A Guide to Kick-Starting Your Career While Studying

Get career planning early — while studying — with these simple steps.

Reviewed by Hayley Ramsey

A student wondering how to start her career while studying at university

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A career can be so long-lasting and complex that it’s best to focus on it and get it underway as soon as you can. Looking into getting your career started while you are at college is a great way to give yourself the best idea and alignment on what the perfect profession might look like. 

Of course, this is easier said than done, as studying and acing your exams will take up a lot of your time at college. Here are some tips on how to start thinking about your career, and things you can do while at college to ensure that you are working on your job as well as working on your education. 

When to start thinking about your career

Ideally, it is never too early to start thinking about your future career, but in practice it is completely understandable that studies — and student life — gets in the way. The sooner you start to think about career options, the easier it will be to develop a plan, hone the right skills and establish the best network to ensure your dreams become reality.

Nevertheless, it isn’t too late to begin studying and then start to think about career prospects and what is best for you. Reflecting on your coursework and exams will help you understand what professional skills you already have and what you are best at. Perhaps you have taken up a part-time job and really enjoy it; this will also help to give you direction. Whatever you decide to do, get your thinking hat on as early as you can.

How to start thinking about your career while studying 

It is hard to balance studying hard and having fun at school with thinking about starting your career. It’s also easy to procrastinate because of all the fun you will be having with your classmates. Luckily, there are a few different ways you can think about your career without investing a disproportionate amount of time that detracts from your schoolwork. Here are some tips to help you think about your career while studying. 

Step 1: Explore your career options

It is a good exercise to research careers as soon as you can; after all, there are so many out there to choose from! Think about the skills you already have, or the ones that you are learning as part of your education and evaluate how much you enjoy using them (it’s always best to find a role that you enjoy doing). Also, consider your interests, hobbies, and passions.

Next, read up on careers that are aligned to your existing skills and interests and think about pursuing these as a priority. Obviously finding the right career out of the hundreds to choose from can be a huge task, so if you are still unsure what career option is best for you, consider taking a career test or assessment, such as the one provided by CareerHunter, which will recommend career options based on your skills and interests. 

Step 2: Figure out the skills you need to learn 

When you have arrived at a list of the careers you feel are best suited to you, the next step is to look at the skills you will need to develop to master the job. Some skills you might have already, but it is likely you will need to develop them or learn additional ones. Good skills to focus on are soft skills or transferable skills that can be used across different career paths and in a variety of settings.

Most skills can be learned on-the-job, but many, especially transferable ones, can be picked up through online courses like the ones offered on LinkedIn or Coursera. Being able to gain a base knowledge of all the skills needed for a certain career is often the main thing you need to demonstrate when interviewing for your first job. 

Step 3: Find a balance between work and study

Getting started in a career while studying is important, but it’s vital that you never lose sight of the most important and urgent task at hand: to get good grades and as high a qualification as possible.

Balancing work and study begins with a plan, where you set out what needs to be done on a weekly basis. Prioritizing studying is essential, as you can work a part-time job or learn new skills around this. It is also important that you consider what times of the day and week you study best, in order to maximize your effectiveness, as well as factoring time to relax and recharge. We are not machines, after all!

Step 4: Develop a professional online presence

It’s important to develop a professional online presence to effectively start your career. This most often begins with setting up a LinkedIn profile or other online portfolio, in order to market yourself and your professional expertise, begin to build a professional network, and use this to further your career in the future.

A professional online presence should be cultivated across all websites you interact with, in case colleagues or recruiters look for you online. This can involve ‘cleaning up’ your social media and removing any embarrassing photos or posts, or simply limiting your online interactions by making your pages private. Ensure you always interact with others in the right way on public forums, too.

Step 5: Get your résumé ready

A well-polished résumé is essential, right from the start of your career. After all, this is the document that recruiters will see first, and is the one-size-fits-all snapshot of your professional self. As you build your experience and skills, you should update your résumé to ensure it is as accurate as possible for when you’re ready to submit a job application.

Because your résumé is your first impression in front of recruiters, it’s essential that it’s written clearly and professionally. If you are finding it challenging to put together a polished résumé, CareerAddict’s résumé writing services can support you in writing one. 

Infographic Starting Your Career While Studying

How to develop your employability at college

Higher education isn’t just about developing your skills; it can also be useful in helping you ready yourself for your career. Here are a few ways college can support you in developing your employability.

1. Join a student union 

Student unions aren’t just about nights out and parties. There is significant organization behind student union activities, and they also act as counsel and advocate for causes related to students, too.

