Honors Alums Offer Advice to Students on how to Transition to the Workforce

The transition from college to the workforce can be intimidating, especially with the changes of the past year. From virtual classes to virtual interviews, the post-college transition phase is going to look different for the foreseeable future. We recently spoke with six Honors College alumni who have successfully transitioned into adulthood and they share their thoughts on how current Honors students can start preparing now for the professional road ahead.

You can watch our entire conversation here, or check out a summary below!

Take Advantage of Opportunities…but Avoid Burnout!

Joining clubs and taking on commitments that you’re passionate about is one of the best perks of being a student at the College. There are many opportunities to learn and volunteer inside and outside of the classroom. Maggie Panetta ’17 encourages students to take advantage of the city of Charleston. Finding part-time jobs or volunteer opportunities in the local community helped her remember it’s not all about school. Oliva Cohen ’16 agrees. She considered herself a “mega-overachiever” while she was on campus, but she has no regrets because her many involvements introduced her to connections and long-term friends that made it all worth it.

But with so many opportunities it’s easy to reach a stage of burnout. Justin Herp ’16 says the best way to prevent that is to commit to a few clubs or organizations and put your best foot forward in those. “It’s better to be known for a few great things, rather than try to show up and take on everything,” he says. “Set boundaries and take care of yourself first.”

It’s also “valuable to give yourself time to be a person and not just a resume,” Ashley De Peri ’17 adds. It’s important for students not to get too caught up in how their every action will appear to a future employer, and to make sure they’re practicing self-care.

Figure out your First Step: Graduate School vs. Entering the Workforce

Of the 112 students who graduated from the Honors College in 2020, 31 percent intended on enrolling directly into graduate school, while 42 percent received job offers and were planning on heading straight into the workforce. But how can a current student choose which direction is right for them?

Sarah Ford ’17 says it can help to think about your goals and figure out the best route for you. Don’t just assume grad school is your best option, at least not right away. Sometimes getting work experience beforehand can help you get a better understanding of what you want to do, which in turn can help you narrow down your future grad school plans to fit your specific professional needs. Check out this resource from the Career Center that talks more about narrowing down your choice.

Alumni were also quick to point out that you can be successful by taking either path. Herp enrolled in a one-year Master’s of Accountancy program directly after graduating from the College, while Alec Ball ’18, went straight into the workforce after receiving a job offer from the Hertz Corporation. They both are now thriving in their respective industries. Ultimately, the choice is about figuring out what will be the best fit for you.

Start Preparing Early

Preparing for the workforce starts before you send out your first application. Our alumni panelists identified six steps that all Honors students can start doing from day one that will set them up for post-grad success.

Develop those soft and transferable skills. The classroom and the workplace are two different worlds, Herp says. But if you’re inquisitive, you can sharpen your so-called soft skills both inside and outside of the classroom. For tips, check out the Career Center’s Skills for Success worksheet.
Network! Network! Network! Cohen explains how she hired a career coach who taught her to network via LinkedIn, and those skills helped her land a job without ever having to apply. You can learn how to build the perfect LinkedIn profile here, and find other articles on networking here.
Take advantage of the resume, cover letter, and career coaching workshops. De Peri says it’s so important to learn how to market yourself as soon as you can. Check out these guides and templates will help students get started.
Use the Career Center and other professional resources on campus. The annual career fair and on-campus interviews are what landed Ball his current position as a Senior Revenue Management Analyst at the Hertz Corporation right after graduation. He recommended taking advantage of the Career Center early and often.
Build Relationships and Find Mentors. Both De Peri and Panetta built and maintained strong professional relationships through their internships as a student, which in turn led to job opportunities after graduation. “Find someone you admire and research their story,” Panetta adds. “Never be afraid to ask someone out for a coffee, you never know how much you can learn from a simple conversation.”
Don’t be afraid to adult on your own terms. There are many different paths from college to a successful career. It’s completely okay to chart your own course. “You can choose to be an adult however you want,” Cohen assures students. “You set the rules.”

Thanks to the panelists for their advice! To check out the rest of the conversation, click here.

Story by Aleah James ’18. Photos provided.

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