College students heading home for the holidays look forward to unwinding and catching up with family and friends—some will also use their extended winter break to improve their chances of landing a job after graduation.

“Students will be entering a competitive job market when they graduate,” says Leigh Yanocha, head of people strategy at Knopman Marks, a firm that helps students and professionals prepare for securities licensing exams and a career on Wall Street. “Finding a way to use your time off to show initiative and stand out is a winning strategy.”

As COVID-19 cases surge, schools have increasingly opted to send students home for the holidays and suspend in-person classes until the new year. This list includes the University of Pennsylvania, University of Arizona, University of California in Los Angeles and Berkeley, Syracuse University in New York, and the University of Michigan.

Yanocha recommends that students use their winter break to gain a new skill or a certification in the field they’d like to pursue. For students interested in a job in finance, she recommends studying for the Securities Industry Essentials (SIE) Exam, a first step to a career in the securities industry and an accomplishment that’s attainable in less than a month.

3 Productive Things You Can Do Over Winter Break

For those ages 20 to 24, the pandemic has increased the unemployment rate, which now exceeds 11%, the highest rate in decades. “It may feel daunting, but college students can do a lot to increase their chances of finding a job in the COVID-19 economy,” Yanocha says. She encourages students to use their time off to develop the three C’s—their contacts, CV, and credentials.

  1. Nurture Your Contacts

While you’re still in college, reach out to professors and fellow students in your desired field, and step up your LinkedIn game. You never know who may be aware of a perfect job opening for you down the road.

  • Send great professors a thank-you note, and ask them for advice, a reference letter, or their ideas for internships and job opportunities.
  • Tap classmates in your intended field for ideas and leads. Ask friends who have already landed internships for their take on the application process.
  • Connect on LinkedIn with professors, friends, and acquaintances, while you also build up your LinkedIn profile, and reach out to professionals in your field. Those in your chosen industry know it’s a difficult job environment, and many may be open to virtual coffees or informational interviews.
  1. Polish Your CV

If you have limited work experience to list on your CV, or resume, consider adding relevant coursework, skills, and extracurricular activities, such as volunteer work or clubs. “I like to see students who get involved,” says Yanocha, who heads recruiting for new hires and interns at Knopman Marks. “It tells me a lot about them.”

  • Include unusual skills, experience, and interests to stand out. Connect your experience in clubs, within internships, or on campus with the skills required by the internship or job you’re seeking.
  • Take time to revise your resume. This is the first impression you will make on a potential employer, so ask for feedback from guidance counselors or professors.
  • Offer your skills to others who can benefit. Support a local business or nonprofit, tutor kids who are remote learning, or apply for a project on Catchafire to gain valuable experience and build your CV.
  1. Gain a New Credential

Short-term, online credentials tied to specific careers are on the rise during the pandemic. Gaining a credential in your field can give you a competitive edge, according to Yanocha. If you’re interested in a career in finance or the securities industry, taking the Securities Industry Essentials Exam, or SIE Exam, is an achievable first step. It’s also a great credential for those who are interested in a career in finance but might not be finance (or similar) majors. The only requirement is that you’re at least 18 years old.

  • Short study timeline. Students with a background in finance can study for the SIE in about 25 to 30 hours. Candidates without a finance background will average 50 to 70 hours of study time.
  • Train with the best. Knopman Marks’ SIE students had an average pass rate of 97%the highest pass rate in the industry.
  • Bonuses offered to some new hires with the SIE credential. Merrill Lynch is part of a growing number of firms that offer a $2,500 bonus to new hires who have passed the SIE.

A More Inclusive Securities Industry

The reason FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority) introduced the SIE Exam in 2018 was to help the industry become more inclusive. One of the goals of the exam was to make it easier for more people to explore careers in the securities industry. Knopman Marks is furthering that effort and recently teamed up with the Student in Finance Program, by the Security Traders Association (STA), to promote the SIE to college students. Knopman Marks has offered 50 scholarships for SIE training to members of the STA’s Student in Finance Program.

“We’re dedicated to making it easier for college students to enter the securities industry,” says Marcia Larson, head of partnerships at Knopman Marks. “We know employers love to see candidates coming into the industry with the SIE credential. The SIE is a great way for students to distinguish themselves from their peers and demonstrate not only their initiative but their aptitude to pass the exam.”

Curious about the types of questions on the SIE? Download a practice exam—and don’t worry if you miss questions. It’s not an easy exam, but you have plenty of time during winter break to prep and take the SIE so you can get a foot in the door of this competitive field.

If you’re considering Knopman Marks for your SIE Exam prep, sign up for our SIE course and check out this video to get started with your first SIE lesson.

Find more tips on job-hunting during COVID-19 here.

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Written by Suzanne Riss
Suzanne Riss is an author and a Digital Marketing Strategist consultant at Knopman Marks Financial Training. Previously the award-winning Editor-in-Chief of Working Mother magazine, she is a fierce advocate for issues facing working moms and an authority on work/life trends. Her expertise has been tapped in interviews by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Good Morning America, the Today Show, and CNN. Suzanne's third book, Work Disrupted, published by Wiley, will be released in 2021.