Joining a student union can help you develop your organizational skills and be a way to experience a work-like environment while contributing to student relations. There are various roles available, like event planning, treasurer, secretary, or student liaison, and some of these roles might be aligned to your ideal career. Working in one of these roles is great for your résumé and is a good step in preparing you for your future job. 

2. Get a part-time job or a work placement 

Getting a part-time job or work placement has three main advantages. The first one is, quite simply, that you can earn some money that will support your expenditure as a student. The second is being able to learn new skills, many of which could be relevant or transferable to your future employer and career.

The final advantage is a particularly strong one if you take a part-time job or a work placement in a field of work which is the same or similar to your ideal career. You can begin to build your professional network and secure a job that will serve as a stepping-stone into full-time employment when you graduate. It’ll also give you the opportunity to meet influential people in the field. Such experience looks brilliant on your résumé and will be difficult for post-graduate recruiters to ignore. 

3. Take up an internship

Internships are a little different to work placements and part-time work in the sense that they are usually focused development programs that are aimed towards a company finding its next intake of graduates or direct entry workers.

Finding an internship for your chosen company in a career that is well-aligned to your skills and interests can be a valuable learning experience. You get to learn about the company and the career in more detail, get yourself on the radar of some very desirable organizations, and, if you perform well, be one of the first people the company will call when it comes to offering full-time work after college.

Colleges can support you in finding internships, but remember that some of the leading opportunities can be very competitive, so your internship résumé and skills need to be well-polished and full of evidence of your suitability for the role. 

4. Volunteer

Volunteering opportunities are another great way to learn skills and expand your professional network. They may not be paid, but volunteering opportunities will look great on your résumé and can be referenced in interviews.

They demonstrate to recruiters that you are responsible and have a good work ethic and demonstrates evidence of you learning skills and experience that can be transferable into paid careers. Volunteering opportunities can be sourced through private organizations, as well as your student union or careers service.

5. Attend a career fair 

Career fairs are usually organized through your college’s careers service but can also be run at a wider level, such as through a city council or even privately via organizations. It’s beneficial for you to attend as many career fairs as possible.

You will get to learn about the many different graduate jobs on offer, as well as talk to recruiters first-hand on ways into certain roles. You will also get to network with these recruiters and give them the chance to take your résumé away for consideration. In short, career fairs can offer an all-important physical first impression between you and your preferred organizations. 

6. Build your professional network 

The importance and power of networking can never be underestimated. College is full of opportunities to build your professional network. In addition to interventions, such as internships and career fairs, colleges might work closely with certain employers, some of which might sponsor lecture rooms or faculties.

You can use your time at college to build your network using the careers service and their contacts, or simply introduce yourself to recruiters through LinkedIn, or if anyone from companies visit college to give lectures. Consider printing off and keeping with you some résumés, and maybe even create your own business cards with a short personal statement and a QR code linking to your résumé — just in case you meet anyone who can be useful for your career in the future. 

7. Seek out an industry mentor 

As part of your networking activities, you might get introduced to people who are happy to offer more long-lasting support and guidance. Industry mentors will offer coaching and advice on an ongoing basis; some people work with their mentors for years, even for a whole career.

Mentors can provide you with development actions, job opportunities and further networking support. They typically present themselves through ongoing networking, or during an internship. Therefore, you will probably have to build and sustain some good connections to find one! 

8. Freelance

Freelancing at college is a flexible way to earn money, as you can work and build your skills on a schedule that you set yourself. Freelancing can also develop certain skills that you might not typically learn in a part-time job, such as an entrepreneurial mindset, self-management, budgeting, and handling clients.

In addition to its benefits, there are plenty of opportunities. You can take up freelance work in many different areas, such as graphic design, writing, consulting, and so on. This choice of work method can also open doors for you to start your own business in the future. 

Key takeaways 

The above tips and advice might seem like a lot of work to do while studying for good grades, but getting your career prepped early is important. Ultimately, the task can be condensed into a few main areas: 

  • Research careers to find the best-fit ones for you.
  • Learn the right skills to succeed in these careers.
  • Build your network.
  • Gain relevant, related work experience. 

These actions can take place over the years you are at college — don’t leave it until your final year! It will keep you more than busy at times, but you might make some money while putting in the hard work early to get a head start on your career goals. Good luck!

Do you know which career path you want to take? Have you started planning your career while you’re studying? Let us know if you have any tips in the comments below.


This article has been updated and was originally published on 18 November 2016.