my interviewer said I lacked “real world work experience” — what does that mean?

A reader writes:

I’m a recent grad. All my work experience so far has been on-campus jobs such as tutoring or being an assistant in my department’s office.

Recently I was thrown off by a comment an interviewer made. I was being interviewed by the executive director and the marketing manager together. The marketing manager is who the open position directly reports to. The interview was going well, but the director began talking about how he was enjoying the conversation, but that he also didn’t feel I had a lot of real world work experience, and he essentially asked me to convince him of my worth/value.

In the moment, I was thrown off by his comment. I asked him to clarify what he meant by “real world work experience,” and he explained that he sees my “school experience” (which included the jobs I held on campus during my time as a student) but he wasn’t sure how it would transfer to the position they were hiring for. He then spoke about how the marketing manager has had experience in her industry and so forth, and he was wondering what I was bringing to the table.

Do folks not see jobs held on campus as “real world” work experience? Or what do they mean when they say that?

I understood he was having difficulty seeing how transferable (or relevant?) my skills were and although I was very glad I was able to clear up some concerns he had, the phrasing of “real world work experience” still strikes me. On the one hand, I can understand where he’s coming from. On the other hand, I felt like it invalidated any prior work experience I did have.

The rest of the interview went well and I was later offered the job, which I accepted, but I’ve been doing some reflecting on what “real world” work experience is and how employers gauge the value of potential employees. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Yeah, your interviewer was using “real world experience” to mean “not on campus.”

It’s not that jobs on campus aren’t part of the real world. Obviously you still exist in the real world when you’re in school. But campus jobs — and jobs designed for students generally — are often seen as cutting students more slack than they’d get normally. There’s something to that! In student jobs, you’re often able to call in at the last minute because you need to study for an exam or are able to take off the exact days you want to take off because of your school schedule. More importantly, you’re also often (although not always) held to a different standard of performance because you’re a student and so it’s assumed you’re still learning and figuring things out. Sometimes in student jobs, it’s much harder to get fired too; they figure you’re still learning, the stakes aren’t very high, and you’ll be gone at the end of the semester anyway.

That’s not the case in every student job. But it’s true of enough of them that some people will look at that experience and figure it might have been less rigorous than non-student work.

To be clear, there’s lots of value in that work anyway! It’s not like student jobs just don’t count. They count for a lot. But if I’m comparing a candidate whose work experience is all on-campus jobs as a student and a candidate who has, say, two years of post-college work experience, if all else is equal I’m going to assume the second candidate will probably need less guidance and less acclimation to the work world. That doesn’t mean the second candidate is stronger than the first; it’s one data point out of a whole bunch of things to consider.

Your interviewer’s language was sloppy, but that’s likely what he meant.

{ 258 comments… read them below }

  1. Heidi*

    Hi from academia. I also think that this “real-word” distinction also refers to working with the general public and not just members of the school environment. Working in a campus library generally means that you’re only encountering other students or professors, which can be very different from working with whoever comes into a restaurant or store.

      1. Esmeralda*

        Plenty of obnoxious, difficult, weird, and threatening students and faculty — speaking from my experience with on campus jobs in the cafeteria and at the library front desk.

        1. Observer*

          That’s true. But whether people are nice and reasonable is not the only differentiator.

          Academia is often a world unto itself, which you can see when you look at the kinds of work advice academics give vs people who work outside of academia.

          It’s all the things that Alison mentions, with some additions. Academic freedom is something that’s a bit hard for non-academics to wrap their heads around. On the other hand, there are many schools that have speech codes which are not all that common in private companies. Those are not the only items, but just the first two that I could think of that I can easily and succinctly point to.

          1. Not A Girl Boss*

            Right. Its really not that one is better or worse, its that they are fundamentally different, and I do feel its reasonable to expect an adjustment period when transitioning between the two.
            And obviously its a spectrum, where some academic jobs are quite close to the ‘real world’ and some are… their own little bizzaro universe. On the other hand, some ‘real world’ jobs have a lot of the same freedom and benefits that academia might enjoy, and some… are basically soul-owning dictatorships.

          2. tamarack and fireweed*

            As someone who has worked for private industry (both in Europe and the US) and universities (both as staff and faculty) I am not at all fond of the “real world” framing that people in private industry too often adopt. The real world does in fact contain universities, and people working there – and in schools, various levels of government, the medical field, the law… And all these workplaces can have major quirks and constraints that are difficult to absorb for the newcomer – and also their own ways of being dysfunctional.

            So we should be looking at what exactly someone means when pointing to a university environment and holds up the “not real life” card. Someone who works in facilities management or HR for a university probably has the vast majority of their skillset map directly to the private sector; someone in librarianship, compliance or finance probably has a more strongly academic flavor for their skillset and may need a longer transition and training phase; a researcher in a technical field who joins a tech or engineering company may be doing the exact same types of work, but need a major reframing to understand the profit-driven context of their new job.

            Here, I’m not sure how much of it is really about the university environment as opposed to the LW having had only jobs made for students – as Alison says. Especially if it’s in the field of marketing – of course, if one or two of the student jobs were directly in the department that puts together university marketing materials, this would have been directly relevant! But maybe it wasn’t about low levels of experience the field, but about having experienced the hardships of private-sector employment. Would the interviewer have said the same if the LW’s experience had been as a barista? Not sure!

            They did ask about what the LW “brought to the table”, which sounds to me like a question designed to be a bit provocative and pushy, probably to figure out how well the candidate can “sell” themselves…

            1. Æthelflæd*

              I have a similar background as you: worked/lived abroad in Europe/US in both private industry and academia. I have never come across anyone who saw my professional work in academia as “not the real world” – but, I have had potential jobs view my work during my time as a student as “not in the real world”, and I think that’s valid.

              Being a student is not living in the real world for the vast majority of students. They live primarily within the confines of the school community, and in many ways the school community is designed to be like training wheels for teenagers who are being adults.

          3. Esmeralda*

            Sure, but those are not especially pertinent to a student working in the cafeteria or in many student jobs on campus, with respect to expectations of the job. *College* is different from non-academic settings, but student jobs are not all that different from the kinds of jobs the students could get if they went off campus.

            1. Observer*

              That’s not entirely true. Things like scheduling really do work differently when you are a student worker within the university than elsewhere, and the rest of the academy simply doesn’t provide any counterbalance.

              Also, the OP does mention the kinds of work they did and it seems to be more solidly in the academic side.

            2. Æthelflædt*

              Also, in some cases the school isn’t even funding the job. Federal work study funds were available when I was in school (graduated in ’07 – go economic collapse!) to varying degrees for most students at my school. I was not on any kind of need-based aide and didn’t even complete FAFSA, and I still had $1,500 a year available in federal work study funds.

              The professor who ran the journalism department would put all of the work study students under his name so we’d be paid for our work on the student newspaper. We never did any work for him though, and when our individual amount of money ran out, we just continued as before but didn’t get paid. His reasoning was that it wasn’t the school’s money, so it didn’t really matter.

              I had two friends who worked at the athletic center. Their job (together) was to check people in and out, even though checking in/out was swiping your own entry card. They just sat there and did homework. The athletic department, you see, had too many work study students and so they had tons of them doing pointless work.

              This isn’t to say that there were no campus jobs where people actually worked – they totally did. But, it was probably 50/50 on my campus.

      2. Oaktree*

        Having worked in both academic libraries (as a library assistant) and in special libraries (as a research librarian), the differences are minute and have more to do with the nature of the work assigned than the type of institution. I was as professional while working as a circ clerk at Law School Library as I was as a research librarian at Giant Corporate Firm. The differences were less in the type of patron I served than in the fact that I used an ILS to check out books more at one position than at the other.

        I remember the other library assistants, all of whom were graduate or undergraduate students, were as professional as I was. We all took the job seriously, because it was work-study and we needed it to live. I was the only one in library school, but we were all full-time students who intended to list this position on our respective resumes. I resent the implication (in general) that student jobs are somehow less real.

        1. Æthelflædt*

          Its less than they aren’t “real” but more that they exist in a different universe with different expectations.

      1. Observer*

        No, because there is not that much difference in that respect between larger corporation and other types of organizations.

        1. Lynn*

          I think there is a pretty well-understood difference between academic and corporate jobs, but all of them are “real”.

      2. PollyQ*

        Non-profits and small businesses probably would’ve counted as “real world” to the interviewer as well.

    1. Tess*

      But members of the general public typically can enter an academic library, especially if it is a full or partial depository (of government records), and usually have limited borrowing privileges, as well as access to the libraries’ online collection while in the building.

      If community members need assistance, or check out a book, or ask a question, student workers can encounter them, and it can get rough (“I’m a taxpayer and therefore I am entitled to [moon, stars, etc.]!!”).

      I’d say that the interviewer should have inquired more about, or at least thought more, among the campus jobs that the interviewee held to gauge the extent to which the interviewee had contact with the public. Many parents hover no matter the department in which a student works, and, even if not in the capacity of the problem-solving a staff member might undertake, the student still might have to manage initial dynamics, and there is something to be said for that.

      Nevertheless, I do understand that you mean in general, Heidi.

      1. Yorick*

        Members of the general public CAN enter an academic library, but it’s probably not likely that they DO.

        I worked at the campus library in college and from what I can tell it might be pretty different from a public library, and in other respects that student job was certainly very different from a “regular” job.

        1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

          It is probably unlikely that members of the public they KNOW they can use the academic library.

          Especially if they’re not from a very specific socio-economic background.

        2. Another Librarian*

          Depends on the library. I’m an academic librarian and 2 of the 3 universities I’ve worked at had open collections of great interest in the general public that were visited frequently and came with all the regular issues of “true” public service desks.

        3. Oaktree*

          In my experience, they do. Sometimes it’s not to use the library’s official services (it’s a heated building with washrooms), but they do enter the library. The institution I used to work at issued research/reader cards to members of the public who were not students or faculty.

      2. Kelly*

        I also work in an academic library and up until campus shut down last year due to the pandemic, the general public could access most campus libraries without paying anything extra. It’s a policy with good intentions, because my employer is a public university. The reality is that it’s a policy that creates a lot of problems for public services staff, both students and permanent. The vast majority of the times that we have to call either campus police or security officers are because of community patrons. Some are okay, people who come in to look at books or do research, but they are the minority. I’ve had active shooter training and de-escalation training because of documented interactions with disruptive community patrons.

        We’re in an urban area with a homeless/transient population. I’ve come into work in the morning and found needles in the bathrooms, food and drink containers in garbage containers, among other items left behind by that population that sneaks in to spend the night before the security guards lock the building. On paper, the building doesn’t allow food or drink, but it’s ignored by students and staff. What’s there is beyond the bottles and disposable coffee cups left behind by them.

        During the past year, the security guards have been very vigilant about making sure that the only people in the building are either students or staff, and they will give us a heads up if there are suspicious people in the building. I’ve had to ask people to leave the building because they refuse to wear a mask and/or show a campus ID. Most I can handle, but the last couple incidents have made me nervous. One person was banging on the entrance, asking to be let in. He wasn’t wearing a mask and refused my request to see a campus ID card and his phone app showing a recent negative covid test, which is required for entry into any campus building. All that led me to think he had no campus affiliation. He was very insistent on when we would be reopening to everyone, which is months away still. I was able to get him to leave without having to call security.

        Probably the situation that was the most disturbing for our student workers was when they were accused of being witches and putting hexes on a community user. The guy is a known transient individual who isn’t as harmless as he seems. Our student workers were all young women and they followed what very basic reporting and security training they received, which wasn’t much. My male colleague, who was their nominal supervisor, dismissed their concerns, saying that the guy was a harmless weirdo. I was covering for one of the evening supervisors one night and he came in. They had bought his behavior to my attention before and I tried to get my colleague to do something. I observed him and noticed that he was violating campus computer access policy by logging into a computer when he wasn’t a campus user. He was also watching YouTube videos without headphones, prompting complaints from people trying to study. I asked him to leave for those reasons and filed an incident report. Turns out he was a problem at other libraries, which got him banned. His ban might have happened sooner if my male colleague had not dismissed his female student workers concerns.

    2. LCH*

      agree about the rigor. i oversaw some undergraduate students in a university library and actually did try to hold them to regular work standards (although with scheduling exceptions) since the job actually produced something and was looked at a little askance by other staff. a lot of student positions seem to be staffing a front desk with a lot of down time.

    3. Yet another librarian*

      I agree with Alison that it is more of a “you haven’t had to deal with professional bureaucracy” than whether or not academic jobs are in the “real world.” And agree with Heidi about the level of involvement with customers/the public that most library student workers have in their roles (minimal). I have worked in several different academic libraries from private to public with undergraduate and graduate student workers. I consider them an intermediary type of working position – a step up from childhood jobs like pet sitting, babysitting for neighbors, and mowing lawns – but definitely not nearly professional or even on par with the service industry or customer service part-time jobs. I also can only speak to my experience in academic libraries on campuses, not other units, but…

      We always have backup students and cannot rely on our services being done by only one individual, unlike all of the professional roles in the library. Even if the public is allowed in, or there are problematic university patrons, the students are generally told to get a professional staff person to deal with it as soon as they recognize the person will be a bit of a problem. Hence why, in my opinion, library student jobs are not equivalent to working a customer service position in retail or food service. In addition, students generally do not have a set sick-leave policy or vacation times they have to adhere to in their job roles. They ask for time off and they generally get it. There is a lot of hand-holding and leniency in their work performance – even with graduate students – due to the fact that their first priority is their coursework.

