It is essential to develop your potential in college and beyond by embracing the journey you have embarked upon, and it is not an easy journey. In this journey, you might be the first in your family to set foot in this University, and as they say, it’s going to be a hard mountain to climb. You might be the first generation of your family to immigrate to the US. On top of keeping up with school, you are also learning a new language, translating for your family, helping out your family financially, and even taking care of your younger siblings. You might be the only latinx student in your biochemistry class. You might be the first to leave the city to come to this “quiet corner” to become a Husky. You might be the first to study abroad despite your family being worried about you going away to such far-off places. All of these journeys may bring doubts, but I encourage you to use your iron will and resilience to stay on the journey even if you get off track or experience a bump on the way to reaching the summit. Many of you will be trailblazers embarking on career paths not trekked before, and you’ll make discoveries, solve problems in ways others didn’t envision yet, and get access to workplaces that others before you only dreamed about.
With any journey never before accomplished, it is essential that you act with bravery and courage and use the right “survival tools”.
As someone who has been on a similar journey, let me share some of my survival tools:
Network, network, network!
All around you is a network just waiting for you to tap and cultivate. Even if you think you don’t know anyone in this unfamiliar and, at times, seemingly unwelcoming place, there are people who can become a support system, mentors, connectors, your team. Therefore, you must branch out and be proactive about creating a lifelong network that can help you on your career journey.
Your professors, supervisors, and college classmates/friends can become mentors and connectors. This advice is very old school, but you need to make it a goal to go to office hours. It can be intimidating to talk to professors. Professors are humans like everyone else (I should know as I married one), and many of them are happy to support you, but you need to seek them out. UConn’s first female president, Susan Herbst, often told first-year students to make it a goal of meeting at least three professors. I can attest that this advice has worked in my academic and professional career, and it’s also what I encourage students to do. Students need to network with professors to develop their network, which one day will open doors to other educational and career endeavors. If you can, take several classes with a professor you love, go to office hours and introduce yourself and ask questions. If they helped you with a recommendation, send them a thank you email and updates here and there. They love to hear from their former students and it keeps the relationship going. If you cannot connect with three professors, network with your bosses and co-workers as they can also help you with job opportunities. Finally, make new friends and get involved. Your college friends and your alumni network can also serve to broaden your job opportunities, so ask friends if they have any job advice/leads or can help review your resume. Use LinkedIn to stay in touch with your network.
Get a campus job, do an internship, or do a side hustle/part-time job
For many latinx students, the reality is that they may have already been working for a long time, or they may need a job during college (I know I did). Working a part-time job (no more than 20 hours a week) is a great way to gain transferrable skills and help pay for your expenses in college. Since it is part-time work, this will not interfere with the time they need to devote to their studies for most students. Research even shows that a part-time job in college can help students obtain better grades! Ideally, you may want a job related to what you want after college. However, don’t discount any job. My mother is a cleaning lady, and I learned a lot about cultivating life-long clients and providing excellent service from seeing her build her own business over the years. I, myself, worked many odd jobs since high school (toy store clerk, hostess at a restaurant, library assistant, tutor, to name a few). All of these jobs taught me an essential and valuable skill set that I use as a higher education professional to this day. Campus jobs provide you with an environment where being a student comes first and develops skills for the work world. Also, look for internships using Husky Handshake to help you gain experience related to your future career goals. Becoming a student mentor can also help you gain leadership skills.
The job hunt is grueling but stay the course
Job searches can take months, even years. Don’t give up, no matter how hard it’s to climb that mountain. Don’t take rejection personally, and just keep going. Take breaks to take care of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally. Use UConn’s Center for Career Development to explore career opportunities, even if it takes you a few meetings/hours to search for jobs and get feedback from a career coach. Consider working a side hustle until you land your ideal job. Continue to tap into your network as you search for your next career adventure.
I hope these survival tools equip you well on your trek. And remember that even if the journey is long and filled with challenges, along the way, you’ll also gain courage, bravery, resilience, character, and transferable skills to help you master any career climb you set upon!
Image from EcoHouse.