Get a Head Start on Your Career

On 07/07/2011, in Career, Finding a Job, by Jordan Wilson

Courtesy of Investopedia, a good article entitled “4 Ways To Get A Head Start On Your Financial Career”.

While the article is finance specific, the general lessons apply to most career paths.

As the article states, in today’s job market, it is important to appear a more attractive employment candidate than your many competitors.

Here are a few thoughts from my side. 

Prepare Before You Graduate

I have written about this before.

It is fairly obvious to pick the appropriate major and take courses that directly impact that major and career path.

If you want to become a professional accountant, choose an accounting major and take a bunch of requisite accounting classes. Not rocket science.

But do not stop there.

I suggest that you also take complementary courses that will assist in your chosen career.

These may be basic business skills for non-finance individuals working in any industry.

A doctor managing her own practice may need to understand basic bookkeeping and payroll. The engineer with his own firm needs to manage the company’s operations. In part, this is why the Masters in Business Administration is such a popular degree for non-finance professionals.

It may also be developing industry specific knowledge for finance professionals.

If you live in Western Canada where natural resources play a prominent role in the economy, you may end up working directly or indirectly (e.g., auditing as an accountant, lending money as a banker, analyzing public companies as an investment analyst) with resource based companies. Courses in geology, engineering, etc., might separate you from the crowd during the hiring process. It will also greatly help you during your work.

Or the courses could be more general and assist in developing soft skills that are highly useful.

For example, the ability to effectively communicate is critical in most white collar positions. Writing courses, English courses (assuming this is your mother tongue), etc., will aid in developing your communication skills.

I am a big proponent of foreign languages and international experience. Business is global and if you can effectively deal with different cultures you will have a better chance of success. Learning a second or third language, spending time abroad, etc., will also add valuable skills to your resume when seeking full-time employment.

Extracurricular Activities

Taking a well paying summer job definitely helps pay the bills.

But consider finding a summer or part-time position that pays less but provides valuable experience. Think of it as an investment in your future. In my experience, the return in this investment is usually quite high.

If the part-time job market is tough, try to volunteer in areas that may provide some practical experience. Or perhaps work on relevant projects in school, either in your classes for credit or as part of organized competitions or groups.

You could volunteer to assist in tax return preparation for seniors. Perhaps join the debate team or local Toastmasters to strengthen your communication skills. Maybe there are business competitions or case studies you can enter. You could join groups like Rotary to develop skills, support the community, and begin to create a network of contacts.  There are hundreds of options available that can provide you some direct or indirect skills, not to mention personal enjoyment and the chance to meet people.

After Graduation

As the article indicates, there are advantages to both big and small firms. This is true in pretty much any industry.

When I articled as a Chartered Accountant, I did so in the small business practice (and small office) of a large accounting firm. So I had the best of both worlds.

From the large firm side, I had access to excellent research, training, and support. While from the small firm side, I had the opportunity to work on a much wider variety of clients and areas, with much greater responsibility.

But for most new employees, it is an either/or choice. Work for a large or small company. Before you sign on, understand the advantages that each has going for it. Then select the option that works best for your personality and career objectives.

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