      I’m not saying any of this is bad and that students don’t learn some skills from these jobs. However, independent work; bureaucratic rules around work time, leave, etc.; learning rules and procedures on your own; time management; and learning to deal with criticism about job performance are typically not skills learned in student positions in libraries, from what I have seen. If the student had to deal with the above in their positions, then I believe that is worth explaining to interviewers who doubt the interviewee’s understanding of “real world” work environments and expectations.

  2. BangBoom*

    This is why I’m glad for my decision not to go to grad school right after college. A big reason was I had no idea what I wanted to get my grad degree in (still figuring that out) but also because I was urged to get some non-school related work experience on the books. I was picked for my current job over a student worker in the office and part of that was because I had a year of “real world” work under my belt.

    1. Dave*

      I also did a gap year and some work before grad school and it was extremely helpful to have more relevant work history for understanding some of the business concepts being discussed. I remember on class where a professor would talk about real life applications and someone kept talking about that wasn’t their experience. Their reference was working for student council. They literally never worked anywhere but on campus including summer positions and went straight to grad school.
      Work study jobs can be work or fluff and if they were work it is why the accomplishments go on the resume and not tasks.

      1. New Mom*

        In my grad program there were only two students in my cohort who had never worked before getting their masters and they really struggled. In my opinion, the university should have made that part of the requirement because so many of the lectures and assignments focused on past work experience that one of the professors had to craft an assignment specifically for them. I remember even struggling in some of the classes because I had only taught and not worked on the administrative side, and some of the discussions just went over my head.

        1. Miss Muffet*

          I agree it should be a requirement – especially for things like MBAs. Just cracks me up with someone who went straight through and got their MBA now knows “everything” about management but they’ve never actually worked in an office getting managed. As we see so much on this blog, theory doesn’t equal reality, a lot. Talk about missing “real world” experience!

        2. Megan*

          My MBA program was similar in this respect. Most of the students in my cohort had been working in business jobs for at last a few years, some for quite some time, and were going back to get MBA’s to advance their degrees. The college hired a small number of grad assistants to help coach sports teams on campus and those positions were more designed for recent grads, so our small group of GA coaches were like the only people in our cohorts without any corporate work experience. I think a few of the GA’s had worked real jobs before, but my work experience was basically just seasonal sports/recreation jobs and gig work in marketing which were not really the same as real business world jobs and did make it harder in discussions asking to draw on past work experience when mine didn’t really fit what they were expecting. I went to the school mostly for the coaching experience though and then got my MBA paid for through the GA position though, so my situation was a bit different in terms of why I was in the program.

          1. Megan*

            *meant to say “advance their careers” not “advance their degrees” although both were technically true.

    2. Selina Luna*

      My grad program requires 3 years of experience in the field (education) before you can even be admitted, which is standard in my realm. But I’ve been in K-12 education for so long that I’m not sure if I could get a corporate job at all. What I do as a teacher is, I think, probably very different than the average 9-to-5 worker.

      1. 1234*

        That sounds crazy to me because in NYC, teachers are required to have a master’s degree. So my friends who wanted to be teachers had to go straight to grad school from college without teaching experience.

        1. Elephant*

          Well there is a Master’s in Teaching, which is different from other M.Ed degrees. Likely people who go straight from undergrad to grad school for the purpose of becoming teachers get a Master’s in teaching. That’s not to discredit that degree; it can be quite rigorous! But it is often a path to a teaching certification, rather than, say, a curriculum and instruction M.Ed, for which you usually need a few years of teaching experience to get.

          1. Sweet Christmas*

            I wouldn’t say it’s likely; I think people tend to go to the program that’s close, affordable to them and helps them achieve their goals. Most of the people I know who got a teaching master’s right after college actually went to get M.Eds; I only know a few who got MATs. (I know quite a few teachers, including several in NYC – I used to volunteer in NYC schools.)

        2. Sweet Christmas*

          You don’t have to have a master’s degree to initially become a teacher in NYC. You have to earn a master’s degree to maintain licensure as a teacher in NYC. After you get your initial certificate (which you can get with a bachelor’s at a program that leads to teacher certification), you have 5 years to get your master’s degree.

          However, a lot of NYC education students choose to get a master’s right after their bachelor’s because they’re more competitive that way, and they don’t have to return to school after teaching for a few years and/or try to do it part-time.

  3. BadWolf*

    I would not consider campus jobs “real world experience.” Not in a disparaging way and still good experience. I think having a campus job is (usually) great. Get some paid hours in, probably not requiring special transportation. Built in expectations on adjusting hours for finals/vacation. Perhaps if you were working as an RA, I’d put that in a different category.

    But comparing working in the school cafeteria and working in a fast food restaurant? Not the same gauntlet! (At least not my school. I mean, we had to uphold sanity guidelines, etc, but fellow students weren’t generally as…challenging as customers).

    I miss working in the English department and getting tidbits of academic drama. And battling and winning over the copy machine.

    1. Justme, The OG*

      Wow, my experience working in a dining hall is not the same as yours. Students were always the most annoying, rude, and obnoxious customers. Nothing in retail or food service has compared.

      1. Lacey*

        I had kind of a mixed experience. It was a small school, so you weren’t going to get the same kind of attitude you get from customers who just consider you a faceless drone.

        But, on the other hand, people also considered it more like “home” than they would a restaurant. So, I would sometimes be cleaning up after people who’d made sculptures out of food, flatware, and glasses. Once they stuck it to the windows. Or I’d have to chastise people for things like drawing all over the table top (why?!).

      2. Dust Bunny*

        Mixed: There were definitely some entitled a-holes who would stick plates together with syrup or dump glasses on the floor, but it’s the dining hall, not a restaurant, so the expectations are different.

        I loved my campus job and, in my case, I was in a small town where jobs off campus were impossible to get because locals needed them, so real-world experience or not I needed work. But it wasn’t like working in general-public food service.

      3. Mel*

        As a freshman girl, I haaated working the hot food line on mashed potato night. Senior Boys would make the worst dirty jokes/innuendo about gravy boats. (It was bad) and the older ladies that ran the joint just thought they were so sweet, paying extra attention to all of us.
        We fought over working the dish room. (That was by far the filthiest job I have ever had, but it was so satisfying. To see the product of all of our work at the end of a shift.)

    2. SeanT*

      Also if it truely is an “on campus job” more often then not the hours are going to be limited as to what the maximum you can work. From both a realistic “you are a student, we know this since you are our student” aspect, but also from a “spread it around” idea, so as many students can get on campus jobs as they can.

      Since there is a lot of difference working in the on campus bookstore, for example, and working for a privately owned bookstore down town, or working for the cafeteria compared to working at a chain elsewhere.

      1. Not A Girl Boss*

        Yes, to me this is a big distinction. When I was in college I worked all kinds of jobs. My work study jobs were far easier. I was able to work in 2-3 hour increments, and usually studied during work hours (when the work was something like sitting at a desk checking people into the gym). I also had the freedom to sign up, or not sign up, for whatever hours I wanted. That really isn’t how the ‘real world’ works, and it can be an adjustment for some.

        I also worked as an intern for a few different companies, and although they were ‘real world’ it was still a very forgiving learning environment, where “I need the day off to study” and “I slept through my alarm” were understood.

        Comparing that to my ‘real world’ jobs, they were much less forgiving and required longer hours and more ‘intense’ work ethic.
        The worst was at a convenience store, which was mostly selling drunk jerk college kids beer and snacks on Friday and Saturday night. I had to work the shifts I was assigned (or find coverage, which, I never could), studying was impossible, and I worked many more hours per week in longer chunks.
        Then I worked in a manufacturing environment on an overnight shift. Again, way more responsibility, way higher expectations that I have my own life ‘figured out’ and that I prioritize my job over my school. Basically, the biggest difference to me is that that they expected you to work without a lot of oversight, and put work first.

        1. Malarkey01*

          I supervised work study people for a time, and as a general rule because the jobs were directly tied to student aid the direction we had was short of shockingly inappropriate behavior DO NOT FIRE was the official stance and firing someone required a lot of meetings with boards and financial aid office, etc. It didn’t really prepare students for reasonable job expectations and half the time we were looking for work for them.

          1. Megan*

            This is very true for many work study positions. I was in charge of supervising work study students when I was a college sports coach and we had work study students we hired to help us in the office with administrative tasks or at practice with taking splits and writing times down, setting up cones, yelling out times etc. The previous coach was super lazy and apparently just let them do homework in the office during “work” hours and rarely made them do much. We (as new coaches at the school) actually hired them because he had work we needed help with, so I tried to make them actually do work for us (was not hard…like looking up times online for recruits etc) and they all got mad and straight up refused to do it sometimes. I was ready to fire most of them because they were lazy and had bad attitudes and failed to change after several warnings, but then was basically questioned by the head coach if I really wanted to fire work study students and he asked me to give them another chance with a final ultimatum. In any other work environment, they absolutely should have and likely would have been fired for failing to do most of the work assigned, but b/c it was tied to financial aid, firing was discouraged. I thought this was teaching them unrealistic expectations for the real world since most jobs wouldn’t tolerate their bad attitudes, so I basically gave them all a final warning, made it clear what I expected during work, why I expected it (explained how this is preparing them for real world, can help them get good recommendations, and we actually have work we need them to help with), and that they will fired if they failed to comply. Most of them improved dramatically in performance after this from bad to an acceptible to exceptionally good level of work. One of them was still not great, but basically I was discouraged from firing him like I wanted to b/c the kid came from a challenging background and had a lot working against him and head coach felt bad for him. In real job, I would have fired him. So while the students learned real work skills, work study jobs are often much lower expectations than regular jobs off campus.

            1. Rachel in NYC*

              Yeah, I think my office doesn’t ‘fire’ work studies that aren’t good (and I’m not talking can’t file because apparently the alphabet is hard- I’m talking falling asleep at their desk.)

              But they won’t be rehired. And my employer requires you rehire student workers each semester so I guess you can let students know that it isn’t working out. It eliminates the firing issue.

          2. But the point of student employment...*

            Wait, this is a thing? No wonder anyone who went to school in this environment would think student work is such a special scenario, why would somewhere operate like that?

            The scheduling thing is a half-valid point (though, I only ever had student work where you wouldn’t be scheduled during classes, “I need to study” was never an acceptable excuse to not show up and not find coverage), but I think that could also be framed as having two jobs where one is really flexible and one isn’t (the classes get to demand a schedule, and the student job is built to acknowledge that).

            I certainly remember frustration with this weird perception of student work when I was hunting for my first job. Like, I was literally doing many of the same tasks as the full-time staff, just fewer weekly hours. I guess if some institutions treat student work as a function of financial aid, not a real job but with training wheels your first term, then it makes more sense that people think this way. Here I was, my student work experience I had a colleague who tried to assume “workstudy” meant paid to study and after a few conversations to do the work that was grounds for termination.

            Maybe we need some kind of a certification system or something, so schools that can figure out how to do actual student employment can be recognized as giving something closer to “real-world” work experience. I wonder how that would work out?
            (Yeah, I know, poorly. The logistics would be a nightmare… but it’s nice to imagine such a world, right?)

            1. But the point of student employment...*

              Oh, wow… that is a spectacular formatting mess-up. I guess my bold didn’t stop where I meant it to…
              Sorry about that. I promise the intent was only for the word “never” to be in bold. It’d be handy if the comments had a baseline editor, or even something to check if you don’t stop formatting that you started before submitting. (How hard is it really to check for <strong>text<strong> instead of <strong>text</strong>?)

        2. Yemily*

          Yes, this is a big distinction between “real” jobs and work study. I also did both and I was allowed to study or do homework during downtime at my work study job (and there was a lot). But my coffee shop or serving shifts were all work all the time and if I wasn’t working, I was sent home. Most work study jobs are tied to financial aid, so the purpose isn’t *just* for you to do a job, it’s also to give you promised financial aid. The expectations are very different, especially because it was really hard to be “fired” from a work study job.

          One of my most difficult experiences with a coworker was a woman who had only worked in her campus library. She didn’t understand a lot of (IMO) obvious workplace expectations like working the whole shift, not taking all of your breaks at once, covering others’ duties, and scheduling (as in you work the schedule you agree to and the best way to change your schedule is to nicely discuss it with the supervisor, not just showing up whenever you want to). Part of this was probably her as a person, as she was reprimanded for clocking in an hour early and sitting in the breakroom or car until her shift started towards the end of her time at the company.

    3. BadWolf*

      Also, many college grads pick up a summer job, gaining a mix of job experience. My summer jobs went from factory work to office admin to intern.

    4. cat lady*

      I think it’s worth remembering that many campus jobs are, essentially, office jobs– copying, filing, scheduling, politely answering phones and taking messages, etc. It’s more relevant professional work than many “real world” jobs would provide for folks who are going into office positions.

      1. Observer*

        Not really true. Because what most employers mean is not “can you run the copier” but things like

        How do you manage your time and schedule – with a lot less focus on the job managing around your schedule

        How do you interact up and down the hierarchy – the hierarchy on academia looks very different from the rest of the world

        How do you deal with authority, discipline and decision making that’s affects you but doesn’t include your opinion

        How do you communicate decisions / manage others – See the letter from a manager who was frustrated that his use of the Socratic method was not working well with his employees, and he thought that THEY were the problem, for an extreme example.

        1. anone*

          Those are all things that happen with university or college-based jobs (though will accede that academia is a unique and WEIRD institutional environment overall). They *are* often “office jobs”, and while once upon a time there might have been a lot more slack cut to people for being in “student” jobs”, in my experience that’s an anachronistic distinction and there’s more and more expected of everyone with less slack for everything. People working on-campus jobs absolutely need to manage their own school work around relatively inflexibly work schedules (as inflexible as most “real” job environments, and sometimes even moreso because of ridiculous over-work expectations that permeate academia so thoroughly). There’s oodles of interacting with hierarchy, authority, and communication.

