’re questioning things — like “Where do I fit in?” [or] “Who are my people?” — so finding a student organization to be part of can help with that piece. But they can also help you start developing some really useful skills: start developing a little bit of leadership experience, maybe some event planning experience, working with teams, and collaboration experience. A lot of those things employers are going to be looking for down the road.
This is also a really good time for students to start to get to know your professors a little bit better … Build some relationships with academic advisers in academic departments [and] start meeting with career coaches as well. I do a lot of different programming specifically to support students in thinking about majors and where that might take them after they graduate. So starting to build a community both of peers and then also people across campus who can help with some of that decision-making.
The Daily: Sometimes students with a wide variety of interests might feel shoehorned into a major, even if the major itself is dynamic and engaging. To what extent does your major impact what kind of career you can or do have long-term, would you say?
Goldbaum: Doesn’t impact it at all. This is a huge myth that I’m always trying to dispel for students. Your major does not equal your career. We see that alumni go into all kinds of different career pathways that have nothing to do with what they studied here when they were students. A lot of times it’s actually building on their interests or student organizations that’s really determining what they end up doing. So my advice when it comes to picking a major is to pick a major that you love.
The Daily: What strategies would you suggest to freshmen specifically, as a group that wants to be more proactive now in college at the end of their first year laying the groundwork for their future career?
Goldbaum: Summer is a really good time to build experience..there’s this paradox that students face where you can’t get a job without experience and you can’t get experience without a job. Employers are not just looking for paid experience. So the end of your freshman year, looking at summer, it’s a really good time to be thinking about the other ways you can gain experience. So that might include volunteer work or doing a job shadow.
That could also be setting up some career conversations with people who are doing work that sounds interesting to you. This is sometimes called informational interviewing. I don’t like that word because it’s not really an interview, it’s really just a conversation with someone. Buy them a cup of coffee and just ask them questions about their career story: how did they get to where they are, what did they learn in the work they are doing, what did they like, what do they not like. You can also say: “who else should I be talking to?” Then you’re tapping into their network as well, and I recommend starting that early because if you wait until your senior year, it’s kind of crunch time. The other benefit of that is that some of those people might end up becoming mentors.
The Daily: This sounds like it could function as a test run.
Goldbaum: It’s a test run, exactly. It can help you really gain insight into what you might want to do and then, if you’re lucky, it may even turn into an actual job opportunity, because about 70 to 80 percent of jobs are never posted anywhere, they’re just filled through word of mouth or conversations people are having with each other.
The Daily: Just the employer already knowing or being familiar with a potential employee can land them a job?
Goldbaum: Exactly. By having these career conversations as a freshman or a sophomore, you’re just planting that seed. If you have a good connection with someone, they may remember you. When you’re a sophomore or junior, they may offer you an internship or job shadow. Then, when you’re a senior about to graduate, they may recommend you for a job.
The Daily: So how would a freshman set up something like that up?
Goldbaum: You can start with the people you know, by putting it out there to family and friends that … you’re just kind of interested in talking to people generally about what it’s like to have a job, what the working world is like. Another way to connect with people is through LinkedIn. That could be another thing to add to the to-do list for freshman: to set up a very basic LinkedIn profile. Because if you have that, you can access the UW alumni LinkedIn tool, which is this huge database of all of the University of Washington alumni that are on LinkedIn and you can actually use that to find people doing the kind of work that interests you or to see that major to career trajectory … It’s a tool for exploration.
The Career Center offers a variety of resources, including the Career Launch workshop, which Goldbaum says “helps students identify what are their skills and strengths, what do they want to learn about, and what are some of the things they aspire to.” Students come away with a personal statement that can be used on a resume, LinkedIn profile, or adapted into a verbal introduction for a career or internship fair.
Goldbaum also leads small group coaching, which is capped at 12 participants and centers around a theme. She describes it as “comfortable, free-flowing, 45 minutes. Sometimes it feels a little less intimidating than coming into the Career Center for a one-on-one appointment.”