Office Hours: Five ways to kickstart your startup career over spring break

Originally published on Medium. 
Make the most of your precious days off—you’ll thank yourself in May

If your spring break plans amount to hanging around campus, watching all five seasons of The Wire, and envying your friends who are off Instagramming crystal clear lagoons and drinks topped with pineapple wedges, we’ve got great news—sounds like you have some time to invest in your startup career!

It’s tough to think about anything but school when you’re knee-deep in papers and problem sets, but the lull of spring break is the perfect time to make yourself a stronger job applicant. (And if you’re still committed to catching up on your prestige dramas, don’t worry—you’ll still have time to stream at least one season, we promise.)

Here are five simple steps you can take to be better prepared for your professional life by the time class starts up again.

1) Dust up your resume—and make a few different versions

If you’re applying for your first full-time startup job, you’re probably going to need to cast a wide net. The good news: unless you studied something very niche—and gotten all of your work experience to date in that specific field—you’re probably qualified for all kinds of entry level roles.

And if you’re not set on one specific field but instead want to apply to a few different types of roles, you’re going to need a few copies of your resume.

One easy way to get started? Make a list of the categories of roles you want: marketing, sales, operations, etc. Next, take a look at your current resume. Move through the list job by job, and consider where your responsibilities at each position might fit.

Let’s say you interned at a psychology lab, for example, and your responsibilities included: 1) running the lab’s Twitter account, 2) scheduling volunteers for experiments, 3) soliciting potential volunteers over the phone, and 4) writing blog posts. If you were applying for a marketing role, you’d want to focus on social media experience and content creation. If you were applying for a sales role, you’d want to focus on the number of volunteers you brought in (especially if you had data about your performance vs. the lab’s average volunteer yield rate). For ops, you’d want to focus on your organization abilities, and any processes you created to make scheduling simpler and easier. Creating a few versions of your resume now will make applying for jobs and internships significantly easier down the road.

If you’re having a hard time describing the work you performed, or your resume is feeling a little less than dynamic, we suggest some better verbs. The Muse compiled a list of 185 action words that you can use to make your resume more accurate—and compelling.

2) No summer plans yet? Applying for jobs and internships

Now that you’ve crafted a few versions of your resume, make good use of them. Spend a day researching opportunities and practicing the art of the cover letter—you’ll thank yourself during midterms when you already have an internship or job lined up.

Not sure how to write a knockout cover letter? Lucky for you, we’ve already created a comprehensive guide.

3) Get a toehold in the local startup scene

How well do you know the startup scene in your city or town? If the answer is “What startup scene?”, consider this week an opportunity to meet the local movers and shakers.

This is a worthwhile investment for a few reasons: getting involved means you’ll a stronger sense of what startup work is like, and what skills you’ll need to succeed; you’ll have the opportunity to meet professional mentors and other entrepreneurially-minded peers; and a wider network will mean an easier time finding internships and jobs later on.

Just a few Seattle-area Meetups. There’s something for everyone!
Attend a Meetup

Meetup is one of the easiest ways to find active startup groups in your city—and it’s free! Check out the Career & Business page for local communities, find one that appeals to you, and attend the next event. From the Entrepreneurial Women of Reno to the Inbound Marketers of Des Moines, we’re confident you’ll find a group that feels right up your alley. Don’t be intimidated if you don’t feel like you have anything to offer—it’s ok to learn, too.

Conduct some information interviews

Some of us at VFA didn’t realize informational interviews were “a thing” until well after college. Don’t make the same mistake! As we’ve noted before, people generally love to talk about their work experiences. If someone does work that interests you, reach out to them over LinkedIn, or guess their email address. Be polite and specific—the Muse has some great tips for crafting a good email. And if someone is willing to chat with you, come prepared with information about the company and specific questions to ask. No one wants to feel like their time has been wasted.

4) Learn a skill

You’d be surprised by what you can learn with a few days of uninterrupted focus. Here are just a few ideas:

Gain confidence in public speaking, networking, and interviewing
  • Attend a Meetup or other networking event by yourself and introduce yourself to five people by the end of the night. It will get easier with time!
  • Ask a friend, family member, or career center counselor for help with a practice interview. Here’s a useful roundup of interview questions for all kinds of positions.
  • Check out this 10 hour public speaking course from the University of Washington’s Department of Communication—you can access the video lectures for free!
Build a website, even if you’ve never touched HTML before
  • With services like Squarespace, WordPress, and Wix, there are ample ways to build a website without prior programming knowledge. A week is plenty of time to familiarize yourself with the basis of simple website design and build something—a portfolio of your work, a website for your aunt’s small business, etc. etc.
  • If you want to go deeper, Codeacedemy’s programming lessons are free and excellent.
Learn the basics of graphic design
  • The internet is full of graphic design tutorials. Here’s a roundup of resources to help you learn basic design principles, how to choose the right typeface, color theory, and more.
  • As we noted in another post, the best way to gain experience is to work on projects! If you know someone who runs a small business and could use a little help, volunteer to work on designing a logo, business cards, letterhead, and anything else they need.

5) Ideate for a side project

By now, you know we’re strong believers in the side project, and spring break is a great time to ideate. Our CEO Andrew Yang recently wrote about the value of solving a problem you’re familiar with. We bet there are a few things about campus life that annoy you or your friends. How might you go about improving things?

Over at UCLA, GymFlow tapped into the gym’s IT data to help students beat crowds. At Georgetown, two students founded MISFIT Juicery to make juice out of ugly produce that would normally go to waste. At UPenn, two students turned their baking hobby into NOMsense Bakery, a profitable side hustle. If you need more inspiration, check out more on-campus startups, or the VFA Fellows side-hustling in the 2017 Innovation Fund.

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