Getting Relevant Work Experience While You’re Still in School

There is one critical qualification that is missing from most university graduates resumes: relevant work experience. Now it may seem obvious that you wouldn’t have any experience because you have spent the last several years studying and earning a degree so that you can qualify for an entry-level position. But employers don’t always think that way, and naturally, they will always give preference to someone who has even limited experience over someone with no experience at all.

How do you get relevant work experience while you’re still in school?

Paid internships

Paid internships are the perfect solution to the relevant work experience requirement. Not only are you getting hands-on experience, but you are also being paid to do it. That in itself raises the value of the experience from an employers standpoint in that someone was willing to pay you for the work that you did. It’s a validator of sorts.

Relevant Work Experience
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Ideally, a paid internship will take place during one or more semesters of your senior year, or during your summer break. This will happen at a time when your school training is at its peak, and you are just about to enter the workforce on a full-time basis. Often, this type of internship even leads to a job offer upon graduation.

The downside of paid internships is that they are not easy to get. Few employers are willing to pay novices for what are the equivalent of temporary training arrangements. But since the payoff for paid internships is so great, you should always make your best effort to line one up.

Unpaid internships

If you can’t get a paid internship, then an unpaid one is the next best thing. Few companies may be willing to pay you for an internship, but many more may be willing to take you on in an unpaid situation. In effect, you’ll be exchanging your services for training, and at this point in your life that will be a trade well worth making.

Often, just having such an internship on your resume can be a door opener. It doesn’t matter so much that you weren’t paid, you will still have been exposed to a work environment that is consistent with the job you are hoping to land. Employers tend to respect that even if the experience is not substantial. They’re choosing to hire from a large pool of candidates, and the internship may be just the amount of experience that moves your candidacy to the top of the list.

Related: What is Interning and Why Should I Do It?

Taking some time off to work in your field

Generally speaking, you should finish your education as soon as possible, and then begin working. But if you’re at a point in your studies where you are burning out, it could be worth your time to take a semester or two off to spend some time working in your field. Hands-on experience has a way of making your education real, and it could be just what you need to re-energize yourself to finish your degree.

This work experience, when combined with your education, can create a winning employee profile to would-be employer. You’ll be coming out of school not only with the degree, but also with some real-world work experience in your field of choice. This can give you one of the most tangible advantages possible, particularly in a crowded job market.

A part-time job in a related field

If it’s not possible to get a job related to your field without hands-on experience, you might try to go for a part-time job in a related field. Think of it as an end run around the experience conundrum.

If you are working while you are in school, try to get a part-time job that is as closely related to your chosen career as possible. For example, if your major is in information technology, try for a part-time job on a help desk, or even working in a retail store that sells computers and related equipment. If your major is in the health field, try for a job working in a hospital in some capacity.

Any exposure to the field can help you to lean and speak the “industry language”, that collection of terms and jargon that qualifies you as an “insider”. Just having work experience that is even loosely related to your chosen career can be a door opener when it comes time to look for your first job after graduation. Take advantage of the time you have now to bring it all together.

If you have a job while you’re at school, is it related to your major?

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10 years ago

I worked full-time as a retail manager and while it does not related to my field now, I do think it was helpful.

10 years ago

A job (paid or unpaid) is the best way to demonstrate to an employer that you have the qualities to be a good employee.

10 years ago

I started out doing all kinds of work. I think that you pick up a lot of skills just having a job/business. Interacting with people, providing services/product, collecting money. That’s the basics of any business. A person just leaving college with no job experience is sometimes easy to spot, they are way to nervous, they don’t know how to follow orders, they aren’t quite sure how to talk to a customer.

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