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Classes Are Done. Now What?

You don’t need an impressive-sounding internship to have a summer that will prove relevant to your future. Here are some things you can do in the next three months — and they’re things you can fit around summer classes or your summer job.

Reflect.

It’s been a tough semester. Take a moment to tally up what you accomplished (starting with the fact that you got through it!). Then think about what you learned about yourself. What courses brought out your best effort, and why? What things were less interesting than you expected them to be? What are you discovering about the things that matter to you? What are the gaps in your knowledge or experience that you’d like to fill? Reflection may feel futile when your options are limited or you feel inadequate, but it’s easier to move forward when you have some ideas (even hazy ones) of what you want to move toward. Anything helps, from a few minutes spent free-writing on a scrap of paper to a few days spent filling out all the exercises in a book like this.

Connect.

The biggest obstacle to figuring out what you want to do after graduation is your lack of knowledge about what your options are. Talking to people (also known as networking) is the best way to expand what you know.

  • It’s fine to start with the obvious. Email us us at the HPRC or make an appointment at the Career Center to start by talking to someone whose job it is to help you.
  • Do you have a family member, friend, or acquaintance doing work that you’d like to know more about? Ask them questions.
  • LinkedIn and IlliniLink can help you identify alumni or your program or other working professionals to talk to.
  • Asking for an informational interview is a widely accepted way to learn more and start making connections.
  • When people look you up online (as they will when you start reaching out), a completed LinkedIn profile gives them something to find. Summer is a good time to upload a photo (doesn’t have to be a professional headshot, but make sure your head and shoulders fill the frame and that you look office-ready), fill out your profile with your work experience and activities, craft a more interesting and aspirational headline than “Student at…”, and tell your story in the “About” section.

Volunteer.

If your goals include making a difference, helping people, or changing the world, volunteering can help you figure out a career path. If you just need something to do this summer, volunteering means you can donate your time and energy in exchange for some experience and skill-building. Nonprofit organizations rely on volunteers. That doesn’t mean employees don’t get paid for nonprofit work (a common misconception!), but it does mean that there are many ways to get involved with organizations doing work that you care about.

  • Volunteering means working for free, but time has value. Be mindful of yours and of the burden that training and supporting you places on the organization that you work with. Think of it as a donation that you make to the organization, and focus on programs that reflect your priorities and interests.
  • Websites like VolunteerMatch or United Way can connect you to organizations that have volunteer programs. However, if there’s an organization in your community (museum, community center, food bank, church/mosque/synagogue/temple, art gallery, homeless shelter, environmental advocacy group, political party…) doing work that interests you, find out what kinds of opportunities they offer.
  • If you already have experience volunteering with a particular organization, look for ways to make a bigger impact. Do you see some improvement that you could commit to making (e.g., updating the website, rewriting a handout, expanding the hours or scope of a program)? If so, think through the details and propose it to the organization’s leadership.
  • If your involvement starts to take significant amounts of time and effort, ask the person supervising your work if they’d be comfortable letting you call it an internship on your resume.
  • If you are thinking about a career related to an organization’s mission, let the people you interact with know that. Informational interviews with the staff or a day spent job-shadowing someone in a leadership position can give you insight into how the organization works and the roles you are best suited for.

Work.

The warehouse, food delivery, or customer service job that you do to make money this summer may not have anything to do with the career you hope to have after college, but no experience is ever wasted.

  • Be aware of the very real job skills you gain, even at a minimum wage service job: client-facing skills (waiting tables), process management and improvement (bussing tables, unloading pallets), organization and attention to detail (filling orders, delivering food), teamwork (landscape services, construction, line cooking).
  • It’s not just about finding elevated ways to describe the job on a resume. Think about how you can show some leadership: improving workflow, sharing tasks, helping new employees.
  • You are likely to find yourself talking about these work experiences in future job interviews. Employers will want to know how you dealt with conflict on the job, or solved problems, or coped when things went wrong. Look for those instances and think about the story you will one day tell about them.
  • Move on when it’s time. If you’ve learned all that you’re likely to learn from stocking shelves at the grocery (for example), try to find a position that involves more customer contact so you can work on those skills. If you find yourself bored, look for a similar job in a faster-paced environment. If you’re working in customer service because it’s all that you’ve done, but you don’t like it that much, look for a job that’s more behind-the-scenes and will help you develop your organizational skills.

Learn.

Free online learning courses and tutorials can help you gain new job skills or learn more about a field you’re thinking about. Here’s a sampling of what’s available:

  • LinkedIn Learning: Your UIUC NetID gets you access to this extensive library of online courses.
  • National Public Radio: NPR has a suite of tutorials about many key topics of journalism and other kinds of media work.
  • Trailhead: Salesforce offers free training on its customer relations management (CRM) software. Many companies look for applicants with experience with a CRM.
  • GitHub Learning Lab: Start learning about how you can contribute tech projects with free courses on GitHub, the code-hosting platform.

Create.

Summer is a good time to unleash your creativity. Write/film/make that thing you’ve been thinking about! Note that, while the bullet points below describe ways to make your creative work career-relevant, it’s fine to make something just because you want to and have something to express.

  • Lots of people can claim “creativity” as a skill. Having an artifact to link to or or show potential employers brings your power to life.
  • A creative project demonstrates your ability to work independently, but being able to be creative as part of a team is even better. Think about ways you might collaborate with others to make something even better than you could do on your own, or to branch out into media that lies beyond your skill set thus far.
  • If you’re proud of what you’ve done and want other people to see it, seek out publications, art shows, festivals, online platforms, or other venues (and think about the story you can tell about how you went about finding an audience — that, too, is part of the project).