A college degree can set you on the path to better employment prospects. However, a degree alone is often not enough to land you that first non-retail, non-food service job. Employers will look for other experience beyond your degree to distinguish successful job applicants from unsuccessful ones. To stand out as a job seeker after college, you’ll need to start building your resume (or CV) while you’re in school — after all, most of the real jobs you apply to after graduation will require one. There are many ways to transform yourself into an outstanding job candidate while in school, although it might involve a little extra effort and a little less free time.
The most directly applicable way to boost your resume for your career is to land an internship at the field of study you see yourself in after graduation. You’ll have experience and references from within your industry and you may even get hired permanently by the company for which you intern. Even if your internship doesn’t result in employment with that company, it still gives you the chance to see what that job is like and to get an idea of how it’s performed within a professional setting. You may even find your internships change your mind about your career goals, either focusing them or redirecting them towards something that works better for you.
Work-study positions both on and off campus don’t have to just be another way to make ends meet. Depending on the school, you could have several options open to you as far as where you may work and still meet the requirements of your financial aid package. Many schools offer research or assistant teaching positions to those in the work-study program. These types of jobs can be an excellent way for those students interested in graduate school or a career in academia to get their foot in the door, and make invaluable contacts with faculty and staff at their college and beyond. If the work-study opportunities offered to you by your school aren’t quite as vibrant and require more office-based work than you’d like, you can still take advantage of the experience by being cordial to those around you. You never know when such contacts will come in handy.
There are many places you can work off-campus that provide great work experience, too. Anything that gives you responsibilities or skills that are applicable to your career goals makes for a good college job. Even retail or food service can impress a prospective employer: students who rise to management at their establishments while in school are clearly motivated and capable of supervising others, and anyone who has managed to make it as a bartender or food server probably has people skills and an incredible ability to multitask and perform under stress.
If you want to further distinguish yourself, an on-campus leadership position is a great way to shine. Throw yourself into one or two of the organizations you consider joining as a freshman and position yourself to be an officer later. If none of the existing clubs at your school suit your fancy, start your own. Greek life can also provide a great deal of leadership experience, too, as members of fraternities and sororities constantly engage in self-governance and philanthropic activities. Participating in on-campus leadership activities is also a great way to begin networking and making contacts that can help you land a job, or at least some fantastic references, once you’re out of school.
Volunteering, especially if you get really involved in the organizations to which you give your time, can also add some sparkle (and meaning and depth) to your college resume. For most students, college is the last time in their lives they won’t have to work, so choosing to take their precious free time and give it to a charity shows compassion and commitment, two things that are likely to be valued by a variety of employers. Especially if you plan to work in the non-profit sector later, volunteering can be invaluable. It allows you to gain familiarity with the causes you support, and also gain experience and references that can serve you well later. Your volunteer position, like your internships, can even lead to full-time employment later.
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