Here we go again. It seems that the most common question people ask high school students is “What are you going to do with your life?” This question evokes strong emotions. The pressure of finding a job and securing a career can bear a heavy load for a student; however, I’ve found that the stress in discovering a career path can be reduced when you start to establish long-term goals.

1: I’m self-aware and career-aware.

The School-to-Work (S2W) program at Waukee High School, combined with my internship experience here at Kuder, have made me look forward to my future. I’ve quickly learned what it takes to be a contributing member of the enormous world of work. By gaining a general idea of my skills and interests, a whole new expanse of possibilities has been revealed.

According to Mindi Heitland, the School-to-Work coordinator at Waukee High School, S2W  programs “allow students the opportunity to get real-world experience in a career field.” For me, the ability to involve myself in a real job setting has been more valuable than I ever imagined. I’ve learned a lot about myself, including how I work and interact with others. I feel that it truly helps students like me discover the best career or college choice. I’ve made big strides in fine-tuning my career choice based on the knowledge I’ve gained while supporting Kuder’s marketing, sales, and client engagement teams.

One of the S2W program’s outcomes/indicators is whether a student decides on a college major. For many students, their choice in a college major or field of study is solidified through the S2W experience. I was considering a major in business, and through the S2W program I’ve become certain it’s the career path I’d like to pursue. While completing projects for Kuder’s marketing and training departments, I’ve rediscovered my love for Spanish and I’ve seen how I can utilize my language skills in the future, especially in connection with a business degree. My internship has allowed me to see various aspects of what it takes to run and be a part of a successful business, which has solidified my choice as well.

2. I know professionalism takes practice.

Practice, practice, practice. I didn’t think it was possible to hear that word so many times throughout the course of a school term. But, thankfully, I did practice nearly everything possible to help prepare for my internship at Kuder. Whether it was practicing interviews, a proper handshake, or planning my apparel for each day, I felt more than prepared with the skills I gained and the information to allow me to succeed. Before I started my S2W internship at Kuder, my career class covered things like interview etiquette (through mock interviews), resume development, and workplace best practices (how to interact with my co-workers and manager in a job setting). A sense of security in my resume writing and interview practice helped me secure the job. Right away when I started at Kuder, I was able to communicate with my coworkers and felt confident to approach them because of the practice from class.

Emma, another S2W student, said she believes her experience as a teaching intern will make her more marketable later on because of the loads of hours she’s spent in the classroom and practicum. She told me that she’s “gained knowledge and maturity” to put her “in a far better place [to lead] my own classroom someday.” Without the S2W program, it would’ve been much more difficult for students like me and Emma to establish where to advance toward our futures.

3. I’m always being graded – even at work.

Before starting my internship at Kuder, I hadn’t really thought much about how I was going to be graded for my work. After all, I’m at a paying job, doing real tasks. How could a grade value possibly be assigned to that? I soon discovered that a variety of elements factor into my overall grade. My managers evaluate my performance every term, so it really comes down to how well I perform here in the workplace. Am I punctual? Do I complete my work as assigned and on time? Am I contributing in ways that support Kuder’s vision and mission? Just as grades measure my ability to meet learning requirements, a performance review is a way to measure my ability to meet job requirements.

Part of the benefit in interning at a business like Kuder is that you get the tools you need to be successful. For example, their new employee training program helped me learn about the company, its history, and its products and services. I also got the chance to job shadow with some team members, and I was trained on some of the software and other tools that are required to complete my daily job tasks.

4. I’ve got (transferable) skills and I know how to use them.

The Waukee S2W program is centered on an individualized plan that matches each student to an appropriate local internship position based on their skills, interests, and work values. Next, the program preps students to meet the requirements of that position. The Kuder Career Planning System® opens students’ eyes to their value and how they can contribute to an operating business. Finally, the program provides real-world experience for students – and it puts their knowledge and skills to the test.

Before I began my internship I had absolutely no idea how to use graphic design software; however, less than a month in, had secured a strong understanding of how to use a few different applications and how to apply them to the projects I was assigned (which included a holiday card, presentations, event signage, etc.). Now, I have transferable communication and computer skills that I can offer my next employer.

One S2W student who is interning at an orthopedic surgery practice told me she values her internship because “the medical experience I’m receiving is extremely rare … this experience will set me apart.” Not only does the S2W program prepare students before starting the internship, but it provides a look into the type of connections, relationships, and overall experience of a real-world job that can later be applied to future jobs.

I recently spoke with former Waukee S2W and Kuder intern Sarah Fields, who told me she was thankful to have been a part of the program. Sarah said she felt it was beneficial to her because it provided an “opportunity to be a part of a real business team. Students not only learn from their internships, but they get immersed in their company and get to do hands-on tasks that make a difference.”

I’m future-ready.

My S2W internship experience has given me a better understanding of myself and the direction I’d like to take after school. I’m ready to tackle whatever the future throws at me when it comes to my career journey following college. Now I hope that someone asks that dreaded question about the future …  because I can answer with confidence, “I know what I’m going to do with my life.”