Many of us need to work during college – but how can you make the most of these opportunities?
“I wasn’t worried that I wouldn’t find a job,” Sarah said, “I was worried that I wouldn’t like the job that I found.” I nodded in understanding, thinking back to the many times I have heard similar statements from students at UGA – students who don’t just want a job after graduation, they want the job.
For the past five years, I’ve been working with students in business, science, and other professional fields to help them shape the plans for their professional future. Sometimes that involves tempering dreams with reality – the “perfect” job does not really exist - and often the very first job out of college is not even close.
But we all have to start somewhere, which is why I also spend a lot of time talking to students about ways they can use part-time jobs, internships, and other on-campus experiences to find their path. This summer, I spent time interviewing recent graduates (like Sarah) about their professional journeys during college. Below are a few key points that stood out from these conversations.
Part-Time Jobs: Make it More
At a school like the University of Georgia, part-time work opportunities come in all shapes and sizes, and the positive thing about part-time work is that you often have time to stay with a department or organization for multiple semesters, allowing your role to grow over time. I’ve seen just about everything on student resumes, from management roles in large-scale campus operations to bartending positions downtown. Regardless of how impressive (or not) your job sounds on the surface, what is often more important is how you leverage the opportunity before, during, and after you land the position. Here’s what I mean:
- Before: Whether you’re a pre-med student, an aspiring Wall Street banker, or hoping to become the next Jane Goodall, there is probably a position in the Athens area that will help enhance your resume. You could file medical records at an area clinic, work as a bank teller, or lead nature programs for the local park department. Think critically about the type of work you want to do and explore options around town that may help you develop that interest.
- During: Even after you’ve landed the job, keep your eyes open for opportunities to take on leadership roles or special projects. I talked to one graduate who now works for a major non-profit organization. In college, as a part-time employee at a major retail chain, she coordinated her store’s community service outreach. Taking initiative is always, always impressive to a future employer.
- After: Sell it. You don’t want to overstate your responsibilities, but make sure your potential boss knows the full extent of your contribution. Provide specific examples of projects or accomplishments and use metrics to quantify your work, such as the number of employees you managed or other measurables in the form of dollars and percentages. Especially if you give consideration to one or both of the points listed above, you will probably have some valuable experiences to share at this stage.
Internships: Explore Your Interests, Build Your Resume
First of all, each of the above points also applies to internships – give careful consideration to selecting, executing, and marketing your experiences. But there are a few additional points to consider here.
- Paid vs. Unpaid: Not everyone can commit to a 10-week long unpaid summer internship, and obviously such experiences can be very challenging financially. That being said, don’t rule out opportunities solely for this reason. Think carefully about the skills and connections you might gain. In some instances, local unpaid internships can be a low-commitment option (for both parties) that will help you investigate a field of interest. Most of the students I spoke with cobbled together paid internships, unpaid internships, and part-time jobs in creative ways that incrementally developed their sense of focus throughout their time at UGA.
- Ask Some Tough Questions: One good strategy is to interview the employer thoroughly before accepting an internship position to make sure they have a game plan for how you will spend your time. Questions like, “What sort of projects will I be working on?”, “How did previous interns spend their time?”, and “How will I be evaluated?” will give you valuable insight about the employer’s ability to provide you with a positive experience. If you get a sense that these issues are a work in progress, don’t be afraid to move on to a different experience that will be a better use of your time and talent.
- Consider a Start-Up: Some graduates cited getting valuable experiences at small companies, where they were able to work on a wide variety of projects and interns often made valuable contributions to organizational goals. Conversely, young interns sometimes felt shallowed up within the bureaucracies of larger corporations. In both instances, seeking out experiences with a mentorship component can be highly beneficial.
- Make a Good Impression: Finally, keep in mind that successful execution of the “little things” can make or break your internship experience. Have a good attitude. Make eye contact and say hello to people you pass in the hallway. Be on time. Dress appropriately. Know your place. Be eager to learn and volunteer for projects. These are basic, common-sense attributes of a successful employee. You may not know the ins-and-outs of the business on day one, but politeness and willingness to learn (and accept feedback) can go a very long way.
Ready to get started?
Visit career.uga.edu and log in to our Handshake job portal to view current opportunities for students. Happy hunting!