Columbia University’s Inaugural Executive Director of Industry Relations and Career Strategies believes “Career Readiness” is the Door to Positive Career Outcomes

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Hassan Akmal knows how to build a résumé. Over the course of his nearly 20-year career, he’s been a professional athlete, an international ambassador, a researcher, a financial advisor, a banker, and a professor—to name just a few of the many hats he’s worn. He even started his own nonprofit to help refugees.

This combined experience, however, makes him more than a standout candidate when it comes to the job hunt. It makes him uniquely qualified to understand the various types of careers that students are seeking, which is sure to be an asset to his new role of designing a state-of-the-art career center at an Ivy League institution.

Shortly after making the move from Chicago to New York this past May, Akmal founded the Career Design Lab and then sat down with us to distill his broad background into a short list of must-knows for college students looking to kick-start their careers. Here are his top tips:

1.    You should first ask yourself, “Why am I pursuing this new path?” One of the biggest concerns students have when switching or trying to start their careers is fear of the unknown. As the BoyScouts say, “Be Prepared!” It’s important that you fully understand what the new career path truly
entails before sending résumés in every direction.

2.    Many students look for jobs with résumés that are not career- and/or major-specific for long
periods of time and have little luck. Thus, they give up or get discouraged, then begin looking for
alternatives. Connect early on with alumni and employers via LinkedIn, take advantage of on-campus  programming that combines career exposure and networking, and participate in off-campus employer site visits.

3.    Job shadowing, also known as an externship, is underrated. Externships are similar to
internships, but for a much shorter duration. These opportunities range from one day to several weeks and offer participants “a career glimpse” into what it’s actually like working in a particular career field. They also provide professional contacts for future networking.

4.    You are always more marketable to employers when you are working and have strong
references. By leaving a position prematurely, not only do you jeopardize your organization with a
lack of a succession plan, but you may also burn bridges. Additionally, you may create gaps in your
employment. Create impact, package it, and know how to valuate and showcase it.

5.    You must discover and uncover “career readiness,” the hidden skill set that helps students
develop employment-seeking competencies that better prepare them for the competitive job search.
This skill set of career readiness, combined with a quality degree program, will better position
you for a meaningful career outcome.

6.    Students want jobs that are meaningful but often don’t have a clue where to begin. Focus on
finding a career, not simply a job. There is a larger framework that must be understood. Consult
the three steps of the career development process: 1) Self-assessments, “Who am I?”; 2) career exploration, “Where am I going?”; and 3) action plan, “How do I get there?”

7.    Success means something different to every individual. Ask yourself the question “Who is
managing your career?” If the answer is that you are, then the next question is “How?” Do you have a next step in mind, and if not, why not?

8.    Students don’t have to start at the bottom if they switch career paths. Leverage and focus on
your transferable skills. Many professional skills are transferable and will entice employers
because they can be leveraged in many ways.

9.    It’s important to understand how social media can impact your career aspirations. Consider
how it relates to your career profile and brand—how it provides opportunities and challenges for
you as you strive to create a personal brand that is both authentic and professional.

Want more career insights? Visit the Career Design Lab in Times Square or schedule an appointment with a career coach via the HUB. Connect with Hassan Akmal on LinkedIn.

Hassan Akmal is the Inaugural Executive Director of Industry Relations and Career Strategies, Lecturer, Career Mastermind, and Cofounder of the Career Design Lab at Columbia University.

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