Maximize Your Holidays

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It’s that time of year again. The halls are decked, the trees are trimmed, and you’re cramming for exams. But if you take a minute to stop and breathe in a little holiday spirit, you’ll realize that it’s the little things that count — and there are little things you can do right now that will make a big difference down the road.

That’s because in a tight job market, even entry-level workers will need to be highly qualified to stand out. And today’s less-than-stellar economy means aspiring IT professionals would do best to maximize their assets and their time, getting as much education and experience as possible in the shortest amount of time.

With the semester winding down, there are several good ways you can do just that.

1. Study for a certification while studying for exams.

Hey, you’re already hunkered down in study mode, right? Why not register to take a certification exam during this time? That way you can graduate with a credential — or more — already under your belt. You can prepare by filling out all your paperwork, making sure you have proper identification and scheduling an exam at a local test center. Or if you’re not in the financial position to take the exam yet, devise a strategic savings plan that can help you achieve your goal.

2. Get hands-on experience.

Sure, you need a winter break to relax, refresh and prepare to work hard again next semester. But that doesn’t mean you also can’t use it to pad to your resume. As a student, you likely don’t have much hands-on IT experience, and it would be beneficial to get started, as many organizations are looking for candidates with this kind of experience, even for entry-level positions. Plus, it shows employers you had the interest and wherewithal to pursue a career in IT.

The standard holiday break typically isn’t long enough for an in-depth internship experience, but there are some companies that have special shorter internships or that partner with individuals on a contract basis. However, their listings likely won’t be online. You can use your school’s career center or do some research on your own to unearth possibilities. Or you could contact employers directly to see if they’d be interested in having a student come in to help out for a month or so.

3. Get a mentor.

This suggestion is related to the previous one. A mentor can offer you a glimpse into the daily life of an IT professional, as well as offer career advice. Ideally, you’d have a mentor through your internship or contract work. If not, it’s time to reach out to that friend, past employer or long-lost relative to see if you can job shadow him or her for a few weeks. If you manage to engage in some informal job shadowing, don’t hesitate to add this experience to your resume.

4. Think about the next step.

This point ties in with the first suggestion about certifications. Now’s the time to think seriously about post-graduate employment. Many organizations recruit in the fall and winter. Think about which areas you might like to specialize in, where you might like to work and what kinds of work appeal to you. Then, apply for jobs — and don’t be shy. The more you do now, the less you’ll have to worry later.

With a little determination and gumption, you can maximize your holiday break for future benefit. Just don’t forget to focus on getting through exams and enjoying your well-deserved time off. To stay grounded, try to set your sights on accomplishing just one of these things — and then kick back with some eggnog. 

– Agatha Gilmore, agilmore@certmag.com

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