          I agree that this stigma is what OP ran into and what was meant by “real world” but I think people’s expectations about the difference between on-campus jobs and “real world” (entry-level) jobs are out of touch with current realities for many.

          1. lemon*

            I think it really depends on the type of campus job you’re doing. I’ve had several, and most of them didn’t involve developing any of the kinds of soft skills Observer mentions.

            I shelved books in the library– that involved zero interaction with anyone, and as soon as I was done, I could leave to go study.

            I worked on the school newspaper website– once again, a job that involved zero interaction with people.

            I tutored students in the academic success center– I didn’t have duties beyond tutoring, and when no one showed up to get tutored, I could do my own homework.

            I worked on a department website. This was a job where I thought I’d be exercising some more independent judgment and developing the soft skills Observer lists, but after putting together a project proposal, my supervisor told me that the only reason they hired someone is because it was a use-it-or-lose-it budget situation and they didn’t actually expect me to do any work.

            They were real jobs, and I took them seriously and learned a lot from (some of) them. But being told to shelve some books or proofread an essay is vastly different than being the sole point person for developing a new website feature by working with the marketing director, digital director, and the tech team of a corporation (something I did in my first “real world” job).

            There’s a difference between “I showed up to work on time and communicated with my supervisor when a class got rescheduled,” and “I developed a timeline for a large project and kept 10 people I had no official authority over focused on meeting deadlines,” in terms of managing schedules and interacting with hierarchy.

            So, it really depends on the type of campus job(s) that the student has had.

            1. anone*

              And, in contrast, my first job out of uni was literally the same job (same boss, same desk, same projects) I’d been doing for three years as a grad student, just at three times the pay. I’ve also worked with students (including undergrad students) who were developing and running projects and programming on their own. I ran a whole research lab for a year! If any of that was dismissed as “not the real world” work, it would be missing a lot. In comparison my first “real world” jobs (as a young person) were at the same level you’re describing (helping out, very light admin, putting stuff away and cleaning up), but in small businesses rather than on campus. I think people need to look past “on campus” and pay attention to the job and its associated responsibilities and accomplishments because, as you say, it really varies.

        2. Juniper*

          So in general I agree with the framing of campus vs. real world jobs, but all the things you mentioned are absolutely skills you can acquire in campus jobs. I worked with student support services at one of the largest schools in my university, and I had to deal with an intense hierarchy (professors are unlike any other group I’ve dealt with when it comes to seniority and deference), tight deadlines, intense periods around application times, strong database knowledge, and communicating effectively both written and face-to-face. In fact, it was such a valuable job in terms of “real world” experience that I bumped my first post-college job but left this one on my resume.

          I have a feeling most people consider campus jobs to be fairly rote and one-dimensional, but cat lady isn’t off base by saying that many are, in fact, campus versions of office environments.

      2. Yemily*

        I disagree. While using a copier or filing might be more practical, hands on experience, I think that “soft skills” or expectations for campus jobs are very different than office jobs. How you discuss scheduling with your boss, conflicts with coworkers, evaluating your performance, what you do during down time, etc. are far more similar in any “real world” job than a work study/campus job. The point of real world jobs is to work; in a lot of cases campus jobs are there to provide financial aid with the added bonus of the school getting some cheap labor. So student needs are prioritized in a way that’s unrealistic for many workplaces (you can study at work, always get the number of hours you expect, no one gets fired, etc).

    5. Tess*

      >academic drama

      For me, there is no other drama like academic drama. NONE. Let’s just say I perhaps should buy stock in popcorn.

      1. Hiring Mgr*

        Isn’t there some cliche around the drama is so high because the stakes are so low : ) Or something to that effect..

        1. TL -*

          It’s also the only place where you’re guaranteed to have the same coworkers for the next 30-40 years. Tenure: taking small annoyances to major blowups for centuries!

      2. Juniper*

        Even now, 15 years later and having worked in both corporate and diplomatic/military environments, the hierarchy of academia was something else.

      3. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Oh truth. I’ve seen and heard many a dramatic IT department moment, but not much compares to when I was on campus working in the labs.

    6. Mental Lentil*

      Yep. This is why I always encourage college students I know to get summer work somewhere that isn’t campus and isn’t directly related to what they are doing, such as temping in a factory. Not only do they get a taste of what the non-academic work world is like, it goes a bit further with some employers.

      1. PT*

        Temping in a factory is a great way to get “wrong work environment” slapped on your resume. It’d kill your ability to get white collar work.

        1. kt*

          I think it really depends on the type of job you’re applying for. If you’re applying to me and you’ve got the needed Python experience as well, I don’t give a c*&^ if you also worked at a factory — might be a plus in fact.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            And if you learnt Python *while* working in the factory; heck yeah tell me that story at interview!

        2. Mental Lentil*

          During college? That’s sounds like a company with culture issues.

          At least a lot of factory jobs offer decent pay and overtime. It’s a great way college students to squirrel away some extra money.

        3. saassy*

          Going to call shenanigans on that, having gone from ranch work to white collar pretty much constantly through undergrad and knowing quite a few people who did cannery, forestry, or factory work who went on to white collar jobs. A lot of them were great summer or shift work for students.

          Sometimes you take what you can get and is available in your area – a smart employer will ask about how skills you picked up in that environment might apply.

          Any company or manager that writes people off for doing those types of jobs is telling you quite a bit about their ideas of class and internal cultural homogeneity, and it’s *not* flattering. The assumption that you’re no longer going to be able to code-shift and adapt across class lines if you get ‘stuck’ in factory environments is condescending nonsense.

        4. Quinalla*

          Disagree a lot on this one, I think there are a few out there who would think this for a long tenure, but a temp job, especially a college student? Very strange attitude to have!

        5. Rec*

          One of those things that depend on the hiring manger/company. My SIL applied for a job after graduating. The feedback from the first company was that it is better to have no experience than the wrong type of experience (meaning unless it was directly or indirectly related to her field of study do not add it to your resume). My former manager on the other hand really appreciated variety of different experience and was more likely to hire someone like that. So who knows what works.

        6. CowWhisperer*

          I disagree strongly.

          In K-12 education, a year or more stint in blue-collar employment makes teachers very attractive in districts with large blue-collar populations. In states with a large population of teachers – like MI, NY and CA prior to COVID – you don’t get a suburban job until you’ve got teaching experience – so that means you are competing for first-time teacher candidates for urban or rural poplation jobs.

          I’ve been on both sides of the interview table at urban public schools. After spectacularly bad interviews from people with only white collar type jobs where it was clear the applicant would struggle with a major culture clash with their students, we started weeding out applicants who only had experiences in suburban/white collar environments.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            Definately need a more diverse teaching staff in these areas. There were absolutely NO non-white teachers at my school and I don’t think they understood half of us students at all.

        7. Keymaster of Gozer*

          I worked at a sewage treatment plant – the most pushback I ever got about that on my CV was ‘so, you know how to handle **** environments then?’

          Oh yeah, yeah I do.

          If I’m looking for candidates for interview I’m looking for specific technical skills and (ideally) some experience in my line of work (IT). At interview I’m looking for those skills AND being able to get along well with others/not be a collosal bellend.

          Someone with factory/plumbing/building et al experience on their CV would at most enlist a ‘cool, wonder why they changed careers’ moment from me that I’d keep to myself.

    7. yes education is the real world*

      Y’know, as someone currently in an English department, I think I disagree? I came back to school (after 7+ years of working pretty independently in a v. v. small comm. college context) and while I have a great department, good people here, there’s tons of politics and careful maneuvering and paperwork and general expectations to think of.

      We’re totally the “real world” here.

      It’s one thing to want more “corporate” experience, but students who work in college are still in the “real world.”

      1. Clara*

        I don’t know if student workers typically get thrown into departmental politics, though. I certainly didn’t at student jobs.

        1. MarfisaTheLibrarian*

          Ahaha when I was a campus tour guide, my boss tried to keep us out of the politics, but then she became the target of the politics, and let me tell you, do not piss of your student admissions workers in April, we almost went on strike on Admitted Students Day when we found out she was about to get fired, and she literally had to call a meeting out of working hours using her personal email (cuz she didn’t want our/her bosses to know) and go “Guys. It’s fine. Don’t do dumb stuff.”
          We were all 18-20 and had Ideas about loyalty

          1. Malarkey01*

            But I think this is a good example of how it’s not the real world. In a typical work environment the entire department isn’t going to go out on strike over loyalty to a supervisor. People might think about moving on, but a strike short of union shops isn’t a thing. It reminds me of the interns who signed a petition like that’s a thing that happens.

        2. MissCoco*

          Yes, much to our nosy chagrin, my friends and I were never given more than the slightest hint of detailed departmental politics.

      2. Juniper*

        Yeah, I generally agree with Alison’s answer and get why the interview would want “real world” experience, but there are, in fact, campus jobs that do provide this (case in point, my own front office job in a university school). I think people disagreeing with this are assuming that all campus jobs are their own special breed.

    8. anonymouse*

      uphold sanity guidelines,
      I’m not making fun, I’m thinking, I’d like some sanity guidelines for any jobs.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Last time I tried writing up sanity guidelines for the IT department my computer segfaulted :p

    9. wendelenn*

      I know you meant uphold sanitation guidelines. But I want all jobs to uphold sanity guidelines! (For employees and customers!) :)

    10. meyer lemon*

      I wasn’t aware there was really a distinction between on- and off-campus jobs. I had a few co-op jobs in university, and one of them was on-campus (although not working directly for the school). I got that job in the same way as the others, and it didn’t really occur to me that it would be seen differently from other similar jobs. I didn’t notice that it was particularly lenient, but maybe it was and I didn’t realize.

      I had worked in a number of food service/retail/housekeeping jobs before that, so maybe that gave me some “real-world” credibility. It was certainly a very different work environment, but I think that was more the difference between office work and service work.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        It really depend on the co-op. My university had an extensive co-op program, and it was basically like having a paid internship for a semester/year, often with an offer of full-time employment post-graduation. That would be considered “real world” work experience, I would think.

        I think what the interviewer was trying to express was that things like work/study tend to be more flexible and forgiving of student schedules, lack of knowledge of professional norms, etc. whereas a “real world” job isn’t going to have the same flexibility on a lot of factors.

        I’m also a big fan of anyone who’s successfully worked retail or food service. If you can deal with the general public, we are not going to be a challenge for you.

    11. kittymommy*

      Yeah, I mostly agree with this. While on one hand you’ll encounter the same rude, drama filled behavior my on-campus jobs were much more accommodating of me being a student and all that entails: last minute schedule changes, studying on downtime, needing a new work schedule every semester. I also noticed their was way more forgiveness with bad/difficult behavior at my on campus jobs than the “real world” ones. Actions that would and did get coworkers fired when I was at Walmart were brushed aside on campus jobs.

    12. I'm just here for the cats*

      Wow, My experience working in campus dining is not the same as yours. Worked dining hall and the little grill that had burgers and such. Most of the time people were good (Minnesota nice and all that) but if someone’s card didn’t work boy did they get mad. I think cleanup was way worse than similar jobs. College kids are pigs!

    13. saassy*

      Agreed! I’ve helped with this level of hiring and training, and, frankly, I’ll take a new grad who’s worked at least a bit as a server or in retail (or anything, really) with the requisite time management, emotional regulation, communication, and other skills they develop over one who’s sole jobs have been in academia.

    14. 3co*

      I think it can vary greatly depending on the department and the specifics of the job.

      I had a student job as a programmer that eventually turned into a full-time position when I graduated. We were able to give student workers actually important tasks to work on and had enough time and flexibility to mentor them and help them gain new skills.

      However, many of my friends had “desk assistant” jobs, sitting at the front desk of a dorm to let residents in who had gotten locked out, lend out the vacuum cleaner, etc. They could watch movies on their laptops, have friends hang out in the lobby with them, and study while on the clock. It was a pretty sweet gig to have as a student, but not very good preparation for the professional world.

    15. tamarack and fireweed*

      I think it depends, both on the job and on the role the former student is aiming for, and an interviewer would do well to look closely and with an open mind. Cafeteria jobs for students are getting rare with dining services getting outsourced, and in any event, this is unlikely to be an application to work in some other institutional kitchen.

      There are of course jobs that are designed to be filled by students, with a dimension of fitting their degree program; and also jobs that are intrinsically university jobs. RAs, field assistants, TAs, people handing out leaflets during move-in week… if they’re now applying for roles that aren’t directly related to what they were doing in these jobs then the main value on the CV is to show “has worked to earn money”. And yes, the student library worker probably had a more sheltered job than anything they’ll see in a public library.

      But someone who washed glasswares in the chemistry lab for a year and is now applying for a wet lab based graduate entry job probably knows more about lab work than someone who has spent the minimum required time in a lab. The institution that employs me has student workers in video production and desktop IT support, and I have received better service from them than sometimes from the full-time staff. As someone who used to hire and manage tech support people, I’d certainly take their job experience seriously and would probe it the same way I would someone with private sector experiences (“can you describe how you used a ticketing system?” “what were your processes and SLAs like?”) When our long-time official photographer retired, his job was for a while filled by a student photographer, who did an excellent job and quite rightly assembled quite an impressive portfolio.

      Now sure, for some jobs – for example if someone is an MBA, or in K-12 education, or public librarianship etc – it really makes a major difference whether the applicant has seen the off-campus version or not. No question about it.

    16. Mid*

      Eh, I wouldn’t say that all campus jobs are like that. I worked in the Donor Relations office, doing external event planning and support, communicating with major donors, planning travel for my supervisors, etc. I had very little interaction with students or even professors on campus.

