Many college students are about to breathe a sigh of relief as the semester comes to an end. But just because classes are over for the time being, doesn’t mean the work is over.

While the natural inclination for college students on winter break might be to sleep late, catch up with friends and forget about the stress of school, experts say now is the time to start applying for internships or even jobs for the following spring.

Considering how competitive the job market is for recent grads, career coach Kathy Caprino says establishing contact at companies early is key to getting a job after graduation. “You cannot wait in this type of competitive environment. The sooner the better. It’s stressful for kids to think about this while on break and they don’t want to launch into finding an internship or job.”

Career experts offer the following tips to college students on how to make the most of their winter break:

No. 1: Think about what you want to do. It’s hard to know where to start a job hunt without identifying career goals and interests.

“If you type in ‘scuba diving careers’ you will get a plethora of links related to those careers,” Career Connector’s Allison Cheston says. “Find out what you like to do and find a career linked to that.”

No. 2: Reach out to alumni from your school. Many schools work hard to create a strong alumni network, so it’s in students’ best interest to take advantage and reach out to former students in the fields they are interested in, says Cheston.

“These are informational interviews, and should be warm calls, not cold calls,” she says.

No. 3: Look into job postings and your career center in school. Caprino recommends students “tap into all resources” when considering internships and careers.

“Talk to your professors, schools, parents friends and tell them ‘this is what I am interested in exploring, who can I find useful to talk to?’” she says.

No. 4: Find companies that interest you. Students should take the time during their break to research companies they might want to work for and establish contacts, suggests Caprino. Learn more about the industry and reach out about potential internships or career opportunities, she adds.

“Think about companies that would be exciting and enlivening to work for.”

No.5: Set up your LinkedIn profile. Cheston says a well-developed and thorough online profile should include a professional, decent contacts and a detailed career/education history.

“This is the No.1 source for networking contacts,” she says. “Students typically don’t have a strong network in place when they start to look for jobs. The earlier they can put one in place, the more successful they will be long-term.”

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