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The days of being able to walk into an agency’s office with a freshly pressed suit and diploma, and walk out with a full-time job and benefits are long behind us. Many university students are learning the hard way that they can’t just pass go, collect their diploma, and proceed to a six-figure salary at the office of their choice. The world is different, the economy is different, and the job market is more different than it was during the days of their parents and grandparents. There are some harsh realities that communication students need to face.


Going to a good university, taking the requisite classes, and graduating neatly in a four year span of time is no longer the norm. On top of those things are many other worthwhile pursuits students should follow to prepare themselves for the job market. Here is a list of five things to begin working on in preparation to graduating school:


  1. Develop Real-World Skills

It’s not enough to be an expert at all things Adobe, speak fluent #hashtag, or have a textbook knowledge of SEO strategies. Applicants in the current job market need to have basic skills not taught in a 300 level web design course.


  • Phone Etiquette: Picking up a phone and saying, “What’s up” just isn’t going to work for the real world. Understanding proper phone etiquette includes a working knowledge of all things phone. Allowable hold times, taking messages, de-escalating complaints, and collecting information are just a few skills to have. Just knowing that a smile can be head across a phone line is an improvement that will help in the long run.


  • People Skills: Affability, leadership, and charisma are not things that can be learned in an online web coder class, but are important attributes of great job candidates. Working in sales or customer service can be valuable teachers to individuals looking to acquire some of these skills. Any position where you work directly with people will be a valuable experience, which will ultimately make you a better person than you were.


  • Communication Skills: Employers are looking for graduates that posses good public speaking, and interpersonal communication skills. This means a graduate needs to be able to hold an audience or client’s attention, present ideas clearly, and listen intently. Much of the communication done within offices is digital (email, texting, Instant messaging, etc.) but having the skills to inform and listen to face-to-face conversations will be a great asset.


  1. Become Well Rounded

When your senior year approaches and those tennis classes seem so attainable, don’t reach for the low hanging elective credits. Take classes about subjects you’re passionate about. If you love philosophy, but see no way it can benefit you in the job market, take the class anyway. Learning about the things you’re passionate about will never be a bad thing, and many times those passions give us a new perspective that we can apply later in life. Take a class in a subject you’re bad at. Are you really bad at accounting? Take an accounting class. Not only will you get better at something that was once a weakness, it will show you can endure difficulties. Study a subject that will put you ahead of other candidates in your field. Speaking a foreign language never hurt anyone, and having a business management minor would certainly help even the most talented site programmer. Overall, become a better-rounded person. Don’t focus solely on the classes in your major. Most employers are looking for people that are diverse in their skills, and are thus a better investment for their company.


  1. Seek Out Experiences

Even though it is un-paid, and even though it doesn’t count for internship hours, you should take that volunteer project manager position. There are countless opportunities on college campuses across the country that would give communication majors the experience they need to approach an interview with confidence. Don’t get caught up in looking for a paid internship as the only possible opportunity. Volunteer your time for a cause that you are passionate about, or that is convenient for you. Allow it to challenge you. Reflect on the things you have learned. Any experience where you can create a portfolio of your achievements will be a worthwhile one.


  1. Team Work Is The Best Work

Don’t expect to write the perfect tweet or create the perfect illustration on your first try. Employers are looking for competent people, not perfect people. They fully expect your work to need review and editing at times. When you work in a group setting as a team, you must actually work as a team. Your idea will not always be the best. Your ideas and work you submit will be critiqued. Part of working on a team means actually working with others to achieve goals. Learn to work with a team, accept critique, and share responsibility or you likely won’t be invited back for a second interview.


  1. Follow Trends And Trendsetters

You cannot possibly hope to be more than a marketing intern in a growing and changing field without staying on top of the latest trends and changes. A graduate going into these fields needs to be aware of the latest social media clients. They should be accustomed to the latest updates of the Adobe Suite. People that aren’t up to date on the latest comings and going of the media world are often times left behind. A great way for new job seekers to stay on their game is to follow and engage with the top performers in their field. Find them on social media and follow their work and methods. This becomes a great way to stay current on trends. You should also share the trends you find with others. Add them to your Pinterest board, retweet them, Follow and like their content on Facebook. As long as you stay current, you will be a front-runner in all the job interviews you are invited to.


  1. Do It Now

Don’t sit down in front of Netflix and expect an amazing internship to drop into your lap. In order to get ahead in the job market post-graduation, you need to start getting ahead now. It doesn’t matter if you work for an agency, a non-profit, or volunteer, or get paid. What matters is that you start doing it now. The most valuable investments for your future will happen in positions that will most directly relate to your future career goals. Work with your department, chat with counselors, and attend job fairs. There are many companies looking for interns they can hire back after graduation.


Overall, if you supplement your current education with some of these suggestions, you will become a better candidate once you leave school. A career in the various areas of communication is exciting and is always booming with new opportunities. Working hard and consistently putting forth effort will pay off when you enter that interview confident you have done everything in your power to qualify yourself for a career.