by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.
No soon-to-graduate college student should have an excuse for a weak resume. Employers hiring recent college grads are demanding that college grads have work experience, and luckily for you, a plethora of ways are available to gain experience while in college. While work experience in your chosen career field is the ideal scenario, the key is gaining experience and skills that you can then apply to the workplace after you graduate.
Here’s our list of the 15 best tips for finding and gaining valuable work (and other) experience while in college.
- Start in the office of your college or university’s career services office. Ideally you’ve been visiting this office from day one on campus, but if not, now is the time to meet with a counselor and develop a plan of action for gaining experience. The career services office often has job and internship leads, as well as key networking contacts. Learn more by reading It’s Never Too Early — or Too Late — to Visit Your College Career Office.
- Use your professors to help uncover professional experiences, additional contacts. Many professors are active in their local and professional communities, which means they will often know of leads on internships, co-ops, and other valuable experiences. Your professors also typically have connections in your career field.
- Tap into your network of contacts. Every student has many people in his/her network — circle of friends and family. People who know you always have a vested interest in helping you succeed, so ask these folks for their advice — and for leads on prospective work experiences. Learn more in our article, our Networking Timetable For College Students.
- Partake in one or more internships. Every college student should strive for one or more internships — the earlier in college the better. An internship not only provides you with valuable work experience in your career field, it provides you with key information that could help you decide to stay or switch career paths. An internship also provides you additional network contacts, assuming you make the effort to cultivate them.
- Maximize work-study experiences. For many college students on financial assistance, a work-study job is part of their aid package. No matter what job you do, the experience can be added to your resume. Smart students, though, take it one step further, by working in a department related to their career choice and/or working their way up to managing other work-study students.
- Find a job on campus. Some students do not qualify for work-study, but that should not stop them from trying to find a job on campus. Departments often have extra money in their budgets to hire students into part-time positions. Again, the experience can be invaluable.
- Get a part-time job. Another option for gaining work experience while in college is working a part-time job in the community. Many students find retail or food/hospitality jobs, but don’t limit yourself to just these employers. For example, one pre-law student worked as a part-time receptionist at a local law firm. Learn more in our article, How to Find a Summer or Part-Time Job.
- Obtain summer work. While summer might seem a great time to travel and relax from the stress of college, it’s also the most common time for college students to gain valuable work experience. While work experience in your chosen career field is the strongest in terms of your resume, it’s the working that matters — so experience as camp counselors, amusement park attendants, wait staff, and the like is also valuable. Learn more in our article, How to Find a Summer or Part-Time Job.
- Volunteer. Many college students have lots of experience with volunteering, as many college-bound high-schoolers rack up hours of community service. If you have the financial ability while in college, volunteering offers many benefits, from gaining valuable experience to making a difference to gaining new network contacts. Find local non-profits in need on your own, or visit your campus career center for ideas. Find ideas and more in this section of Quintessential Careers: Volunteering and Nonprofit Career Resources.
- Join student organizations. Every college and university has a multitude of student organizations. Your goal should be find one or more that interest you. You can often gain experience performing organizational projects. Even better, student organizations are a great place to test and hone your managing and leading skills — so, don’t just join an organization, but strive to be part of its management team.
- Start your own business. Campuses across the county are filled with student entrepreneurs, from greeting cards to catering to delivery services to landscaping. Starting and running a successful business offers many experiences, from brainstorming ideas (and making at least one a reality) to honing key business skills.
- Freelance. If you have a gift and/or have mastered a skill, you can supplement your income and gain valuable experience by freelancing your services to organizations that need them. Freelancing can also provide you with some great work examples to add to your portfolio, while also enhancing your network of contacts. Newbies can write essays to gain the momentum, hence this is something every student already knows how to do.
- Consider temping. If you don’t have a lot of experience working in business settings, a good option of gaining both work and organizational culture experience is through working with a temporary employment agency — which places qualified individuals with organizations that have a short-term need. Temping also offers a great opportunity to explore career options and build your network of contacts. Learn more in our article, Temping Offers a Way to Build Your Resume — and Much More.
- Capitalize on class projects. College students often downplay class projects as unimportant to prospective employers, but large, term-length assignments that involve completing a major project or report can provide you with numerous benefits, from working with clients to managing and leading to showcasing writing or other skills. An added bonus is the completed project can be included in your career portfolio.
- Blog. If you have the writing abilities and the inclination, establishing a blog that showcases your budding expertise and insights into your future career can be a great tool for your job-search, building your career network, and adding to your resume.
Final Thoughts on Gaining Experience in College
Experience is experience is experience. Rather than worrying which type of experience to obtain, just do it. The more, the better. The more variety, the better. The best scenario is work experience in your chosen career field, but for those not sure what that field is, or for others that do not have time — or financial ability to work — for internships, remember that all the experiences mentioned in this article offer skills that are transferable — as well as opportunities to expand your network of contacts.
Finally, if you are close to graduating college, read our article, Your Senior Year in College: 15 Activities that are Pivotal to Your Job-Search Success.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Dr. Randall S. Hansen is founder of the website formerly know as Quintessential Careers, one of the oldest and most comprehensive career development sites on the Web, as well CEO of EmpoweringSites.com. He is also founder of MyCollegeSuccessStory.com and EnhanceMyVocabulary.com. He is publisher of Quintessential Careers Press, including the Quintessential Careers electronic newsletter, QuintZine. Dr. Hansen is also a published author, with several books, chapters in books, and hundreds of articles. He’s often quoted in the media and conducts empowering workshops around the country. Finally, Dr. Hansen is also an educator, having taught at the college level for more than 15 years.