Deciding what you want to do with yourself is really tough. There are all sorts of questions that you have to answer about who you are, what you want to do, what your strengths are, and how you can apply them. In short, you’ve got a lot to figure out. And like all things in life, getting those answers requires a lot of planning, dedication, and hard work.

With so much work ahead of you, the last thing you need to do is make things harder for yourself by not preparing as much as you should. To help you avoid some of the most common pitfalls, we asked a panel of college career counselors to share their perspectives on the career preparation mistakes that they most often see their students make.

Today, we’re joined by Britney Fields (Emory University), Roseanne Bensley (New Mexico State University), Laurie Davis (Yeshiva University), Matthew Brink (University of Delaware), and Sherry Talbott (Bridgewater College). We asked each counselor the following question:

What is the most common mistake that you see college students make when it comes to preparing for their career?

Their answers are below. As always, we hope that you find their perspectives helpful, actionable, and inspiring.

Britney Fields

Associate Director, Recruitment & Alumni Relations, Emory University

I think students often fail to take the time to really learn about themselves, and what will make them happy in a career. It’s so easy to listen to advice from Mom and Dad (“With all of your debating at home, you’d make a great attorney!”), or get caught up in Hollywood’s vision of what life is like inside of an industry (Mad Men, Grey’s Anatomy, or House of Lies, anyone?), instead of truly discovering true passions.

Finding viable career paths should be based around 3 factors: skills, interests, and values. Where do a student’s talents lie? What gets her excited? What are the “must-haves” on a daily basis? Without having a grasp on these 3 areas, making an informed decision on what direction to take after undergrad can be a total shot in the dark. Similarly, beginning a career in an area that isn’t a good fit can lead to short or long periods of professional discord.

Taking inventory on what may truly be a good fit takes time, thoughtfulness, and commitment. Career center advisors can be really helpful in guiding students through this self-exploration process through advising and assessments. Some students don’t feel ready to put plan A or B into motion until junior or senior year, but the earlier self-exploration can begin to take place, the easier choosing a career will become throughout college.

Roseanne Bensley

Associate Director, Career Services, New Mexico State University

The most common mistake that students make is procrastination. Students don’t realize how much time is involved to prepare for their career. Providing students with a four year plan that describes what they should do each year to prepare is very helpful. Students need a game plan to follow to assure they don’t forget something.

Students also need to participate in Cooperative Education or Internships to gain practical experience. Lastly students should review their social networks to assure they don’t have anything that may jeopardize their selection for positions. Remove any friend contacts that are not your true friends.

Laurie Davis

Director, Counseling and Programming, Yeshiva University Career Center

The biggest mistake most students make is waiting too long to start thinking about their careers. If a student comes to the Career Center and is a senior, just first thinking about what to do after graduation, with limited work experience and thus limited exposure to the options available in the world of work, he/she is going to have a very hard time.

From their first year on campus, students should visit their career center to begin the exploration and research phase of creating their career goals. The exploration process takes time.

First students need to do some self-assessment to evaluate their interests, skills, personality, and work-related values. Then students should use several methods to begin their research: reading information online and in books, conducting informational interviews with industry professionals, attending panel and seminar events, and ideally interning in several potential fields of choice.

It takes years of evaluating one’s performance both in and out of the classroom to determine one’s strengths and areas of interest. If a student ultimately wants to find career satisfaction, he/she must take the time to learn about his or her self as well as the world of work before implementing a career choice.

Matthew Brink

Director, Career Services Center, University of Delaware

The best way to stunt your career growth is to put off doing anything about your career until your senior year. Students who wait make a big mistake. This avoidance strategy has potentially damaging affects on a students ability to enter the market. My advice is to start freshman year and work at career planning a little at a time, month by month throughout the college experience.

Sherry Talbott

Director of Career Services and Internships, Bridgewater College

The most common mistake? Starting their career preparation too late. Despite all the resources, activities, and opportunities for career development that are available to students from the minute they arrive as Freshmen, too many students wait until their Senior to start developing their professional personas. Too many seek help in the last hour, usually for resume development or “quick-and-dirty” job search advice. Their efforts are shallow, and may yield far less fruitful results.

A relationship with the Career Services Office (and Faculty Advisors) should start in the Freshman year. While career development is not the foremost item on a first year student’s mind, it should occupy a corner of it. Career Services can play a very important role in helping students understand what they can do each year of their collegiate experience to prepare for the next; it can help students feel secure within their choices of majors; help them figure out a good balance between studies, collegiate activities, and social aspects; and help them see a process that eventually leads to walking across that stage, receiving that diploma from the college president, and feeling confident about the next step along their career paths.

Career Services should play a significant role in First Year Experience programming. Giving students the opportunity to explore and understand processes such as graduate school admission and the true nature of the job market can spur them to participate in activities that fortify their ability to be competitive when the time is right, such as learning to represent themselves professionally, understanding networking concepts, developing a results-oriented resume, exploring graduate admissions processes thoroughly and approaching the decision makers in the business community with dynamism that is so important for making that first impression in the professional world.

Career development is a process that occurs over several years. The students who embark upon that journey early in their collegiate lives will definitely experience the advantage.

Updated: 09/02/2017
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Adil Khan
Adil Khan is freelance writer and a Computer Engineer by profession. He started writing articles for CareerThoughts.com in 2016. He writes a opinion column for a local newspaper. He is yet to join Twitter!

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