Given the state of the economy, it’s understandable that we hear a lot about the difficulties new college graduates are facing as they enter the work force. What we don’t hear a lot about is the job-seeker who is still a full time college student. The college years are, however, one of the most important stages of a young person’s working life. In addition to enabling a student to embody self-reliance by taking on as many of their own expenses as possible (or saving for the future), this is a time to build a foundation of work experience that can make the full transition from student to professional a much easier one when the time comes. In this article I’ll share some tips on how a self-reliant young adult can make the most of their time as a working student.
1) Take advantage of seasonal work.
While it can be hard to convince the average employer that hiring a worker for a couple months, or even a handful of weeks, is worth it, seasonal employment can allow a student home for a break a chance to keep earning money and building their resume. Most department stores hire holiday help around the time of winter break in the form of extra cashiers who are only expected to stay on until sometime in January. Also, during the summer, restaurants in tourist areas almost always see an increase in business and will hire on seasonal wait staff, hosts/hostesses, and dishwashers to keep things running smoothly. If you’re keeping your eye out and letting your friends and family know you’re looking there are even more seasonal opportunities to be found.
2) Consider an internship (and consider it early).
Internships are a great way to try out a field you want to enter into after college, and they’re almost always designed specifically for students. There are plenty of websites out there that compile lists of available internships (and tell you which ones are paid), but it’s also worth a shot to look at the websites of specific companies you might want to work for someday to see if you can find out about their internship programs straight from the source. If you do decide you want to pursue an internship, you need to act fast. The time to start looking for your summer internship is actually this fall, since some programs have extremely early deadlines.
3) Take stepping-stone jobs.
There are some lines of work that, while they might not be what you want to do with your life, are good to have experience in. Being a waiter or waitress, for instance, is something you can do anywhere, and it’s a great way to make money when you’ve just moved to a new city, while searching for a more permanent job, or even while you’re still in school. The problem can be that most waiter/waitress jobs require prior experience, making you wonder how anyone ever gets their first shot at it. The answer is usually to begin as a dishwasher or host/hostess and work your way up to a wait staff position. These entry level opportunities are low-paying and don’t often include tips, but what better time to take this on than when you’re home for the summer with your parents usually providing your basic needs and a rent-free place to live? Similarly, now could be the time to try out freelance writing or another job that wouldn’t make you enough money to live on, but builds good experience. Think of these, and other analogous positions in various fields, as investments in your working future.
4) Keep track of your accomplishments.
It might seem like your seasonal job as a sales associate at a department store has nothing to do with your eventual post-grad interview for a marketing position, but think again. While you work as a student, take note of specific challenges you overcome or ways you contribute to your workplace. Were you accomplished at developing a pitch that got customers interested in what you were selling? Remembering that and bringing it up at a later interview could impress potential post-grad employers who, like all employers, want to hear specific ways in which you’ve been beneficial to places where you’ve worked in the past.
5) Hard work is sometimes good enough.
While it would be nice to graduate from college with a neat progression of jobs and internships that align with exactly the skill set your post-grad career will require, it’s also important to show a consistent history of hard work. If your resume says that you’ve been employed and balancing commitments successfully for the past four years, then you’re showing that you’re responsible, motivated, and hard working—all qualities that employers look for. Even if you don’t think the jobs you’ve taken are impressive a resume from a young person without gaps in employment history can be impressive in and of itself.
Caitlin Sahm has held jobs as a groom for a mounted police unit, flag-waver for a construction company, video store clerk, secretary, retail sales associate, and door-to-door canvasser for an environmental protection group, to name a few. She currently lives in upstate New York where she works as a freelance writer.