      And, I think dismissing campus jobs as “not real” puts students with outside commitments or who attend more isolated schools at an unfair disadvantage. My friend attended a very rural school-the only work options were on campus, or driving 45 minutes to the nearest town to work. Another friend of mine worked on campus during the day because she was caring for her relative in the evenings. Just because a job offers more flexibility doesn’t mean that the work is any less challenging or that it teaches you any less about working.

  4. bennie*

    it’s hard enough to be employed while at school while taking classes – and for many students it’s not a choice. because of the need to be in close proximity to campus while working, campus jobs are often a godsend. they got me through school; it’s a shame that someone would nitpick openly like that.

    1. MissGirl*

      Most people I know who didn’t work or do off campus work came from a more privileged class than me. They weren’t working at a warehouse, or McDonalds, or Wal-Mart like me and my roommates all did. It’s nice that one thing gave us an advantage when we weren’t offered one.

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        This. Almost everyone I knew who worked on campus was a work-study student, meaning they had to earn money to live on one way or another. (I had a job one quarter recording written materials for a dyslexic student. I was in the same classes and that when I learned that I didn’t absorb something from reading it aloud. I had to read it for myself for my own studies, and then read it aloud for my class-mate. That was quite interesting and pretty rare in the 1980s.)

      2. Roci*

        Yes, I remember work-study kids getting the first pick of on-campus jobs, and it was determined by their financial aid situation. Made sense to me.

        Didn’t make sense to my idiot roommate who once complained “I don’t understand why [someone else] got work-study and I didn’t, just because my single dad makes more money than both her parents”… all I could do was facepalm and respond, I think that’s exactly why…

    2. doozy*

      This frustrated me as well. I worked from age 14 on, all through high school and college, doing “real” work, not student jobs (I worked in and around technology, doing programming and IT work). I did it out of real financial need, especially in college as I had very little financial support and had to pay my own rent & food. It was immensely dissatisfying to find out employers didn’t want to count that work once I was out of school & looking for full-time jobs. I’m not trying to say that a 14-year-old helping out on a programming project was on-par with the work a college grad in their early 20s would be doing, but it was valuable enough that I was paid for it and I think it should have counted for something.
      I’m in my early 50s now and this still grates on me when I think about it.

      1. KaciHall*

        I grew up working in a family business and had a manager try to tell me that it wasn’t really work experience because it was family.

        If it was a real job I certainly wouldn’t have been up til 3am at the age of 13 trying to get shirts printed for a tournament the next morning, or been doing payroll by hand after school as a freshman, or been expected to work any time of day. I wouldn’t have worried about keeping costs down to make the business profitable (admittedly so I could get Nike’s for school the next year.)

        I’ve never officially worked for the business in the nearly 30 years my parents have owned it – that doesn’t mean it’s not work experience! (It does mean I’m a little bit stubborn about legally taking breaks and getting paid for all hours worked at my real jobs. I don’t own a company on purpose; I know exactly what small business owners do to keep the lights on and I want a steady paycheck!)

    3. MtnLaurel*

      yeah, when i was in college I didn’t have a car so I couldn’t do off campus work very easily. It’s a shame that experience was dismissed.

      1. Ari*

        I had the same experience. Couldn’t even get hired in food service, retail, or even babysitting for locals because they all expected applicants to have a car. It was a steep limitation on my ability to find a job during school.
        I ended up working as an on-campus tutor for one of those years, but had to quit because of a supremely toxic work environment/boss. So, it put me at a disadvantage to folks who had cars or those who already had off-campus experience.

      2. JohannaCabal*

        Related, I had trouble getting my first part-time job as a teenager since I didn’t have a car (lived in a suburb next to a big city that did have transit but my lovely suburb balked at extending transit to that county because “it might draw crime,” in other words, POC, sigh, So glad to be away from there!).

        This created problems for me as I needed a work history in college to build up my resume for internships. Fortunately, I was able to pull together some sort of resume to get a job.

    4. Triplestep*

      “Nitpick openly” is good way to put it. Sure, campus jobs are different than one’s first job post college. The Executive Director had years of work experience to reflect on the differences, and yet he chose to put this LW on the spot, even comparing them to the hiring manager. Why would anyone compare? The LW was being hired to work for the hiring manager – not replace her. Did the ED arrive at the interview surprised to find a recent grad? Does he think a recent grad should have life experience beyond, well … that of a recent grad?

      LW, congrats on landing the job, and I hope you like your manager. Your ED is kind of a pompous jerk.

      1. Smithy*

        I agree about this as an “open nitpick”, but perhaps helpful for other student workers to just be mindful of.

        Clearly the needs of the position and the OP’s overall candidacy were strong enough to still be offered the position. So it’s not like they were necessarily looking for someone with years of full time employment experience.

        I had student jobs for most of my time in undergrad, and my senior year the job was doing data entry in the university hospital for the school’s nursing department. Of my three student jobs (interlibrary loans, RA, and data entry), it was far and away the easiest. It also ended up looking better on my resume because it didn’t read as a student job.

        In retrospect, it really was largely around optics and assumptions – and again, for recent grads/entry level work….it really can shake out in unfair ways.

      2. OP*

        The ED was meant to be there, and to clarify, on a whole, we had a good conversation.

        I think what threw me off was more because he raised this concern “after” the interview, when I was the one asking them questions lol and then right after that was when he asked me what I wanted in terms of pay. Maybe it was more so just the placement of this concern that threw me off a bit!

        1. Triplestep*

          I think it was asked to nicely and politely take you down a notch, especially since he made the comment right before salary talk. He knows there’s a difference between your previous experience and that of someone who has put in more time after college, and he knew that about you just by looking at your resume. It wasn’t a “concern” – he just chose to state the obvious and *frame it* as a concern. I leave it to you to decide why someone would do that, but I think it’s manipulative.

          1. mf*

            Yep, this is a good point. He was trying to say, in a roundabout way, “Well, you shouldn’t ask for more money because you have no ‘real world’ experience.” It was a power play and negotiation tactic.

          2. Jane*

            I had the same thing happen to me. I was offered a job editing a magazine and the HR person offered me the absolute bottom of the salary range claiming I didn’t have “real world” experience.

            My previous experience involved editing campus publications such as the yearbook, student handbook, and a number of other student publications. My work on those student publications included supervising employees. Looking back now on my experiences as a student editor, I believe the experience I acquired then was at least as valuable as experience I acquired years later in senior positions with major publishers.

            But it was my first job after graduation, and I really wanted it, so I accepted the awful pay. Ironically, the job was editor of the college alumni magazine. I quickly left it as soon as a better opportunity came along where my experience wasn’t invalidated.

        2. Triplestep*

          Also when I wrote “Did the ED arrive at the interview surprised to find a recent grad?” I wasn’t suggesting he was not meant to be there. It was a rhetorical question. One assumes he saw your resume and did not arrive at the interview surprised to find a recent grad, one without – as he put it – “real world experience.” If that were a true concern of his, he would not have interviewed you. By pointing it out and comparing you to your manager, he was trying to insure that the lovely conversation you’d just had would not go to your head. He’s like the guy in the bar that subtly insults women he’s been flirting with; the ones that nstill a bit of self doubt lest they think they are too good to give him their numbers.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Whoa, please don’t encourage the LW to look at it this way; there’s no indication that’s true and that’s not useful to her.

            It’s very likely he brought it up toward the end of the conversation because as he was processing the conversation, he realized that was an outstanding question he still had. Which is very common! It’s to her advantage that he asked about it rather than not giving her a chance to respond to the concern.

            1. OP*

              Yes, I did see it as to more of my advantage he brought up the concern. I think initially I did think it was manipulative but I’m also thinking he was, like some have mentioned, concerned about my ability to work with different audience outside of academia. Many of his follow up questions revolved around conflict handling and stuff, people skills I suppose. It did worry me if that meant this was going to be an environment where conflict is common, but so far it seems more like my work has just gone through a transition, so you have some folks butting head.

              On the plus side, the marketing manager who I work directly under didn’t share his feelings in regards to my experience, and translated my work experience into soft skills that she saw would thrive in the workplace.

              I think this has definitely made me aware that perhaps different roles/positions may look at candidates differently, or could be focused on different things.

              Overall, I’m two weeks into this job and am enjoying it!

    5. Observer*

      it’s a shame that someone would nitpick openly like that.

      It’s not nit picking. It’s a relevant concern. It’s not about how “worthy” someone is. It’s about how relevant their experience is going to be. And, the reality is that someone who has ONLY campus jobs is missing certain types of experience. Just as someone who has never held a job related to the field they are looking to work in is going to be missing some types of experience. Those people generally take non-relevant jobs because they don’t have a choice either, but it’s still a limitation.

      One would hope that smart employers understand that, especially in entry level type jobs, this should not be a deal breaker.

      1. Weekend Please*

        I agree. It sounds like he had a concern and brought it up so that the OP had a chance to respond. Would it be better if he kept his concerns to himself and hired someone else?

        1. Triplestep*

          Yes, because it was not a true concern. Had he been truly concerned the interview never would have happened because the “lack of real world experience” was knowable by just the resume.

          1. Observer*

            That doesn’t make it not a true concern. The employer knew that this was a problem and asked about it. And either got a response that reassured him or decided that ultimately the whole package was worth it even with this issue.

            If employers refused to interview anyone about whom they had any concern, they would knock out a lot of good prospects.

            1. Triplestep*

              Perhaps you have not seen the OP’s comments interspersed in here, but the comment was made at the end of the interview when it was her turn to ask questions, right before salary was discussed. It was not a concern at that point (if it ever was one) it was a power play. Or as someone else put it, he was negging her.

        2. wordswords*

          It’s also an opportunity. It’s not just that, as you say, it’s giving the OP a chance to respond to a concern the interviewer has — though it’s that. It’s also that, as others have said, there’s a LOT of variation in what student jobs can entail. Some of them involve basically being paid to sit at a desk and semi-surreptitiously do homework in between answering the phone; some of them involve food service and/or customer service; some of them involve real mentoring in office norms; some of them involve real responsibility too. Some of them are for a few hours here and there between classes; others are full-time for a shorter stint (like during vacations or co-op terms). Asking the question means giving the OP a chance to clarify what kind of roles they held, and to clarify any potentially incorrect assumptions the interviewer is making about their student jobs. It’s also a chance for OP to establish themself as someone who has a clear understanding of what off-campus/corporate norms and expectations are, whether or not their student jobs held them to those standards.

          It’s possible that it was a subtle power play, as a few people upthread have suggested, but it’s likelier, I think, that it was some combination of a sincere question and an invitation for the OP to make a clarification to improve their own candidacy. (Which clearly was a strong one!)

    6. Save the Hellbender*

      I also think the caveats that apply to student jobs also apply to internships, and off-campus, non-internship jobs are going to be 1) not relevant to a post grad job and/or 2) really hard to work around a class schedule. Internships and a student job in my department were my only way to get “relevant” experience, while my “real world” experience came from nannying. But I don’t think an employer would have prefered I cut some internships off the resume for nannying, so I’m not sure what a new grad is supposed to do. If the position isn’t for a new grad, though, it makes sense to say “I wish you’d had a job in the real world” — but LW got the job (yay!) so I’m a little confused.

  5. The Happy Graduate*

    This feels especially true for jobs that work significantly with clients, which sounds like it may be the case for this job as it’s related to marketing? I’m also from academia and I know the way some friends worked with their campus jobs were not how I work at my “real world” jobs – everything from dress codes, how you talk to people, schedules, etc. are often more lenient in campus jobs, which when compared to more “real world” jobs as the wording was, can make someone seem like a bit more of a risk for working with clients if they have no other experience than those school jobs. Of course this isn’t always the case with many students being able to catch on quickly to the differences, and I guarantee your work with those jobs still puts you far ahead than students who don’t do any work at all during their studies, but Alison’s point of comparing two candidates with the different work experience backgrounds is definitely a thing I’ve seen.

  6. KHB*

    Your interviewer doesn’t impress me. He clearly saw from your resume what experience you had, and it’s not like you can just conjure up any additional work experience in the middle of the interview. If a lack of “real world work experience” was a problem for this position, then he shouldn’t have been interviewing you; the fact that he did interview (and then hire) you makes clear that it wasn’t actually a problem at all. So it sounds like he was just negging you.

    A more constructive way to approach the topic might have been to say “I see that all your jobs so far have been student jobs. Have you thought about how workplace norms will differ between a full-time professional job and a campus job?” That is, “you’ve likely got some things to learn about how “real-world” jobs work, and we’re here to support you through it as long as you’re willing to put in the effort to learn.” Not, “you’ve never held a job off campus, ergo, you suck.”

    1. Clara*

      Didn’t that’s what he say? Maybe not artfully – we don’t have a direct quote – but he asked what the LW was bringing to the table and how the jobs/work experience translated, it sounds like. In general, I think expecting interviewers to word things perfectly is a fool’s game – people are sometimes just clumsy in how they phrase things in conversation, and that includes interviewers.

      1. KHB*

        LW says “he essentially asked me to convince him of my worth/value” – i.e., her worth/value was diminished in his eyes, and he was putting it on her to change his mind. And the whole “tell me how your campus job experiences translate to this one” may be a bit of a trick question, if the “correct” answer is that actually, they don’t directly translate very well (but they may demonstrate potential to learn, etc.)

        Maybe you’re right and the exchange was a lot less confrontational than I’m reading it to be based on LW’s account. But I know from experience that some interviewers really do get pretty confrontational, so it seems possible to me that this was one of them.

        1. Clara*

          He might have been a jerk about it, I don’t know, I wasn’t there. But it’s also possible the OP was taken off guard by the comment to begin with, which is understandable, and it came off more hostile than intended as a result.

