Sophomore: Exploring Options

By sophomore year, you have a sense of how much time you need to succeed academically and how much time you can devote to other things. As you decide how to spend that extra time, focus on exploring. The University of Illinois offers abundant opportunities to try new things, from RSOs to part-time jobs and internships to volunteering to study abroad. Every activity or involvement gives you an opportunity to learn more about what you’re good at, the kinds of problems you enjoy solving, the issues that move you, the value you add to a group or team. They also give you opportunities to take risks, fail, and try other things — a crucial part of learning.

Sophomore year is also a good time to explore the professional fields that need your particular skills and the kinds of businesses or organizations you would like to work for.

SUCCEED

  • Add your freshman-year and summer experiences to your master resume file, and bring your basic resume up to date.

  • Prepare for, and attend, at least one campus career fair. Focus on talking to employers with summer internship opportunities. Even if you don’t land one–or can’t really see yourself at the kind of company that can afford to send recruiters to career fairs–the practice will pay off later when your goals are more concrete and the stakes higher.

  • Create a Linked In profile, complete with professionally appropriate photo and a compelling headline (NOT “Student at…” — aim for a headline that sets you apart).  Customize your URL.  Write yourself a reminder to update it in six months.”

  • Get an email account (NOT your illinois.edu email) that will stay with you post-graduation and has an address that is as close to your actual name as possible.

  • If your part-time job isn’t giving you professional experience related to things you might want to do after you graduate, look for one that does.

EXPLORE

  • Get comfortable with change. As you gain experience and learn more about the questions, problems, and issues that pull your interest, your goals will shift, probably more than once. It’s okay.  

  • Assess your extracurricular activities and identify RSOs or volunteer work that will develop your leadership skills and expand your range of interests

  • Look for courses offered that will teach you specific professional skills you want and figure out how to work them into your course of study.

  • As your interests expand, you might consider a minor, second major, or certificate program. These additions to your primary major can help you grow intellectually and demonstrate breadth of your abilities to employers, but know that employers of humanities majors tend to be more interested in skills than specific credentials.

  • Talk to the Humanities Professional Resource Center about alumni mentoring so that you can start drawing on alumni mentors for informational interviews and advice specific to the career paths that interest you.

CONNECT

  • Expand the list of resources you identified in your freshman year and start to:
    • learn relevant job titles and descriptions

    • get familiar with professional vocabulary for fields that interest you

    • identify potential contacts (Linked In is useful for this!  So is the Alumni Network)

  • Reach out to people doing work that interests you.  Whether you call it an “informational interview” or just “getting coffee,” talking to strangers will be a key part of future job searches, so the sooner you can get comfortable doing it, the better.  

  • Write for a campus publication and look into editorial/managerial roles you could take on.

  • Continue to add people to your network: go to your professors’ office hours, get to know work/internship supervisors and other people you work with, reach out to community members that you meet through volunteer or RSO involvement.

  • Follow up with people who have helped you.

    • Drop by the office hours of professors you’ve had in previous semesters to let them know how you’re building on the material you learned or using their advice.

    • Get in the habit of writing thank-you notes when people commit time or energy to advancing your career (writing recommendations, connecting you to people they know personally, giving advice or feedback beyond their designated professional role).

Freshman: Establishing a Foundation

Junior: Gaining Experience

Senior: Getting Real