Whether you’re interning, studying for the GRE, or working a job back home, it’s crucial to stay competitive and on top of your game during the summer months. While it’s important to have fun and enjoy the time off of school (for some of us!), summer is a time when many slack off, and where you can gain a competitive advantage over your peers.

Regardless of your work or school situation over the summer, here are 3 ways to stay competitive and relevant, and come out on top when classes start back in the fall.

***1.***Utilize your network to its fullest extent.

Looking for a grad school recommendation, or a connection to score some facetime at your dream company? Turn to your network for some help.

“Weak ties” are categorized as people that you are acquaintances with, meaning that you know them, but not very well. According to a study developed by sociologist Mark Granovetter, 56% of those surveyed got a job through a personal connection, and of those connections, an overwhelming majority were weak ties that the subjects saw and spoke to occasionally or rarely.

Scour your network to find people that can help you! Look through your personal and mutual LinkedIn connections and search for people in your desired city or field to reach out to regarding opportunities.

Utilize the alumni association at your alma mater; a fellow alum of your university is almost always likely to want to help out a recent grad.

Reach out to family members- there’s a good chance there is someone in your extended family, or someone that a family member knows, that can provide some career insight or a recommendation. You won’t know until you ask.

2. Set up “discovery” calls with people in your current situation or desired field.

Don’t wait around for a company or grad school to contact you- be proactive!

Once you utilize your network, start reaching out to your connections and setting up discovery calls.

Discovery calls are not interviews- they are simply phone calls or in-person meetings to learn more about a graduate school, company, or job opening.

The best way to set up a discovery call? Reach out to your contact and show your interest in learning more about their organization or school, without outright asking for the position.

For example: “Hi Ms. Barnes. I’m very interested in attending Florida State University, and I would love to learn more about the Applied Economics graduate program. Do you have a few minutes to speak over the phone regarding the program?”

Not only can discovery calls give you good information, they can also give you an advantage over your peers. Even if the company isn’t currently hiring, or the graduate school isn’t currently accepting applications, making a connection with someone on the inside and leaving a good impression will give you an edge. Next time there’s an opening, they’ll look to you first.

3. Hone your skill set and get experience in your field.

Picture this: you’re applying to a digital media graduate program this summer, but you don’t have a lot of experience and don’t know how to make your resume stand out. What do you do?

Start by beefing up your skill set and getting practical experience, even if it’s unpaid. Even if you are working or interning, summer is a great time to continue the learning process and make yourself more attractive to potential job or university opportunities.

In the digital media example above, the prospective student can take serious action to get ahead. Work on tangible skills like InDesign, and take a class at your local university or educational institute like General Assembly to learn from the professionals. Reach out to friends and family and ask if they need any digital media work; the freelance experience, even if it’s unpaid, will give you a chance to practice and hone your craft.

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