        2. Angela*

          To me, I think the question might’ve exposed what info they were looking for. OP’s answer actually showed they weren’t aware of a difference between on-campus work and general positions, and to the interviewer, could be an issue if they found the job very different from what they were used to.

          I agree it could’ve been worded better (and may have been done in a rude way unfortunately) but I can see the train of thought behind it.

          1. KHB*

            Oh, I can see the train of thought behind all kinds of rude things that people do. That doesn’t make them any less rude.

            1. Trekkie*

              I would say that it is better for the applicant to ask them a question about an issue that is important to the interviewer (but puts the applicant on the spot) than to forego asking the question, draw their own (negative) conclusions about the applicant, and send a polite letter of rejection.
              Moreover, as Allison’s answer and the comments here indicate, the concern that the Executive Director had is a real one — one for which there are very valid answers, but a real concern nonetheless.

        3. Joielle*

          Idk, isn’t convincing the interviewer that your experience is valuable to the employer part of any interview? I don’t think the interviewer was questioning the LW’s value as a person, but it’s not unreasonable to wonder whether on-campus work experience is valuable to the employer. Sometimes it is, and sometimes it’s not – it depends on the job duties, the supervisor, the standards you were held to, etc.

          Since this is the LW’s first experience interviewing for non-campus jobs, perhaps a pointed question about their work experience felt personal to them, especially if they didn’t really understand the question. But I don’t think it’s inherently rude to ask a direct question in an interview about how one type of work experience translates to another. Once the OP gets more interview experience they’ll be able to handle this type of question gracefully.

          1. OP*

            It isn’t my first interview experience, but it’s the first time I’ve been asked so bluntly I supposed. Later, he did say that some of the questions he was asking me prior were trying to suss some things out. I suppose I didn’t give him enough of an impression with those!

            The position being hired was a writing position so my degree and school work experience aligned with that so maybe my initial confusion to his question was that it seemed obvious to me how my skills translated, which was why I asked him to clarify what he meant. But I understand that what’s obvious is subjective and I think he was trying more so to see how I’d fit into their workplace perhaps!

            1. Detective Amy Santiago*

              Did he ask questions about office politics or conflict management?

              My speculation is that he was concerned you would be weaker in those areas only having student work experience. If your answers to those questions didn’t give the impression that you do have that type of experience, it could have concerned him enough to bring up the broader concern later.

              Like others have said, student workers are often not involved in those type of things but they are incredibly important in most workplaces.

              1. OP*

                Nothing about office politics but there were questions about conflict management, like we talked first about “leaders” I’ve worked with who I admire and traits they shared, and then we moved to leaders who I’ve worked with who had less than admirable traits and what those were and how I handled that.

                In hindsight, I definitely do think I had been on the vague side when talking about my “bad” examples, prolly because I was trying to prevent myself from going into rant mode, among other things.

        4. Cobol*

          Showing your worth/value (professionaly not personally) is an essential part of a job interview. Why wouldn’t an ED ask that?

          Also, for what it’s worth, an ED/director being brusque is almost a given. To me, being taken off guard is a great example of where not having real world experience hurts.

      2. Chilipepper*

        I agree with Clara, I also thought he said that. He used a shorthand, and when the OP asked for clarification, the interviewer gave it – tell me how your experience on campus translates to work off campus, why should I hire you.

      3. Threeve*

        It’s totally common for an interviewer to say “we’re looking for [x], and from your resume it looks like your main focus in other jobs has been [y]. Can you go into some more detail about what your experience with [x] is and what interests you about it?”

      4. BuildMeUp*

        Yeah, it sounds like he may have been looking for the LW to explain that they understand the difference between campus jobs and “real world” jobs, and that they know the expectations may be different.

      5. Smithy*

        In addition to this, in terms of a longevity of interview experiences – very often it’s a question that we’re not expecting is the one that’s answered most awkwardly.

        The lesson most often from this is to not let one awkward question/answer get into your head for the rest of the interview. Which is very often easier said than done, but highly relevant. At the end of the day, in most interviews we are trying to sell the value that our experiences can bring – and the potential to be missing something on the wish-list be it non-campus work experience, management experience, xyz training/certification is always going to exist.

    2. merp*

      Also my thought. Alison makes good points about the differences and the perceptions people have about on-campus work, but this interviewer just seems kind of rude. Obvs we don’t have a direct quote like Clara says, but if it went down as it kind of sounds in the letter, I would really wonder why they bothered to interview me at all.

    3. Sunny*

      The tone of the interviewer struck the same chord with me that it did with OP (And for full context, I have been “in the real world” for some time now), and I appreciate how you reframed this question. I feel like this reframing would have landed much better with OP and other interviewees, as it gets to the (assumed) concern the interviewer had.

    4. Cat Tree*

      What’s weird to me is that this must have been an entry level position, so what was the interviewer looking for? Did other candidates have more experience and this was a stretch hire for a mid level position? Or was he looking for more typical jobs like fast food or retail?

    5. CheeseWhizzies*

      I felt that was a power play and not fair to the OP. If you want someone with “real world” experience then why are you interviewing a recent college grad? And asking anyone to convince you of their worth/value is icky; there are better ways to frame that question.

      1. Triplestep*

        Agree 100%. I can’t imagine how anyone can look at this and say the guy “had a concern” and articulated it. As the OP has clarified, he asked this question after the interview during the portion where she got to ask questions. Even more icky.

        1. StlBlues*

          You keep saying that because it was in the portion of the interview for questions, the interviewer was somehow in the wrong to ask another question of his own. I disagree completely. If something comes up in that time, it’s still the interview! To take your stance to an extreme silly example, what if the interviewee asked (during “her portion” of the interview) something like “What is your stance on eating human organs in the cube?” According to you, the interviewer is NOT allowed to ask questions about that? A good interview shouldn’t be “this is my turn to talk only.” then a clock buzzes, then “this is YOUR turn to talk only.” It should be a discussion. The interviewer may not have asked the question artfully, but in the end it is to the interviewee’s advantage that he brought it up and allowed her to respond. He could have just as easily said nothing, then rejected her after the interview because of a nagging concern.

    6. saassy*

      Sometimes new grads will leave off ‘real world’ work experience from their resumes out of… (misplaced shame? assumptions about what’s valuable?) and I can see this being a particularly clumsy attempt to probe at that if I squint charitably.

      I really like your phrasing in the question about workplace norms.

  7. Alexis Rose*

    My brother had two on-campus ‘jobs’ during college.

    At the first, he was responsible for *arranging* burger patties so students could pick them up easily in the cafeteria. Not cooking them or actually serving them, but just arranging them.

    At the second, he monitored a self-serve coffee station. Like, he literally just sat by it and read while people served themselves. That was the job.

    I know there are more meaningful campus jobs out there, but some proportion of campus jobs are more like guaranteed income for students than anything else, and jobs like my brother’s probably give campus work a bad name.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Uh, I worked my hiney off scraping plates, washing pots and pans, and doing food prep. I intentionally took the dining hall job because it paid 10 cents an hour more than everything else. I couldn’t work off campus because it was a small town and locals had all those jobs.

      Also, what’s wrong with guaranteed income for students? I had scholarships and my parents committed to paying for the rest of my tuition but they didn’t have a penny to send me for anything else. My “guaranteed income” paid for all of my supplies, clothing, personal stuff, etc.

      1. hbc*

        The problem is, an interviewer doesn’t know if it’s more like your experience or Alexis’ brother’s experience. At least at my school, you had to do a heck of a lot more to get fired than you would at the most permissive place I’ve worked off-campus.

        I think you could tell your story in the OP’s place and come off very well, while others would struggle.

        1. I'm just here for the cats*

          But presumably the resume covered what tasks they did. If they had a job like Alexis brothers description then I could see problems. but It sounds like the LW had examples of work in her department (maybe admin or research depending on the department). Those skills are very transferable.

      2. Observer*

        Also, what’s wrong with guaranteed income for students?

        Nothing. But it’s not relevant work experience.

        1. LQ*

          I wouldn’t be surprised to find a similar question after say….working for government for 30 years or working at a single small business for your whole career or working for yourself or any other place in which you weren’t working in an environment like the one you are going into or moving between places often enough to have a taste for a lot of variety. It’s really about how will you fit into this culture when you haven’t experienced one like this before. That may be can you show up on time for a job that requires coverage, do you understand how to interact with clients, can you handle the pressure of a full work week (or way more), or whatever else.

          (It’s also strange to see so many people tie some kind of “worth” like a moral worth not a monetary worth to getting a job. I do not want my employer determining my moral value or my value as a person because there are plenty of “worthy” people who won’t get jobs because there’s only 1 slot open not enough for everyone. And I say this as someone who’s only worked in nonprofits and government support agencies.)

          1. LQ*

            Eh I meant to start a new thread – sorry. Your point here is a well made one though!! :)

    2. CatLadyInTraining*

      Many public universities probably wouldn’t have the budget for jobs like that….
      All the jobs I had at my university were much more demanding. But personally I don’t see anything wrong with on campus jobs

  8. Mayflower*

    I agree that on-campus work experience is different from off-campus work experience but it feels a bit like a power trip to invite a young person (who clearly stated their experience on their resume) for an interview, and then denigrate them that it’s not enough.

    Too many hiring managers expect entry-level employees to *somehow* not be entry level.

    1. MissGirl*

      I’m not seeing how he denigrated them. An interview is all about digging into the resume with more detail and asking about any concerns. No candidate comes with a resume perfectly set up for the job. They were probably interviewing several recent grads and wanted to get a more complete picture of the candidate.

      1. New Mom*

        I’m hoping that this is the case too. I remember when I put information together on my first resume I didn’t lie, but the database work that I did when I was at my student job was VERY basic compared to what I did at my first “real” job. All the data entry work I was trusted with as a student was very straightforward, easy, and it was only given to students because it was time-consuming. Then when I worked at an office, it was almost as if I had no database experience for what they needed me to do. So the digging in very necessary in the interviews.

    2. I should really pick a name*

      But it sounds like the interviewer invited them to describe what they could bring to the table anyway, and subsequently hired them. Calling attention to the nature of their work history isn’t denigrating it.

    3. Angela*

      I don’t see it as a ‘explain your experience’ sort of question. I think the type of answer given, instead, gives a different kind of information.

      If the answer is something like ‘I know there are differences – given that on-campus roles deal with people in similar situations- but I dealt with a wide range of challenges and was held to high work expectations,’ then it shows the candidate realizes there are differences, and will need some adjustment in the new role, despite their applicable experience and knowledge.

      If the answer is surprised and caught off-guard, that, unfortunately, shows the candidate isn’t even aware that their work experience is under different circumstances from ‘real world’ jobs, and the transition that comes with moving into them.

      It may not be a big deal to the employer, and I think some leeway should be given for all-entry levels. But who knows- maybe they had a terrible experience with fresh grads before who were clueless about workplace norms and it ended in disaster. You just don’t know, really.

  9. Amadeo*

    Yes, students tend to get more slack than a ‘real world’ employee. I work in higher ed marketing and have student employees. We’ve fired one or two of course, but their transgressions were pretty egregious. I accept a certain amount of stumbling, struggling or lack of attention to detail from a student that I would not tolerate in a coworker. I expect them to still be learning to double check work, slow down/speed up, etc.

    1. Lalaroo*

      Yeah, I agree with you. I worked at a university for several years and we had student workers. The attitude of the school was that this was kind of a service we were providing, another sort of education about how to behave in the workplace, and so a lot of behavior was handled more gently than it would have been otherwise. Students could still get fired, but it was sooooooo rare – it was much more common to have endless discussions about how something needed to be corrected. The end goal was more to train the student in workplace norms and get them to a place where they’d be successful after graduation than to have the student’s work product completed, if that makes sense.

    2. Smithy*

      I had a student job that was split between two teams, one team needed data entry and the other needed more general office admin. After the first semester, it was clear there either wasn’t enough general admin work for me to do, I wasn’t enough of a go-getter to find admin work to do, or a combination of the two. The team with the data entry needs was asked if they had enough work to take me for all of the hours in my second semester, and then that became my job for the second semester.

      While I know that versions of that happen in the “real world”, for a student employee it was clearly a much softer process.

  10. Idril Celebrindal*

    I definitely agree, there is a wide range in student jobs and what is expected, even within the same job title. For instance, as someone who worked in libraries as a student and later hired student workers at the same institution, we expected a lot of skill, professionalism, initiative and responsibility from our students. However, I have worked in other libraries where they treat student workers as basically warm bodies at the front desk and act like they can’t be trained for anything complex (that attitude frustrated the snot out of me, btw).

    My advice is always to very clearly highlight your accomplishments from the student jobs in both your resume and your cover letter, because that is the way to take the focus off the “student” part and onto the “job” part.

    1. Llama Llama*

      yeah it’s a huge range and it varies from school to school. A lot of my friends worked either at the Library front desk or the gym front desk and you basically sat there, did your homework, and swiped ID cards. My student job was as a teaching assistant for all four years in the biology department. I learned a lot about setting up and running labs from basic environmental science, to limnology, to micro bio etc etc. It’s a totally different kind of experience that did help me get a job after college, and a graduate teaching assistantship in grad school. I also had a lot of friends who were incredibly diligent RA’s and hall directors, or who were basically cafe workers who weren’t even really working for the college, but were in the college building. That’s a huge range within one school. It would be really hard to compare that between schools as well. I could see where an interviewer would need to dig into this experience more.

