To provide guidance for Black or African American students embarking on their early career journey, we’ve gathered three invaluable tips from professionals in leadership coaching and curriculum development. From embracing experiential learning and mentorship to focusing on networking, these insights will help navigate the path to internships, first jobs after graduation, and other early career opportunities.
Embrace Experiential Learning and Mentorship
The difference between students who participate in internships or other experiential learning opportunities and those who do not often have a career awaiting after graduation. In the program, there is a strong focus on bringing in highly successful practitioners and scholars across the field of criminal justice to share their experiences and the dos and don’ts of the profession. These opportunities are the perfect place to practice soft skills and learn how to network.
For students interested in internships and professional development, it is advised to meet with faculty within their major, join organizations within their specific discipline, and volunteer within their communities. Students should also be very mindful of their social media presence and to be sure to create a LinkedIn page and use an email address devoid of any slang or improper text. The last piece of advice is to find a mentor.
Kideste Yusef, Department Chair, Associate Professor of Criminal Justice, Director of the Center for Law and Social Justice, Bethune-Cookman University
Articulate Clear Career Goals
As a career coach, I guide African-American grads and early professionals, helping them navigate through a maze of career options. Many struggle to articulate with precision what they’d like to do in their next job.
For example, they might desire a role in finance but lack awareness of specific titles like financial analyst, purchasing agent, revenue cycle analyst, or a preferred industry, such as technology, banking, or healthcare. This struggle is common among Black, first-gen graduates. Vague career goals diminish job prospects — precision matters in today’s job market.
Before tackling resumes and interviews, we begin by honing in on a clear niche and unique values for desired roles. This clarity empowers them to understand potential paths and craft compelling narratives to impress hiring managers during interviews. Success requires a distinct vision. I equip young African-American talent to excel amid competition by crystallizing career ambitions and strengths.
Dr. Sophia Carter, Principal Leadership and Career Coach, Kewanee Coaching
Focus on Networking
The primary advice for students is to focus on networking. Initially, networking may seem daunting, but once it’s understood as a process of connecting with people, building relationships, and mutual assistance, it becomes enjoyable and thrilling.
If not already on LinkedIn, creating an account and starting to connect with people is a good start. Searching for alumni from your school or individuals at companies of interest and initiating a connection is beneficial. After connecting, sending a message requesting an informational interview or coffee chat, which can last 15-30 minutes depending on availability, is a good next step. Preparing questions for the informational interview by researching online and taking notes during the conversation is recommended.
At the end of the chat, asking if they can introduce you to others in their network is a good idea. Following up with a thank you note after the conversation is also important. Networking is essentially about learning from others’ experiences.
Eugenie Ishimwe, Scholar Curriculum and Experience Development, Boulevard