As your college assignments start to build up, they can easily get you feeling so swamped that you stop thinking about what comes next. There are many reasons to go to college, but the main one is, of course, to build a better career. Job prospects can often be the furthest thing from your mind if you’re buried under a mountain of essays to write and exams to prepare for, but it should always be at the back of your mind. The key is to think about what you want from your future and maximize your potential to find work as soon as you graduate.

In a highly competitive recruitment market, the way that you spend your time in education is often as important as your final grades. Employers are looking less at where you went to school, and more at what you did while you were there, and if you want better job prospects, then these smart tips can be life-changing.

1. Societies and Groups

Every campus has an abundance of extra-curricular groups and societies that you can become part of. While it’s important that you consider your future when you sign up for these societies, you should also remember that you are allowed to have fun too. Consider joining the student newspaper society or the chess club, depending on your own personal hobbies and interests. You can even develop your resume even more by following this option, by taking on a leadership role within those societies.

For journalism students, becoming the editor in chief of the campus newspaper will look great on your resume. It’s also worth looking at transferable skills as well, because a commitment to groups with a psychology or business angle can also help your resume to stand out from the crowd. If you’re looking for societies, view here for an example of one of the best Honor Society options. Remember that your resume is going to be your statement to employers that you have the required focus, commitment, and passion for the roles that you’re applying for.

2. Get a job

This might sound like odd advice for those looking for ways to improve their chances of finding a job. The fact is that if you can find part-time work while you’re studying, your resume is going to show positive signs of improvement. But that’s not all. If you take a part-time job while at college, the chances are that it is your first real-world experience of a working environment. The experience that you will gain will be invaluable, and future employers will want to discuss how you balanced your work and study commitments.

Showing that you have the responsibility to hold down employment while remaining committed to your education is a great talking point in job interviews, and if you can find a role that complements your career goals, then all the better. Even if your part-time job bears no relation to your ambitions, the fact that you are able to balance, prioritize, and schedule your tricky work/study commitments will go a long way to helping you stand out from the crowd, especially if you’re one of the only applicants who has experienced the world outside of the education bubble.

3. The importance of research

Chances are high that you have some idea of the necessary requirements needed to land a job in your field. After all, that’s why you went to college in the first place, right? The problem is that there are likely to be people in your classes with the same plan as you.

If you want to improve your job prospects, then you’re going to need to spend some time on research. One of the most beneficial ways of doing this is by contacting those people who have graduated already and are in employment in your field. This is simply good networking, and that’s a key skill in today’s employment climate.

Talk to your professors and get them to initiate contact for you. Then it’s simply a matter of finding out what those graduates did that helped them secure their position. They can advise you on what they wish they’d done in their first, second, and third year, and you may come out of college even more prepared than they were. Always consider the potential for transferable skills as well, especially when it comes to signing up for your minor classes.

4. Start a business

One of the reasons why so many fresh graduates struggle to find employment is down to a lack of working experience. Finding part-time work while studying is often challenging (but highly recommended), so if job opportunities are thin on the ground around your campus, then it might be worth starting your own business.

In the age of e-commerce, anyone with an internet connection can set up their own online store and start selling. Running a business in your downtime will look very impressive on your resume, whether it’s a success or not. Showing an entrepreneurial attitude and a willingness to tackle the lack of opportunity by lateral thinking and a proactive attitude can work absolute wonders when it comes to interview time. Decide on a business idea, and you might even have more money to spend on making your student life easier. Going the extra mile could be the deciding factor that differentiates you from the other job applicants.

5. Use your breaks wisely

While it may be tempting to release all the stress of the semester by drinking Jagerbombs with your buddies and spending spring break on the beach, you could be doing a lot more than that. One of the best ways to spend your school breaks is to travel. Although your destination will be dependant on your financial situation, travel benefits you in a large number of ways. The further that you can get outside of your comfort zone, the better. Travel broadens the mind, and you will return back to your classes refreshed and revitalized, with an entirely new set of real-world experiences that those beachgoers can only dream about. Consider interrailing through Europe, or simply take a road trip that takes you across the States. Remember, once you enter full-time work your chances for travel can be seriously reduced, so take advantage of your breaks now while you have the opportunity.

6. Use career services

Careers services are available on every campus, and they are not just for your final year either. Far too many people only start to consider spending time with career service guidance professionals as they are cramming for their final exams. This is a waste of resources. You may not be mentally preparing for your future after college, but you can still start the groundwork now. That’s the key to making the most of your college experience. Always have an eye to your future, and one of the best places to lay those foundations is in the careers service office. There, you will be able to get help with devising a long-term plan, and you might even be able to make use of important contacts too.

It’s also worth noting that some careers services offer employability schemes that can give your resume a boost or even have you working for a company that is beneficial for your future. Always book an appointment with your career guidance counselor in the first year, and you will be benefiting from your forethought even before you throw your graduation cap in the air

7. Become a regular at your Professor’s door

Your professors are there to help you, but they do have time commitments too. Those commitments will only get busier as the semester continues, so take the time in the first semester to get to know the important professors on your timetable. All professors have open office hours where you can go and discuss your work and get advice. Remember that those teaching you are experts in their field, and if you can develop a mentor relationship with them, then the benefits could be felt even after you’ve graduated. Not only are your professors knowledgeable about their field, they most likely have good contacts too, and that could make all the difference when it comes writing up your cover letter to accompany your resume. Having the right professor give you support could be the deciding factor when it comes to securing your first interview after graduation.

8. Fill out resume gaps

It may be frustrating, but the fact is that your resume is going to be the key to you finding relevant employment after graduation. The right resume might even get you the job before you interview. While joining societies, volunteering at your local animal shelter, or undertaking part-time work are all great ways to help your resume stand out, always look at the skills gaps too. If you have spoken to recent graduates working in your field, or listened carefully to your careers guidance counselor, then you should have some idea of what those gaps might be. If you haven’t yet learned a skill that may end up being an important part of your career, then consider taking online courses or extra classes to fill in your knowledge gaps. Workshops are also a good way to get an overview of some subject areas, so always start looking at the on-site campus options. Remember, your resume is a boiled down representation of who you are, and the more relevant your resume, the more likely that you will make it to an interview.

In an increasingly difficult job market, standing out from the crowd is the only way to get ahead. Make sure that you’re prepared to tackle the world long after graduation, and your chances of establishing the career that you’ve always dreamed of will be vastly improved.