    2. Liz*

      Oof! I had a student job in the library when I was 19, and I would have killed to have been allowed near the front desk! My job – my ONLY job – was to put books on shelves. I wasn’t allowed to do ANYTHING else. If people asked for anything, even if it was just the location of a book (which I often knew) I had to direct them to a member of the “real” staff. I only worked 4 hours but it was so mind numbingly dull I would have to go take a break after 90 minutes. So I’d go and spent 1 hour’s worth of my 4 hours of wages on an overpriced sandwich in the cafe just so I had an excuse to stop the tedium for a while. I had to quit after less than a semester because the boredom literally reduced me to tears.

      1. Idril Celebrindal*

        Ugh, I’m so sorry, that is a library that is vastly under-utilizing their student staff. At my last library job I had multiple not-quite-arguments with the Public Services staff about them treating their student staff like that, but I never got through to them. But what did I know, I only came from a position where I trained student catalogers before that! I obviously didn’t know what student workers were capable of ;-)

  11. rl09*

    In undergrad, I had both on-campus jobs and off-campus jobs (in retail and food service) and the off-campus jobs definitely felt more like the “real-world” to be honest.

    On-campus jobs definitely tend to be more flexible and they seem to have a better understanding that you’re a student first, and the job will always come second. In my experience, off-campus jobs definitely require you to be better at time management because you don’t get as much control over your schedule or your hours.

    Also, in my personal experience, I learned a lot more about how to deal with difficult people (both bad managers and rude customers) while working off-campus than on-campus.

    On-campus jobs tend to be a way better situation for the student, and I definitely would still encourage students to seek out those jobs. But I do kind of understand why some people don’t perceive it has “real-world” experience.

  12. Nia*

    I expect that interviewer would have said the same thing if you’d had off campus retail jobs. To a certain type of person only certai jobs qualify as “real” ones.

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      I had someone say something similar to me when I was looking for a job post-grad school & after I had been adjunct faculty for 2 years. I had only had on-campus jobs as a grad student and instructor. I guess all my previous experience working my way through school meant nothing.

      I ended up somewhere that was impressed with my vast amount of customer service experience. (And probably my willingness to do a lot of work for little pay – as evidenced by being a TA then adjunct faculty.)

  13. Esmeralda*

    That’s a really unfortunate perception, because plenty of campus jobs are just as “real” as off campus jobs. I can assure you, although my manager at the school cafeteria worked around my class schedule for my shifts, you better believe that if I called out last minute, or did a crappy job, or was unpleasant to work with — I would have been fired. And the WORK was real, too. That was true for my other on-campus, work-study jobs as well (assistant in campus library, research assistant for one of my profs, assistant during the summer for a campus conference center ).

    This is one of those assumptions that’s going to hurt under-resourced students because for instance they don’t have a car to get to a “real” job, or because part of their financial aid they needed to do work-study –does that mean that students who must do work-study ALSO must find an off campus job? I’m feeling testy about this, because I was one of those students and because I now work with those students.

    I guess the advice now should be: if you have to have an on-campus job, be ready for that kind of attitude, don’t be thrown by it, and proceed as the OP did by talking about the experience, accomplishments, skills etc. that you accomplished with that job.

    Once again, have-nots are presumed to be-less.

      1. Esmeralda*

        Thank you, haha this is the soapbox I climb up on way too often. Sadly, even in my very student-centered and student-supportive department, many co-workers just do not think about the barriers faced by first-gen or under-resourced students or students with disabilities. Unless they themselves faced those obstacles. It’s not for lack of training nor for lack of being reminded (because I remind them…).

    1. Lyudie*

      “Once again, have-nots are presumed to be-less.”

      This is the truest damn thing I’ve read in ages.

    2. Forrest*

      Yeah, I think the idea that on-campus jobs aren’t “real world” says more about the interviewer’s privilege and their attitude to work when they were a student than it says about the jobs themselves. Maybe the interviewer got to treat their student jobs as slacking off time, but it’s incredibly disrespectful to a student whose put themselves through college doing cleaning or catering work to suggest that’s not a “real world” job.

    3. Observer*

      I guess the advice now should be: if you have to have an on-campus job, be ready for that kind of attitude, don’t be thrown by it, and proceed as the OP did by talking about the experience, accomplishments, skills etc. that you accomplished with that job.

      Absolutely. That’s really what threw me off about the question. The OP seems to be a bit unaware of the differences between the two worlds. Obviously, they handled the question well enough, since they got the job. But it’s the kind of question that they should have been prepared for, just as someone who is switching careers, is re-entering the workforce or has no obviously relevant experience should be prepared.

      1. OP*

        Hmm. It was surprising to me because I wasn’t expecting it since the position was for a writing position, which I had felt my degree and work experience up to that point had aligned with. I’ve applied for other jobs where I would be considered mismatched and usually I’m ready to explain those.

        But perhaps that is my inexperience is showing through, me thinking that the technical skill set would be the focus in that sense while the ED was looking for more people/soft skill set.

        I think his comment more so jolted me to realizing that he was emphasizing different things.

        1. Observer*

          But perhaps that is my inexperience is showing through, me thinking that the technical skill set would be the focus in that sense while the ED was looking for more people/soft skill set.

          I think that this is the heart of the matter. And I think that it’s especially true in more entry level jobs. Because smart employers understand that at the beginning of your career your technical skills are probably not going to be so honed – that’s why you’re entry level. But being able to work in the workplace framework is what’s crucial at that point.

    4. Idril Celebrindal*

      I gotta say, I’m impressed by OP having the presence of mind and courage to ask for clarification. It is a hard skill to learn, especially in an interview, and a good boss will see it for the good skill that it is. It’s not a common skill in students and recent grads, so well done.

      1. OP*

        Thank you! It more so comes from working with students as a tutor and a TA and realizing that sometimes students hear something, they assume it means something else. So I’m usually always more prone to wanting to clarify terminology because I know different audiences may interpret things differently.

        I’m seeing a lot of replies saying that me asking for clarification shows how inexperienced I am but I was just honestly confused(?). Not a “what is he talking about” confused but more like a just “hmmm. Interesting.”

        In the moment, I could understand what the ED was implying, but I also wanted to make sure. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in academia and life in general, its to never assume.

        1. Observer*

          I’m seeing a lot of replies saying that me asking for clarification shows how inexperienced I am but I was just honestly confused(?). Not a “what is he talking about” confused but more like a just “hmmm. Interesting.”

          Yeah, I don’t think that asking for clarification shows inexperience.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            >>Yeah, I don’t think that asking for clarification shows inexperience.

            If anything it’s a more *advanced* job skill based on my years at work. The first time I asked someone to actually clarify something was a) terrifying and b) absolutely the right thing to do.

    5. Sparkles McFadden*

      This is a great post.

      I certainly didn’t have a car so I would not have been able to afford school without my on campus job. The boss I had on that job was completely professional and he wouldn’t have let me slide on anything. Nearly four decades later, that boss was the best boss I ever had. I learned how to manage staff from him and, when I became a manager years later, I modeled myself on that boss.

      I had a second job cleaning a lab in a nearby hospital, and an occasional catering gig. I am going guess those wouldn’t have counted as “real world” by that manager either.

    6. Juniper*

      Comments like yours are changing how I view campus jobs as a whole. I actually had a pretty great campus job in terms of gaining “real world” experience — it pretty much covered all the bases I could hope for to help me prepare for an office environment. I’m really grateful for it, and know that it is probably much more common to have the more basic type of work-study job that can be easily scoffed at. Your example shows just how damaging it can be to dismiss this experience out of hand, thanks for sharing.

  14. Language Lover*

    There is definitely some latitude given to student employees that can negatively affect them when they go out into an off campus environment if they don’t realize that they’re given this latitude while a student. There’s a flexibility given to student workers that I don’t think employees in the real world earn at their jobs until they’re well established.

    That said, even in student jobs you might be doing tasks that could be relevant to your off campus job. If you are ever asked that, you might want to highlight the expectations and standards of your student job. If you were lucky enough to help out with some projects, that’s a good thing to point out as well.

  15. MsClaw*

    I think you could see this a few different ways — from the way your letter is worded, it sounds like this is your first post-schooling job. It’s possible the interviewer knew that and was expecting you to explain how your experience ‘ tutoring or being an assistant in my department’s office’ was relevant to a non-academic job. I’ve found that to be a fairly standard approach for interviews with junior hires. In the same way that if you had, say, a lot of experience in fast-food during college but I’m hiring you for your electrical engineering degree I might ask you a similar question and expect an answer about how while the fields are different it shows you know how to deal with pressure and negotiate with coworkers (or whatever the case may be).

    It could also be the case that he did think you didn’t have enough relevant experience and he was signaling that to the other interviewer.

    Congrats on the new gig!

  16. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    But campus jobs — and jobs designed for students generally — are often seen as cutting students more slack than they’d get normally. There’s something to that! In student jobs, you’re often able to call in at the last minute because you need to study for an exam or are able to take off the exact days you want to take off because of your school schedule. More importantly, you’re also often (although not always) held to a different standard of performance because you’re a student and so it’s assumed you’re still learning and figuring things out. Sometimes in student jobs, it’s much harder to get fired too; they figure you’re still learning, the stakes aren’t very high, and you’ll be gone at the end of the semester anyway.

    The campus jobs I held weren’t like that at all. I had deadlines and priorities with the grading job, a strict attendance requirement when I worked in the dining halls, and was constantly called in on every job I had to cover call-offs and no-shows. The year I spent as an RA was 24/7 work; the only real break was when the residence hall closed.

    You can dismiss it to your heart’s content, but nothing I did in college prepared me for the real world more than my mere “on-campus” employment.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        I think it’s just another sign I went to the wrong school. I could have had it easy!

      2. Esmeralda*

        The commenters are not making that distinction, Alison. The overwhelming point being made is, well of course they are different and students get cut a lot of slack, they aren’t “real” jobs, etc.

        Students with campus jobs need to know that many people aren’t thinking “not always” and “not every student job” — the belief seems to be, student jobs are not real jobs. Be ready for that belief, don’t be thrown by it.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I think it’d be more accurate to say the general sense in the comments is that student jobs are so frequently less rigorous that you should be aware of that impression and be prepared to explain how yours were different if they were. I think that’s pretty reasonable.

    1. hbc*

      I do wonder if the call-offs and no-shows were all single events or other students who were much less reliable than you who got 20 chances.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        I do wonder if the call-offs and no-shows were all single events or other students who were much less reliable than you who got 20 chances.

        The dining hall was merciless; call off there thrice in a month, four times over two months or six times in a school year and you were gone.

        Athletics wasn’t merciless; you literally couldn’t get fired without joining an altercation with another student. It was also staffed at 20% of the needed personnel or less, so it was more about putting up with the work you don’t do to get the work you actually do than it was about mercy or chances… which also prepared me for the real world, so many ways around.

        As an RA, well, they know where you live.

        Grading code, the professor didn’t care when, where, or how, just that I got it done. Of course, I didn’t last very long once the other graders figured out who I was, since most of them couldn’t read my code.

        1. I can never decide on a lasting name*

          That… does not sound merciless to me at all! That’s a lot of calling of possibilities for the Dining Hall!
          I should say, though, that I’m from a country where sick days are covered and that factors into my thinking.

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            Merciless compared to Athletics. It’s still pretty lenient in the real world.

            There was food to be moved, tables to be bused and dishes to be cleaned. None of those things happen when people don’t show up!

    2. JKateM*

      I’m glad there are some that provide more “real-world” experience. My campus job in college was extremely lax in standards. For example, we had 1 hr shifts in the office sitting at the desk, and my replacement was 45+ min late repeatedly (his shift was 1 hr long! He said he overslept. . . His shift was at noon. And nothing happened to him.)
      I did gain good experience in that job but I went out of my way to obtain it. You could easily have that job and all you would have experience for is watching Netflix.

    3. Red Boxes and Arrows*

      I think this is something then that, if you were the OP, you’d be able to easily speak to in order to demonstrate that your campus jobs weren’t just sitting at a seldom-visited information booth (for instance). It sounds like that’s what the Director was getting at, albeit in a badly-worded way.

  17. New Mom*

    I agree with Alison that the wording the interviewer was not the greatest, but I do understand the sentiment. I worked the entire time I was in college and held three separate jobs during that time, I still had a bit of a shock to the system when I started teaching afterward. I had never been taught to write a professional email, or how to dress in a more corporate setting (my first school required very formal outfits) and my college version of professional clothes did not really cut it.

    Then when I moved from teaching to working in an office setting, I had another adjustment to go through. It took time for both me and my boss to onboard me because I was simultaneously learning the duties of the role while also learning how to be an office worker. I had to learn the work jargon, the org chart, office politics, rules of the office and the unspoken rules etc.

    All that to say, it takes a lot of effort to train someone who has never worked in an office before. You don’t know what you don’t know, and not all places have the time and resources available for people that are very green. Maybe the ED did not realize until you were already in the interview that you did not have the experience that they wanted/needed and didn’t convey it in the nicest way. I know at many companies, and most nonprofits, they may need someone to hit the ground running at work and in certain roles that just isn’t possible for someone who has never worked in that type of setting before.

    But it’s definitely not great that they did not figure this out prior to you interviewing, and then made you feel not that great in the actual interview.

    1. OP*

      Oh yes, I can definitely understand that!

      This is a nonprofit I’m working for and some of the questions/discussions we have afterwards spoke to being able to perform without having a mentor, or someone to guide you. So I can more see his concerns of wanting someone who may be able to hit the ground running, or at least someone more prepared to handle that.

      I’m very thankful and grateful that the jobs I’ve had have actually been very great in terms of support and training and so I’ve gained a lot from them. Reading everyone’s comments about their on-campus work experiences has been enlightening for sure! I realized there are on campus jobs that are more lax, but I never realized to what extent! And then to the other extreme of how intense some can be!

