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If you’re a recent or soon-to-be college graduate, there are probably many unknowns racing through your mind – the million-dollar question being, “How can I improve my chances of landing a job?” For 22-year-old Equine Business Management student Kelsey Stinneford, set to graduate in December, this focus has infused her every move over the last few years. And it has paid off. Upon graduating, she is all set to walk into a full-time career opportunity.

While working part-time at an area barn, Kelsey impressed her employer so much that it turned into a full-time job during the summer. And then, after months of continued solid performance, it turned into a full-time job offer after she graduates. And not just any job offer – her employer is willing to “tailor the position to meet [her] wants,” Kelsey says.

So, what steps led to Kelsey’s enviable post-graduation fate? What are the biggest lessons she realized along the way? I caught up with her to find out. No matter your program of study, here are four ways college students can increase their likelihood of landing a great job after graduating.

1. Find your focus. Many students walk into college knowing what their passion is, but few know what exactly they want to do with it. Maybe you’re a criminal justice major, but are you interested in law enforcement, security management, private investigation? You might know you desire a career in human services, but do want to work in the public, private, or not-for-profit sector? Finding yourself and putting a fine point on your career pencil is critical to making the most of your college journey. This process should be conscious and proactive, Kelsey says. “Learn how to do it 100 ways, figure out what works for you, and develop your own way,” she advises. Kelsey discovered her niche – training – while studying abroad in England. Once you determine what specific direction you want to go in, the other pieces of the puzzle can begin to fall into place.

2. Take advantage of resume-building opportunities.
While overseas, Kelsey didn’t waste any time before capitalizing on her “aha” moment and honing her new career focus. She pursued an Assistant Instructor certification from The British Horse Society (the first step to becoming a certified riding instructor). Now, not only did Kelsey have real-world exposure to the industry – in another country, at that – under her belt. She also had the internationally-recognized certification to prove it. And this credential is more than a line on her resume, she says. It didn’t just improve her technical skills. What the certification really gave Kelsey was an unwavering confidence that has enabled her to approach her line of work with a new sense of professionalism.

3. Establish a great network. Whether or not students take advantage of the professional contacts they encounter while pursuing their degree can make all the difference for their career prospects. For Kelsey, a professional connection she made during school is the primary reason for her post-graduation job offer. Many of her professors still work in the industry in addition to instructing, she says, which provides them with unique real-time networking capabilities. If students show initiative and seize opportunities to tap these contacts, there can be a huge pay-off. In Kelsey’s case, her Equine professors frequently sent her and her classmates out to facilities in the area to develop a firsthand understanding of the field. One of those barns is – you guessed it – the barn Kelsey started working at part-time some time ago, as a result of developing the relationship with this professional contact. And she has certainly seen the pay-off!

4. Put your knowledge to work. No matter what your career path, interning or working during college is a very effective way to build a sturdy resume. Instead of taking the summer off, build your marketability with a summer internship. To build your skills and bring in some extra cash at the same time, find yourself a part-time job relative to your field of study during nights and weekends. Kelsey feels that beginning her part-time job at the barn solidified her career goals and marked the commencement of her professional future. Stepping outside of the classroom and putting yourself to work, “really completes the whole learning process and helps you retain your knowledge,” she says. Now, even prior to graduating, Kelsey already has a small client base for training and riding. She knows firsthand what it takes to run a riding facility, and can envision herself assisting with managing one, or even running one on her own someday.

Looking back, Kelsey’s college journey has been full of personal and professional growth, and she feels “very grateful for all the help [she’s] gotten along the way.” I hope Kelsey’s story resonates with you and helps you prepare for a rewarding career as a valued employee in the field of your choice.

For more information on the Equine Program at Post University, visit our website.