how college students can prepare now to job search later

With recent college graduates pouring into a tight job market, it’s an unnerving time to be looking for a first job.

Students still in school should be thinking about building their resumes now, so that when they graduate and need a job, they aren’t starting from nothing. I receive all too many resumes from recent grads who have literally no work experience — nothing, not internships, not temp jobs, nothing at all. And since they’re competing against candidates who do have experience, they’re at an enormous disadvantage.

The most useful thing students can do to prepare for the job market is to work. Work before you actually have to work. It’s the single best thing you can do to make yourself marketable.

No amount of fancy resume writing will disguise a lack of work experience. Your great extracurriculars and relevant coursework and summer abroad, while surely engrossing to you, do not give hiring managers any confidence that you know how to work in an office. Because here’s the thing: There’s a learning curve when you enter the work world. It doesn’t matter how much you studied or how fantastic your thesis was. You don’t yet know how the work world works; you only get this from doing it. And so anyone who has spent time working has a leg up on you in that regard.

So find a way to get actual work experience before you leave school. Do internships every semester you can, so that you have experience on your resume. Paid, unpaid, whatever it takes. If a part-time job of a few hours a week is all you have time for outside of your classes, that’s fine. Do that. No one will hire you? Volunteer and use that as your work experience; it counts.

Do something to provide evidence that you’ve spent time in a work environment, because that means that you’re going to be further along the learning curve than your peers who haven’t. And that means that I’ll get to spend less time explaining office basics to you and you’ll spend more time being productive.

{ 9 comments… read them below }

  1. class-factotum*

    We watched “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” the other night and were stuck that all the kids had jobs. My co-workers’ high-school kids didn’t have after-school jobs or summer jobs. Fast-food restaurants in the suburbs were begging for labor.

    In addition to other factors (my VP telling me she had spent the weekend cleaning the house, even though she had a stay at home husband and two teen daughters), this lack of work experience made me think, “Yeah, you’ll be a great addition to the work force in a few years.”

  2. Anonymous*

    What really worries me is that colleges are recommending students get a Master’s in lieu of a job and health insurance becuase of job shortages. Great, what the world needs now is a bunch of 22 year old kids getting advanced degrees and expecting to start at the top to postpone growing up.

    I cannot agree more; I am only 26, but am shocked at the number of people my age who don’t have real work experience, buy a Master’s, and then expect to be making what I do and starting at a higher level. They are some of the hardest people to get along with and can produce some really shoddy work product. The idea that “we’re too busy to do anything but study in college” really sets kids up for failure later in life–it’s all about multitasking, and you can’t quit your “big kid job” just becuase you’re having a bad day or feel overwhelmed and keep going back to school.

    I know this isnt’ true of all young people today, but I worry that this may become the norm.

  3. class-factotum*

    Anon — no kidding! I started babysitting when I was 11, had my first W-4 job at 14, and worked part-time during school and full-time in the summers until I graduated from college.

    I didn’t do it for resume purposes, though. I did it because my parents did not fund my entertainment in high school and had almost no money to send me to college.

  4. Anonymous*

    I’d just like to point out that, contrary to popular belief, none of the young people you know were born irresponsible, shallow, spoiled, and expecting to be children forever. Someone had to raise them believing it was OK to be that way.

  5. Anonymous*

    to the last Anonymous – do you have any children? Personally, I think it’s their default setting, and as a parent, I have a LOT of work to do to convince them otherwise.

  6. Anonymous*

    Anon@3:27 here. Ok, fair point. I’d like to amend my post:

    Someone had to raise them believing it was okay to STAY that way.

  7. Job Search*

    There are some great points in these comments. I believe a masters degree can help but it is not everything. Colleges should make real work experience part of the curriculum.


  8. Give Blood donation*

    Looking for a part time jobs? or got unpaid internships? why don't you tey a blood donation. I think this is a very big help for college students who needs an extra money and make up to $50/hour for blood donation. As we all know, Blood bank shortages kill tons of people all the time and it is time to spread the word about blood donation and give blood, you will never know when YOU might need blood. This is really beg help even it is just a part time or just once in while, the bottom line of this is to saved lives.

    If you are thinking to be a blood donor and looking for specific blood banks and directory you can check it here at

  9. Karl L Hughes*

    I'm a student in engineering – a field that normally has a very high rate of employment even for recent graduates – and I have several friends who are graduating and not getting job offers. A lot have decided to go to grad school, and some are taking jobs outside of their field because they need to have some income. Even with internship experience, it can be tough.

    I think it's more important than ever to have unique skills or experiences. I acted in a play one semester at school, and applied for an internship the following semester. Every employer asked me about it, and was impressed by it. I got several offers that semester, and will probably keep it on my resume until I get out into a full-time job post-graduation.

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