When hiring new graduates, employers are weighing work experience in-line with academic credentials. Consulting firm Global Strategy Group released a study stating only four percent of college graduates are “very prepared” for the workforce.
Graduating without any relevant work experience to the industry you are applying for is a very serious red flag. It shows a lack of professional awareness of what employers are looking for, and missing preparedness for an adult career. With 8.5 percent of college graduates unemployed, 16.8 percent underemployed, and record student debt, not being intentional about what you will do after graduation is simply negligent. From as early as the summer of freshman year, students should be thinking about building out their portfolio.
Most students think about applying for internships the summer before their senior year. This is limiting, and you will have a harder time landing the internship you want without building up momentum beforehand.
At Blank Label, when interviewing new graduates, we ask what the candidate did every summer of school. The candidates usually fall into three buckets: 1) went home and did nothing; 2) picked up a job in retail or at their neighborhood grocery store; or 3) volunteered or got work experience relevant to their desired field. The third candidate always stands out.
The thing is, it is not that hard to be the third candidate. Use your college’s Career Services office to see what general internship or co-op positions are available. Another simple entry-point is applying for customer service positions at local startup companies. They are always looking for more help, and often in service positions. If they do not have public positions open, email them anyway, and offer yourself as an unpaid intern for the summer, or ask for a stipend depending on your economic situation. Just get in the door and start learning about the real world.
During the School Year
Maintain an internship during the school year, or at least one of the two semesters. This is especially important after your junior-year internship, as this may very well lead into a full-time offer once you graduate.
If commuting to a job is not possible during the school year, and remote work is not an option for your employer, you should start blogging. This might come as a surprise, but employers today will Google you, and more than keeping your party photos private, you want to be putting forward a great personal brand.
Even though this example is of someone more experienced, it acts as a great archetype of a personal site. Employers will not be looking for ground-breaking insights. They just want to see thoughtfulness, how you are connecting the ideas you are learning in the classroom with past work experiences, and what you are reading everyday. So do not take your foot off the pedal during the school year—keep building that portfolio.
Your college years are for more than helping you get a job; they offer an opportunity for self exploration. Once you graduate and start your first full-time role, it is possible that, within three months, you discover you are not suited for the position, company, or industry. Making the change will not be easy, and if you transition again soon after, employers will take notice.
But in reality, it is hard to figure out what you should be doing or what you will be good at. That is why you should be actively exploring your options during college—employers expect you to. Be intentional about trying to figure out what you want or do not want in a position and get that out of the way during school, when it is encouraged rather than after when it is more frowned upon.
Are you looking for an opportunity to gain additional work experience? Join the Experiential Network and get connected to top employers through academic, project-based work.
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