Student Profile: Stephanie Dixon
Friday, March 9, 2018
Graduation is one of those things that you put off thinking about until you actually have to put on your cap and gown. If we don’t think about it, it won’t actually happen…right? College graduation is the most exciting time, but also the most intimidating time of our young lives. However, the one aspect of graduation that none of us can put off thinking about is the job that (hopefully) comes after. While senior year is full of those bittersweet “last” moments—last home football game, last spring break, last 4 a.m. trek home from the MLC after a night of intense studying—it is just as full of that gut-wrenching question of what comes next.
As one of those who accepted my job offer a semester before graduation, I believe very strongly that you can heighten your chances of landing a job before graduation if you spend your time in Athens meaningfully. The following tips are just a few of the ways that you can make yourself a more marketable job candidate and land a job early on in your senior year. Follow these tips and you will be able to coast through your last semester of college like I have, focusing only on enjoying every last bittersweet moment without the stress of the job search lurking in the back of your mind.
- Get experience outside of class.The importance of gaining real world experience outside of your classes cannot be overstated. Your professors can teach you how to do anything in the classroom, but until you apply it in a real-world setting you will never understand it in context. In my case, my professors taught me the ins and outs of things like writing a press release and implementing a social media plan. But until I got the practical experience of writing and implementing pieces that were actually used in my internships, I never understood the contextual relevance of the things I was learning in class. In addition, when you go into a job interview hiring managers don’t want to hear what you have learned how to do, they want to see what you have done, and how your work helped accomplish a goal in a real setting.
- Take initiative.Before I studied abroad my sophomore year, I found a travel blog that I couldn’t stop reading because I was just so inspired by the blogger. She had quit her job in the corporate world and started traveling the world for less than $30 a day and had started a blog about her experiences. She now gets paid to travel the world full-time and has an online following of over 500,000 people worldwide. When I got back from my study abroad trip, I was still so inspired that, on a whim, I found her email address and reached out to her asking if she needed any help with her business and whether or not she takes interns. She replied that she had never had an intern before, but that she would love to have me as a social media management intern. I had zero experience at that point, but she was so impressed by the initiative I took to blindly reach out to her that she gave me my very first internship. Step out of your comfort zone, take the initiative and act on your passions. People admire people who are enthusiastic about their interests and aren’t afraid to reach out. They may even create a new position just for you! It’s an old cliché, but you truly do miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.
- Take on leadership roles.In high school, a lot of people thought that becoming a member of as many clubs as possible would look impressive on their resumes and help them get into a good college. In college, the opposite is true. It’s all about quality over quantity. Hiring managers would much rather see that you held a leadership position in one club, than see that you were just a member who held no real relevance in six different clubs. Companies increasingly value leadership capabilities in their new hires. In fact, the hiring managers for the job that I accepted would not even consider anyone who hadn’t held at least two leadership positions before. And when talking about your leadership roles in an interview, come ready to talk about the difference that you made. Hiring managers don’t want to hear just the title that you held, they want to hear about the goals you accomplished, how you worked with a team and delegated tasks to accomplish something real. To be able to talk about these things, you’ve got to be willing to put yourself out there and run for a leadership role even if you feel underqualified or feel like you don’t know what you’re doing. A little hint: No one really knows what they’re doing. You learn as you go along, and you’ll never learn how to lead if you’re not applying yourself.
- Foster meaningful relationships with your professors.During my junior year of college, I took the introductory course for the Grady-SPIA Public Affairs Communication Certificate. I was part of the inaugural cohort for the program, and my professor was the former Chief of Communications for Governor Nathan Deal and he now ran a political consulting business of his own. Halfway through the semester, he reached out to me and said that he had been so impressed with my work in class that he wanted me to come work on a campaign with him and get some real-world experience. I said “absolutely”, and worked on that campaign with him and another campaign after that. Through those experiences, I discovered my love for strategic communications which led me to the job I ended up applying for and accepting, and that professor is now a personal mentor of mine. Going the extra mile in class and establishing relationships with your professors really does open doorways for you. UGA only hires the best and brightest professors. Many of them worked in the field before becoming professors and have an extensive network of connections in the field. Your professors are an invaluable resource to you, and most of them would be happy to help you with your job search, introduce you to a colleague or write you a letter of recommendation if you take the time to foster that relationship with them in class.
- Jump at every opportunity.Be a “yes” man/woman. If an opportunity presents itself to you that has even the slightest possibility of opening new doors for you, say “yes.” There is so much going on all the time at a university as large as UGA and so many different opportunities for you to take advantage of. Go to a random club meeting, sign yourself up for a seminar, workshop or debate, apply for a study abroad program or a field study, or earn a certificate like the Arch Ready Certificate. I can’t tell you how many times I got an email about an opportunity coming up on campus and I immediately signed myself up. I attended everything from social media marketing workshops put on by Grady, to TedxUGA talks, women’s leadership forums, Career Center workshops and guest lectures at the Chapel. Every opportunity you take is making you a more marketable job candidate and a more well-rounded student, and you may find a new passion or interest along the way!
- Have confidence.This seems simple, but have confidence and know that your time here at UGA has adequately prepared you to be the best job candidate out there. UGA is an incredible university, and its faculty are even more incredible. The curriculum for every program at UGA is designed to prepare you for your field upon graduation. While continuous learning in your field is important and you should never assume that you are an expert on everything, be confident in the fact that you are ready for your career upon walking under the Arch. I walked into my job interview confident and not the slightest bit nervous that they would ask me about some industry topic or skill that I hadn’t been taught in my classes. I knew my Grady professors had done everything they could to prepare me. That being said…pay attention in your classes. You are being taught these things for a reason. Your professors know what professionals in your industry are looking for in recent graduates. Pay attention, put time and effort into your coursework, and I promise you will be the most qualified job candidate walking into every interview.
As I reflect back on my last four years at the University of Georgia, it’s difficult to attribute my success to just six condensed bullet points. Your time at UGA—and your success afterwards—is exactly what you make it. Ask yourself, “Is what I’m doing today getting me any closer to where I want to be tomorrow?” And if that answer is “no”, make a change. Be present and be purposeful in all that you do, and the rest will follow.
Stephanie graduates in May 2018 and begins her first job in communications with Lockheed Martin in June. She worked as a public relations assistant for the 2017-18 academic year in the UGA Office of Instruction.