How to make yourself employable as early as possible — and why it matters
In today’s competitive job market, many students and young people are beginning to think more and more about how to make themselves as employable as possible as early as possible. This is especially true for those who are interested in doing creative work or want to enter an industry that is known for being competitive or for not having many jobs available.
While trying to get a publishing deal or interviewing for a CEO position at age 17 might be taking this a bit overboard, it’s valid to be concerned about whether or not you are on a path to becoming employable. After all, you’re probably thinking about the fact that you’ll be entering into the job market once you graduate from college. It also might be something your parents are thinking about — especially if your employability in your specific field is contingent on going to college.
Often, employability is less about reinventing the metaphorical wheel and more about taking small steps that will allow you to better plan for the future. Here are some tips to help you think about your employable skills and how you can build upon them throughout your young life.
How early is too early?
If the job market, supporting yourself financially, and the “real world” all sound scarier than the haunted hayride you went on last Autumn, you’re not alone. Growing older and gaining independence can surely be terrifying! Luckily, you don’t have to change from a kid to a business-casual-wearing adult overnight.
You don’t need to have started a nonprofit or created your own business by age 16 to be considered employable. In fact, it’s become somewhat of a fad for students wanting to go to an Ivy League to try this, but it can come off as overreaching unless there’s a real passion there. This being said, it’s never too early to begin thinking about the skills you have that might make you an asset in the workplace.
Most of us have been asked from a young age, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” — you can think about employability a little less like a grand search for your life’s sole purpose, and a little more like discovering what you might want to be when you grow up. Having an interest in a field or a skill related to that field doesn’t necessarily mean you need to pursue it as a career for the rest of your life; it just gives you the option to explore this path. Furthermore, exploring an interest early on might lead you to discover that you’re really good at it! On the other hand, it might turn out that the thing you wanted to do actually isn’t the best match for you in the long run. Overall, it’s best to know as early as possible so that you can keep exploring more of your interests until you find a few that fit. The good news is that you always have time to change your mind— you can learn new skills and improve upon old ones.
Knowing Your Employable Skills
Before you panic looking at your CV, take a moment to check in with yourself: what are you good at? What do you like doing? What have others commended you for doing well? What have you gotten constructive criticism about? What do you like to be better at? Where do these things overlap?
Think about what you would like to be doing in the workplace and what you’re open to doing. If you can get experience doing these things early, great! If you like them, then that’s even better!
On the other hand, if you happen to have a certain idea of what job or skill you’d like to be doing, and you try it out early and find that it isn’t what you had expected it to be, then at least you know sooner rather than later. In considering your employable skills, one book that you may want to consider reading is What Color Is Your Parachute? By Richard N. Bolles. By encouraging you to cultivate your unique skills and interests, this book helps you create your dream job.
If you know what you want to be doing career-wise (or if you even have a general idea), GREAT! Now it’s time to get to work and see if the career you’ve been dreaming about is really for you. Unpaid and paid internships are a great way to test out these skills in a low-stakes way and figure out if a certain field or position is right for you—begin searching for one on your school’s job-posting website or on the website idealist.org.
If you start to gain experience in your field, and you find that it actually isn’t what you thought it was going to be, then again, at least now you know. You can go back to the drawing board and start thinking about what aspects of your experience you did and didn’t like.
If you do end up liking your internship, and you do well at it, then you’ll end up with something strong to put on your resume and, if you’re lucky, you’ll have made connections with a reference who can vouch for your expertise and growth in this field.
For more tips on getting internships, check out these CollegeVine blog posts:
Considering a Trade College
Trade schools, also known as technical or vocational schools are schools that teach skills related to a specific trade or job. Programs at trade schools are typically 2 years (so they’re more streamlined and less expensive than your typical 4-year bachelor’s degree).
The curriculum at a trade school will focus almost entirely on developing your skillset for a specific career of your choosing. The classes are smaller and often more centered around hands-on training for your field. Trade schools can often lead you into jobs with comfortable salaries: electrician, mechanic, machinist, pharmacy technician, nuclear technician, dental hygienist, and more. These types of programs are also helpful because you spend a lot of time on the things that you are interested in and not a lot of time on anything else. In this way, it is similar to attending a college with a very specific major or program!
Balancing Passion With Practicality
If you want to write, paint, or draw for a living — wonderful! Don’t ever give up on yourself as a creative individual. At the same time, it’s important to realize that without a safety net, it can be extremely difficult to subsist on creative work alone. But this doesn’t necessarily have to hinder your ability to make art — even the famous poet Wallace Stevens had a day job: he was an insurance agent.
Before throwing out your guitar or your canvas, take a moment to think about your practical skills in addition to your creative ones. Where do they overlap? How can you apply your passions to a workplace environment? Maybe your love of music will push you to run public relations for a record label. Maybe your passion for poetry will allow you to run social media for a local poetry society, poets house or arts organization. Maybe your dream is a be a writer, but in order to support yourself and make yourself employable, you write short informative blog posts for a website that helps students get into college. You don’t have to sacrifice your dreams, you just have to find a balance between your passions and practicality. Maybe, if you’re lucky, then one day the two will merge!
It’s no secret that one doesn’t become employable overnight. But with some hard work and critical thinking, you can take concrete steps to make sure your resume is a front runner. Just remember to be realistic about your own abilities and what you like (or don’t like) in a workplace. The positions that you’re most likely to get are the ones that you’re the best fit for, and in today’s career market there are numerous ways in which you can create your own job, or even your own career path.
For more tips on becoming employable, check out these blog posts:
Want more tips on improving your academic profile?
We'll send valuable information to help you strengthen your profile and get ready for college admissions.