      It’s only been the first two weeks so far, and I don’t know how much of a learning curve there still is. I’ve just been more of observing as well as gauging workload that’s been assigned to me. Part of me actually feels like I’m back in high school with the 9-5 schedule, but the days fly by! I’m always left feeling like I did a lot, and at the same time like I didn’t do a lot lol

      1. New Mom*

        Good luck! At my first office/nonprofit job I felt pretty comfortable by the three-month mark, so you are already two weeks in!

  18. Elle by the sea*

    This topic is really interesting. I spent around 12 years in higher education as a graduate student (multiple degrees) as well as a lecturer. I also had teaching jobs and self-employment outside academia. I entered the corporate world in my thirties as almost a fresh graduate. My “grad school” experience was acknowledged as work experience almost everywhere I applied and to be honest, I don’t see much difference between what was expected to do as a researcher/student and as a corporate employee. In fact, I feel that grad school/university was a lot more rigorous: no possibility of time off without a reason, no skipping of classes, barely any free time, always aiming for excellence and perfection. I have worked in highly competitive, fast-paced corporate environments, but I always feel it’s a lot more relaxed than academia was. There was absolutely nothing that came as a surprise to me in the real world. I grew up on a farm and had job duties at home. My parents always discouraged me from taking odd student jobs which and encouraged me to seek out jobs that are related to what I wanted to become (e.g. teaching, tutoring, journalism). Later I ended up in software engineering, the content and the communication style was somewhat new but nothing about professional norms was unknown to me.

    1. Spearmint*

      I think there’s a difference between being a TA, teacher, or lab tech in graduate school and an on-campus job as an undergrad. The former type is pretty much always real work, while the latter vary dramatically in how much it is like a “real” job (as you can from the comments here).

      1. Elle by the sea*

        Yeah, that’s a good point. I made this comment only because I often see advice against going for an advanced degree here suggesting that it prevents you from gaining work experience and awareness of professional norms.

  19. Squirrely*

    Congrats on being offered the job! I do think there’s something else that folks aren’t mentioning in the transition to full time office type work- office relationships and pacing!

    I worked probably like four or five pt jobs in college, including as an intern in a nonprofit in the field in which I work. I was really good at the internship and was creating material, meeting with clients, etc… but my full time job was still a big difference! As a student, I was treated differently than the FT staff and struggled to figure out office relationships when I first started- there was no “getting away” from it by going to class- this was my full time work!

    I also really had to adjust to pacing myself throughout the day. Instead of one or two longer projects and short term things, I had a whole bunch more. I pride myself on being efficient, but putting in 8 hours a day and figuring out that people weren’t “working” the whole day- and that I couldn’t go full speed all day every day either- was definitely an adjustment.

    1. katertot*

      Yep- I was thinking this too- I had multiple part-time jobs during school (high school, undergrad, and grad school) and my first full-time job after undergrad felt completely different- partly because the mentality of “i’m off the clock” didn’t apply and it was much more of an learning curve professionally as many others have mentioned. I think part time jobs CAN totally be that, but I think a lot of people as students experience very much specific shift work which can be very different from a full-time salaried job.

  20. BottleBlonde*

    I’m not sure if this is universal, but at my undergrad institution, campus jobs were also overstaffed by design. I worked in a dorm mail room and, other than at the very busiest times of the day, there was typically the expectation that you’d be able to get a chunk of homework done during any given shift. Kind of a culture shock when moving to the real world, where exactly the number of necessary people (or, fewer!) are hired to get the job done.

  21. TWW*

    Other than clumsy wording, I’m not sure what the problem with that question was? Especially since OP was offered the job, so their answer must have been acceptable.

    When I graduated college, all of my work experience was “on campus”–during the summers I painted campus buildings and worked as a research assistant, and during the academic year I was a homework grader and lab proctor.

    Had a prospective employer said, “convince me that your on-campus work experience has prepared you for a corporate job,” I hope I would have been able to come up with some convincing answer.

  22. a clockwork lemon*

    I definitely wouldn’t consider campus jobs comparable to “real world” workplaces. This is obviously a limited data point but depending on the type of student job, there might not be much real work at all. I was a department assistant for two separate departments and I’m pretty sure my job basically only existed so the school could continue receiving federal work-study funds to include in the financial aid packages. Most of the time I was there I studied, and every so often someone would come in and need me to, like, make two hundred copies of a reading packet so I’d have to study and occasionally turn the page on the book in the copy machine.

    The retail jobs I held in college were way more reflective of how post-graduation employment actually functions. If nothing else, those were the jobs where I learned that most places don’t generally want you to multitask by doing work for someone other than your employer, and that you have to set your own boundaries about hours and scheduling because the person who manages you won’t necessarily know or care about accommodating your class schedule and that same person definitely will not just unilaterally cancel your shifts because it’s reading week and finals.

  23. Forrest*

    I think this is pretty weird tbh, and says more about the interviewer than any inherent differences between working at a university and working elsewhere. When I finished my degree, I had several months’ experience temping in university and further education, healthcare, and an arts organisation, plus retail and waitressing experience in both busy situations centre environments and in small family owned businesses. I have no idea which of these would count as “real world” experiences to this guy! Front line customer service experience isn’t like office work, but retail isn’t like hospitality. It’s a really unhelpful thing to say!

  24. Saberise*

    It really depends on the job and the school. I had work study all the way through college. Every single one was basically you are paid to sit there and study except for maybe 15 min out of your shift. Financial aid paid our salary so the department we worked for didn’t loss anything by having us there for the rare time we actually had anything to do. So if I were to be honest if the only “experience” someone had was work study that would color my view on it and I would think of it differently than “real” work.

  25. Construction Safety*

    I’m reminded of the letter from the former intern in the change-the-dress-code petition. Not the OOP, but someone who had been let go as well. Never held an outside job, never held a campus job & was relying on the internship to either follow with a job there or another one in the industry. Now what were they going to do??

    My thought was that the parents hadn’t done them any additional favors in the 16-22 age range. The relatively small wage made flipping burgers is one of the smaller parts of that learning experience.

  26. JessaJumped*

    OP was being interviewed by the executive director and marketing manager presumably at some type of decent sized corporation or organization. Is it really so shocking that those two people would not consider the roles of college department office assistant and tutor as “real world“ jobs? They really aren’t – at least, not in the sense that most people think of jobs that get you hired into a company. I’m glad OP got hired but surprised by them being confused by this. That suggests not being prepared for a real world job.

    1. Elliot*

      Completely agree! I think the person could have phrased it better, but aside from the great points others have made about student jobs having vastly different norms, the position of assistant or tutor don’t really have relevance to marketing – or most jobs. I think it’s totally fair to ask applicants to address a lack of relevant experience.

    2. Forrest*

      “You don’t have experience in this area—what transferable skills do you have?” is a totally legitimate question. Phrasing it as “that’s not a real job” is obnoxious, and really unhelpful vague, because it leaves the interviewee on the defensive and with very little clue about what you’re looking for. You’d be very lucky to get a decent answer out of someone with a question like that!

  27. Filosofickle*

    I had an interviewer call my experience — including 15 years of corporate work and an MBA — “academic”. Since it was right after I graduated from business school, I thought maybe he didn’t realize my earlier resume. I clarified it with him and his response was that my experience didn’t count because it was mostly for small organizations versus multi-billion dollar orgs. Another male partner there told me I had “potential”. I was 38. I felt insulted and hated those guys.

    Years later, after starting to work with multi-billion-dollar orgs, I think I understand what he meant. The intensity and complexity of the work is very different, even if the work itself doesn’t change a lot. There’s so much more to consider and manage. The stakes are higher. Leading a presentation in the board room at Microsoft IS a lot different than at a startup or a owner-led small business. There was a lot I didn’t know yet and I see that now.

    He was still an ass. His choice of wording was poor. But he also wasn’t entirely wrong.

    1. OP*

      Oh no! Yea, I can see that!

      I feel like I get where they’re coming from, and like you said, even if they are right, the wording certainly leaves a weird effect.

      Like others have said, the tone is definitely different. Being told “Look, I think you’ll have difficulty because of xyz” is a different effect from “your experience doesn’t count.”

  28. JSPA*

    There can be different norms (and different adherence to protections) specific to specific campuses, and differing in various ways from the rest of the world. Whether that’s by virtue of there being a campus code of conduct, or due to there being a strong “Greek Culture,” high baseline levels of wokeness, care taken with pronoun usage, will depend on the campus.

    There can be different levels of formality and professionalism required when pretty much everyone you serve either is a student or a person who chooses to work on a place constantly inundated by new waves of students.

    There often are different attitudes towards “gumption.”

    Bright Young People (Who Pay Tuition) also often can expect to be Taken Seriously (or at least, humored with eye rolling and given patient explanations, rather than being written up) when they repeatedly have Great New Ideas about how to do things faster and more simply by [insert fairly obvious kludge that’s fast in some circumstances, but illegal, dangerous or creates really really complex problems in other circumstances].

    Projects for class have to seem plausible and demonstrate understanding of the process; projects in the real word have to actually work.

    Job descriptions for campus jobs can either be unusually nebulous (if the purpose of the job is, “find out if this student can do anything useful, then set them to doing that) or unusually fine-grained (“make sure that even the most clueless person can follow this step by step checklist”) if it’s something in libraries, food service, or cleaning.

    One way to reframe the question is, “are you aware that you’re living by rules that are not as universal as you might think they are, and are you ready to process the fact that the requirements of an off-campus job may be different than what you’ve come to expect?” and respond appropriately. If you are (or were) also involved in X and Y with local community groups, you can point out that this keeps you in touch with real world norms and expectations.

    If your campus job is such that you actually serve a lot of “town” vs “gown” customers (maybe the campus snackbar is the only restaurant that’s open until 2 a.m., and you get truckers, cops, shift workers), you can explain that the job is “on campus,” yet very much a real-world experience.

    Pre-dawn sports workouts (referencing your perfect attendance) or “my parents worked these hours, and instilled in me a belief in reliability and professionalism” can probably be used, in a pinch.

    Partly, they just want to know that you’re not going to be snapping thongs (your own or anybody else’s); cutting short a work conversation to take a personal text or wave to a friend; DMing the COO to explain your great new idea for streamlining the tax reporting; refusing to ring up customers whose objectionable but private conversation you’ve overheard while radar-earing; expecting that if the bus is late, it’s all good, that you’re late, due to being on that bus; “giving feedback” (unrequested, just ’cause you think they need it) or otherwise lecturing your boss and coworkers; or any of the many other things that might be tolerated or even praised in a campus setting, but don’t fly in a professional office.

    1. Jack Straw*

      Your idea of what folks in the 16-26 year old, typical “student” age range is insulting.

  29. crit-kat*

    As someone who left academia for non-academic work, the interviewer’s phrasing rubs me the wrong way a bit. Granted, it’s a bit of a pet peeve since I’ve often encountered really erroneous ideas about what academic/ on-campus work entails (“wow, teaching! Must be so nice that you get the summers off!/ Only work a few hours a day”). And, as AAM pointed out, college is as real as anything else, even if it has its own quirks and individual features (as all jobs and fields do, though). That said, I can see the validity of wanting to know how will your experience in a different environment/different sector translate to, and prepare you, for this one. It’s unfortunate the interviewer didn’t phrase it better. Also, if you’re picking up on a sense that the interviewer is trying to get you to convince him/her of your worth, well, unfortunately that *may* continue (hopefully not, since it sounds like you handled it well in the interview and got the position–congrats!). But perhaps it might be worth mentally preparing for either not letting it get under your skin too much if you feel like it’s not worth it, and/or being ready to make the case about the value and transferability of your skills and experience if it does come up again.

  30. Delta Delta*

    When I was in school, I always had an off-campus job, and sometimes also had an on-campus job (and sometimes multiples of both because I’m someone who always has lots of jobs for reasons I can’t quite figure out). There is something that feels different about a campus job as opposed to a non-campus job. My non-campus jobs always sort of felt like I had to be there and when I was there I was “on.” My campus jobs had hours but those felt squishy, and somehow wearing pajama pants to the campus job was okay (whereas I’d never wear that to my other jobs). Don’t get me wrong, the campus jobs were work, and definitely provided some important skills. They just somehow felt sort of… like they were in the protective cradle of the school while the other jobs felt like they had different expectations.

    That said, I learned some of my most important skills from one of those campus jobs. Those included, but were not limited to: the importance of scheduling to avoid contact with annoying people (if possible), learning when it makes sense to keep your mouth shut when a manager is saying annoying (but harmless) things and engaging in the conversation will decidedly not help, and positioning myself in a room just behind a door so that same annoying manager can’t tell I’m there but I can still get my work done.

  31. Anon for this*

    Can confirm that it’s a lot harder to fire students than it would be in a regular job. I had a few students tell me, on their first day, that they didn’t see the point in literally anything my department was doing because with the shift to internet of things devices we aren’t needed anymore (hah. Hah. Hahahahahahaha. We’ve only become more critical over the years) and if my manager had had the power to get rid of them, they probably would have. But alas, students, and so we had to deal with a semester of students who thought there was no reason to do anything because we were already obsolete (again, hah)

    1. OP*

      Wow!

      Maybe I’ve been lucky. All the on campus jobs I’ve had, from assistant to TA-ing have all been things I’ve enjoyed and stand by, albeit some annoying parts. But even if they weren’t, I can’t imagine showing up on the first day and being so explicit about my non-like of a job I chose to take on!

  32. Weekend Please*

    Considering you did get the job, you may have read more into his statement than he actually meant. He may have been trying to gauge whether you understood what would be expected of you in this job since being a tutor or office assistant, especially if those are work study jobs, is really very different than marketing. I work with and supervise a lot of students. They are held to a very different standard than full time employees who do similar tasks. They are gaining valuable skills and their work does help the project, but when hiring for a full time position I generally consider work experience as a student to be about half that as someone who put in the same amount of time as a full time employee. It has value, but it isn’t equal.

