It’s nearing that time of year again. Thousands of ag students will cross a huge milestone as they throw their caps in the air, diploma clutched in the opposite arm. And when the celebratory festivities die down, many will be asking the same question — where do I go from here? Perhaps you’ll be among this crowd or are pondering this scenario long in advance. And now as we start crossing off the calendar days left until graduation, the reality of this situation can be both exhilarating and terrifying.
Fear not, soon-to-be ag graduate. You’ve chosen an industry at the foundation of civilized society with a slew of career routes at your disposal. The great job hunt doesn’t need to be an obstacle. In fact, this little venture has a lot to teach you about the working world in and of itself.
Start with your established network
Even as a soon-to-be fully graduated college student, you’ve already accumulated a larger array of contacts and connections from the past four years than you may think. A great thing about ag industries is that they’re small, so there’s lots of intertwined connections. A past boss or professor make not only a great reference but may also provide leads and open certain doors. Ask your friends, fellow students, and club members where they’ve interned and worked. You never know where you’ll find a new idea and someone to put in a good word for you.
Make the cold calls
I did a lot of this for internships and in full-time career hunting. I continue to do it now as a freelancer and it gets easier every time! With the wonders of email and LinkedIn, you can introduce yourself and extend a hand to anyone anywhere in a non-invasive professional way. If you’re feeling particularly brave, a good old-fashioned phone call is a great way to really stand out. Don’t forget to drop a quick “thank you” anytime someone takes the time to speak to you or give you an interview. This small act is worth major bonus points in the professional world.
Don’t rule out internships
You might feel returning to the realm of internships is a little beneath you with a diploma in hand. Instead, you should look at them as a valuable opportunity to jumpstart your spot on any future applicant lists for your favorite companies. This also buys you some time to still “try on” different careers or companies with no permanent commitments while still making some good money. Watch for these gems!
Make the most of the down time
While looking for your first job, or even in-between jobs, there are still little opportunities to grow your resume. For example, if you’re sticking close to home for the time being, work on increasing your managerial roles on the farm. Find opportunities to do freelance or contract work within your career field. Get more involved in your local or state Farm Bureau, find ways to volunteer or establish leadership in areas that interest you. Even if it seems like no big deal to you, taking these kinds of personal initiatives says a lot on a resume.
Say you have a few job-offers in hand, or instead are still torn about where you even want to steer your career. Either way, you’re in a great position to weigh out pros and cons and seriously consider your real-world goals. Remember, no decisions you make right out of school is the “be all end all” for your professional and personal life. Sit down with yourself and jot down the strengths and weakness of what’s currently available to you. (Think a good ol’ fashioned SWOT analysis.)
Remember, selling yourself to an employer is only half the deal. You also want them to sell themselves to you. Are they willing to compensate you for what you’re worth? Do they share your common values and visions? Are they supportive of the things you’re pursuing personally and professionally?
One issue some of you may be facing is the decision to return to the home farm or find another place in the wider agricultural world. A struggle unique to ag students, this predicament has no easy answer. This situation is at times a balancing act between your dreams and what works best in reality.
No one can tell you what choice to make, but others can give advice on how to think. The family farm is also a business and employer, it too has its strengths and weaknesses. What will you bring to this environment and what will it provide you with? As with any other job, you shouldn’t feel the pressure that your immediate choice will dictate the rest of your life. Seriously consider your options, soul-search a bit and of course talk to your family about how they can help support your goals and vice versa.
If it’s possible, a first professional job off the farm (or a part-time job on the side) is very valuable. This will not only help you grow professionally, but personally as well. Plus, you’ll return home with a whole new set of tools in your bag of tricks.
And there you have it, a bit of a roadmap to help guide the next steps of your ag journey! From someone exactly in your place not too long ago: Take the advice you’re given with a solid dose of your own judgement; patiently wade through some trials and errors to find what works for you.
Jaclyn Krymowski is a graduate of The Ohio State University with a major in animal industries and minor in agriculture communications. She is an enthusiastic agvocate, professional freelance writer, and blogs at the-herdbook.com.