  33. peakvincent*

    That feels like an odd thing to mention in what is, presumably, OP’s first job out of school. In an entry level job, hiring a recent grad, plenty of your applicants won’t have real world experience yet. That’s part of the deal with an entry level job! Everybody’s got to have a first job somewhere. So the phrase itself doesn’t bother me that much, but leaving OP feeling like they need to “prove their worth” makes it seem like it wasn’t a great question.

  34. Nanani*

    Depending on what the job is, it can be the same as an off-campus “real” job.
    On-campus is not the same as coursework. I wonder if the interviewer thinks it was part of a grade rather than an actual job that happens to be located on school grounds?

  35. IrishMN*

    “He then spoke about how the marketing manager has had experience in her industry and so forth, and he was wondering what I was bringing to the table.”

    I agree with what Alison said but I find this point problematic. I mean, I worked at Subway in high school and Home Depot in college. I also worked as an office assistant in college.

    Those jobs didn’t relate to what I was going to school for, and I had to work for money so I wasn’t able to get an internship to work for free (which all the internships I saw were – I know that is illegal but it seems to be rampant).

    So, for an entry-level job for a new grad, this point seems kind of ridiculous. They have had schooling but it seems pretty normal to me that they don’t have experience in the field yet. That is why the job is entry-level.

    1. fhqwhgads*

      Yeah it’s the context that’s really the kicker. If it’s an entry level job….it’s entry level. You don’t expect someone to have a ton of real world experience. That sentence seems a little twisting the knife? Like, it’s not super horrible terrible, but it’s a bit unnecessary. “Wondering what you’re bringing to the table” comes off like “I think you’re a long shot, prove me wrong”. We don’t know if those are the exact words the person used, if it’s a paraphrase or was really something else, but to me if he did word it like that or close to, that’s sort of needlessly confrontational for a job that – if it’s entry level – has inherently lower experience requirements.

  36. iBarley*

    This exact same thing happened to me in my first post-graduation interview and it was devastating to say the least.

    I worked a minimum of 3 different campus jobs at any given time. The organization and time management for that + school was a huge learning experience, not to mention all the broad in-office experience I gleaned that I can 100% tell sets me apart at almost a very job I’ve had.

    Not all, but a lot of campus jobs often have some degree of peer mentoring involved, which is a huge ethical and personal responsibility. As an RA*, I dealt with more than one incredibly intense, scary, life-threatening situation. Again, I know that’s not all campus jobs but it really demonstrates someone’s bias and privilege when they consider the job where you gave CPR, evacuated a building on fire, or intervened in an active suicide “Not Real” and I wholeheartedly would like to tell those people where they can stick it.

    (*I know Alison specifically called out RA’ing as a possible exception. The interviewer I had was very clear that they did not and that it was a “not real experience campus job”)

  37. Mihaela*

    We kind of all know what “real world experience” means, pretty obvious. It would’ve been great for you to tell us how to respond to that kind of question though.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The LW literally asked, “Do folks not see jobs held on campus as ‘real world’ work experience? Or what do they mean when they say that?” That’s the question I answered.

    2. Forrest*

      I mean, to me, it means the interviewer is both ignorant and arrogant. I’ve worked in universities and I’ve worked in corporate jobs: one is not more “real” than the other.

    3. Binturong*

      It would have been even better if you’d resulted the urge to offer this unwanted, unnecessary and irrelevant critique, but I guess we’re all out of luck here!

  38. Hobbit*

    I work in higher ed and most of my employees are also students. Trust me, no one cuts them slack for being students as well as employees. Yes, there are times when we have to have convos about how to behave in a professional environment, but that is mostly due to inexperience, which could happen at any job. Working on campus is a “real-world experience”. They interact with customers (students, faculty, staff, and community members, etc). They are expected to measure up to all of the normal professional standards of any business office, etc. And no they can’t call out last minutes unless it’s an emergency and needing to study is not an emergency. Students get a syllabus at the beginning of the year and can schedule time off well in advance.

    1. I'm just here for the cats*

      I 100% agree with you. I think the problem is that some people think “student worker” and automatically think they are working in the cafeteria or are sitting at some reception desk with no real tasks. But the fact is many student worker positions are very customer-oriented and can have real value and real-world experience. Personally, I worked for campus dining, both in the main dining hall and in the smaller grill area. I was often alone in the grill area, had to prioritize tasks, work with difficult customers, and multitask. While in the dining hall I was promoted to student manager so I had specific experience directing employees to do tasks that they didn’t really want to do. I even had an experience working with a difficult employee who didn’t like that I 1 got the promotion, 2. that I was a woman that he had to take orders from. I actually used that example while interviewing for 2 different jobs after college.

  39. I'm just here for the cats*

    I think that the boss made a bit of a flounder. I originally was thinking that he was a jerk and doesn’t think that student work counts. But the more I think about it I think he just misspoke. Instead of proving your worth and Real-world experience, I think he meant how has your student work prepared you for X role.

    I’m assuming that the job is more of an entry level job so, of course the candidates are not going to have as much real-world experience as the Marketing Manager.

    I’m glad that the interview seemed to go well and the LW got the job.

  40. GerryL*

    I am one of those people who started college right out of high school but then quit and lived and worked in “the real world” for a decade. When I returned to school I found that many of the faculty who had never held a non-academic job were sort of clueless about what was important to businesses. Later I got a job at a publishing company working alongside people who have never worked outside academia. Some struggled to understand the cost-benefit thinking of management. “We have x amount of time to produce this number of periodical abstracts. This is your minimum quota. No, you cannot spend 30 minutes polishing a paragraph.”

    It’s hard to understand what you’ve never been asked to understand. It is helpful to do some investigation into business thinking.

  41. Laney Boggs*

    You’ve heard Friday good news, get ready for Monday bad news
    (I have no experience off campus)

  42. Tuesday*

    A lot of people feel like the interviewer was being a jerk, but I don’t think so. He didn’t phrase his question in the best way, but I think asking the question makes sense. When student workers have worked in my office, we always go out of our way to accommodate their school schedule and the time they need for studying. We view their school experience as more important than their part-time work experience. think that’s the kind of thing the interviewer was thinking of. Are all campus jobs like that? No. But the question gave the OP a chance to explain the value of her work experience. It’s not like he just dismissed it – he was asking her to elaborate on its value.

  43. Absurda*

    When I was in college I worked at a few different jobs, some on-campus (work/study) and some off-campus. It never really struck me that any of them would not be considered relevant work experience no one ever said they wouldn’t. However, they were all office jobs.

    I’m wondering if the interviewer was calling out the category of work (i.e. food service, library clerk, etc) as not being applicable to the type of job OP was applying for Or not being relevant to what they do? Just a thought. Whatever it was, obviously OP had a great answer!

    Personally, the biggest problem I had transitioning from student to full time employee wasn’t my experience, but my pay. I was earning slightly more than minimum wage as a student, part-time worker in a fairly low cost of living city. Once I graduated I moved to a much more expensive area and was looking for full time work and with a degree. My expenses were much higher, but so were my qualifications so I figured my pay would reflect that. Well, a recruiter told me flat out that my salary history did not justify my asking for more money (I was well within entry-level pay ranges). She didn’t care about my change in qualifications or circumstances, just what I’d made before as as a student. Over 20 years later, I’m still annoyed by that. I’m just really glad states are making laws prohibiting employers from basing pay on a candidate’s previous pay.

  44. Student*

    Campuses have power structures and reward dynamics that exist nowhere else outside academia. Jobs on campus occasionally look the same as an analogous job off campus, but often look like a funhouse-mirror version of the job due to all the weird incentives.

    My rule of thumb is that the more professors and grants there are involved, the deeper in the funhouse mirror maze you are. College boards are also deep in. Mostly-commercial transactions between students, or work in the education bureaucracy, supply chain, or general campus services – closer to the real world.

    My sister’s library job – working mostly to provide a service to students – pretty reasonable; hours were weird and it was okay for her to do homework in slow period, but otherwise fairly normal.

    My research assistant position working for a professor on a research grant in a lab – nutty in every dimension, not like any real-world job, with co-workers to match.

  45. MCMonkeybean*

    Yeah, I think your interviewer was speaking to a pretty common veiwpoint. The campus work isn’t *invalid,* just not weighted as heavily since so many campus jobs will likely not hold you to as high a standard as a full-time job in the professional world would. I think it’s not even just your campus jobs, but pretty much most aspects of college life are not considered to be “real world” experience because you live in this sort of bubble and most things are done with the understanding that your schoolwork is your priority and campus jobs and such have to accommodate for that.

    Of course I am sure there are plenty of campus jobs that do absolutely hold their student employees to extremely high standards and expect just as much from them as any job out in the “real world” would. And lots of student employees who work extremely hard and behave perfectly professionally. But since there isn’t really a way to know whether that was the case and the concept in general is assumed to be more lax they are just not going to count for as much on your resume. They are still important experiences, and if you are applying for entry level jobs against people who have not even had that much experience then they would likely push you to the head of the pack. But if the other candidates have non-campus experience that is likely to have more weight.

    1. PersephoneUnderground*

      I think this is a great way to address it- I definitely understood what the interviewer meant to say here, and it’s not that unusual a viewpoint. I think I’ve even used it to sell myself in a new field saying as a career switcher I have more applicable experience than a new grad even if it’s in a different field. It’s things like ownership of your work, professional judgement, good communication, etc. Lots of these things can come from campus jobs, but it depends on the job and the skill- e.g. it’s hard to be the owner of a project when your job is to swipe cards in the dining hall.

    2. llamaswithouthats*

      So I mentioned this downthread but food service jobs on campus are definitely not cushier than food service jobs off campus. I’m sure that goes for other jobs on campus. It seems like an over generalization, or assumption that all on campus jobs are front desk work or something.

  46. 1234*

    Would on-campus internships be viewed the same way as an on-campus job? I had a marketing internship at my school’s theater department doing basic office work and doing intern things like filing, compiling contact lists, printing brochures and running the (small) concessions stand during show days/nights. I did this for two semesters, basically the entirety of junior year.

    I didn’t have a whole lot of work experience before this theater marketing internship so when I applied for internships, I had no luck. But, once I did this theater marketing internship, I received more call backs/interviews for other “real” internships. Not once did anyone say that my experience was not “real world” because it was at the school’s theater department.

  47. Jaydee*

    My guess is that “real-world” experience is shorthand for experience that involves some level of self-direction and independent judgment.

    School, even at the college level, is largely about completing a task to the teacher’s specifications in order to demonstrate mastery of material. Some of this may be practical and work-oriented, but it’s usually under artificial conditions (you might develop a marketing plan for a new product, but it’s not getting used for anything – you just get a grade and feedback from the professor).

    Most of the types of jobs that students get are jobs where their boss assigns them tasks (whether simple or complex) and they follow an outlined process to complete those tasks.

    Something like marketing is going to involve more self-direction and independent judgment to identify and recommend solutions for a client based on their goals and parameters.

    A lot of times those skills are going to come from various places, whether it’s a job or a class or an extracurricular activity or club/hobby group or sports team. Later in your career those will be less relevant as they’re displaced by actual work examples. But for a recent grad, they’re potentially fair game.

    I think this hiring manager did a really poor job of tailoring questions to get at that information. Especially for an entry level professional job, it seems like this would be a good time for “tell about a time you had to handle X and what you did?” questions and “how would you handle this scenario that might arise in the course of your work here?” questions.

    1. PersephoneUnderground*

      This reminds me of something my mother used to tell her students (law school) at the end of her class, which I believe was one of their last classes before graduation. She took the last class to discuss what they don’t teach in law school, like “max your 401k so you never miss the money”. She said “This is the last time B work will be acceptable. In a law job your work is either A or F. Errors on legal documents have serious consequences, so in the real world you keep working on it and recheck it and have others check it until you’re sure it’s correct.” (Paraphrasing here, but I think it applies.)

  48. Pam Adams*

    I’m also wondering if the ‘real world’ means no equivalent work- it was a marketing job, and the student’s work-to-date may not have included marketing experience. (Now if they were marketing the tutoring program or events in the department, citing that specific experience might have helped.)

  49. llamaswithouthats*

    For the millionth time, why are we expecting recent grads to have veteran level experience in the field they are getting into?

    1. llamaswithouthats*

      Also to add, I know there is a difference between on and off campus jobs, but IME, white collar hiring managers don’t count either as experience for entry level job candidates.

      1. llamaswithouthats*

        One other addition: I went to college in a very small college town and worked both on and off campus in food service. There…wasn’t that much of a difference?

        Conclusion: I actually kind of disagree with Alison – I think the interviewer was unreasonable to ask that question, but at least they have OP the job.

    2. PersephoneUnderground*

      Well, the OP was hired, so clearly it wasn’t a deal breaker or even necessarily the issue in this case, but I feel your frustration. Been there.

    3. Janet's Planet*

      They weren’t expected to have that experience – they were asked to explain their value without that experience. They did wind up getting hired, after all.

  50. Larz*

    Am I missing something? Presumably the LW applied for the job, which included providing a resume (and probably filling out the same info in an electronic form), so the interviewer KNEW the LW’s experience beforehand…but still called them in for an interview, and essentially wasted their time. I know not everything about a given job comes through perfectly on a resume, but “What jobs did you have and where were they” is pretty much always there.

    1. llamaswithouthats*

      I’ve had interviewers criticize my job experiences despite them being described clearly in my resume before. I don’t understand it. I think some hiring managers like to neg job candidates for some reason.

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