Graduating from college and trying to find a job in today’s market feels like a Catch-22. Entry-level jobs are already expecting you to have years of experience under your belt. But how do you get experience if every job has that as a pre-requisite? This is why it is so important to start building a resume while you are in school.

Here are five types of opportunities you should be looking at: 

1. Internships

It’s not too early to start getting experience in the career that you are interested in! The best internships have you learning on the job, not just picking up the office’s coffee order. It’s also a way to connect and network with people who are also in that industry. 

Your first resource is to check with your school’s career office. If you’re looking for a roadmap for internships, take a look at LinkedIn and see if your school has alumni who work in the industry that you are interested in. Network like your life depends on it. You can also find internships on LinkedIn, Glassdoor, and Internships.com. Don’t forget to check companies’ career and hiring pages as well! 

It’s important to note that some internships pay while others don’t. If you can afford to pursue an unpaid internship where you really like the work and experience, go for it! Keep in mind, it is a privilege to be able to work an unpaid internship. But even paid internships don’t always provide a lot of monetary compensation. If you are in college, check with your school to see if you can get academic credit in exchange.

2. Part-time work experience

A lot of students find part-time work outside of the classroom, either for their financial security or the experience. Some students take on multiple part-time jobs! This work is not to be discounted. You don’t need to have a glamorous job. Working as a barista, salesperson, or office assistant is all valuable for building a resume. Look to see if your school has on-campus jobs, or drop off your resume at local businesses.

Any type of employment, especially while you are in school, shows your work ethic. On your resume, point out your ability to work in a professional capacity and environment. Take about the responsibilities that you had and how you were able to coordinate all of that alongside your schoolwork. Highlight the fact that working, while in school, has given you impeccable time and project management skills.

3. Student organizations

Clubs, activities, and organizations within your school are a great opportunity to demonstrate leadership and practical skills on resumes. For example, in a student newspaper, you become skilled in writing, photography, or copy-editing. In debate club or mock trial, you might be doing public speaking. Political, religious, and academic clubs show the ability to work with others and issues that you are passionate about. So make sure you are joining organizations and clubs that line up with your interests.

Don’t forget to look for opportunities for leadership. On your resume, describe your achievements, teamwork, communication skills, and commitment to an organization or cause.

4. Volunteer work

Do you have a cause that you care about? It can be as big as volunteering for a political campaign, or as simple as dedicating a few hours of your week to tutoring students. A lot of school organizations are focused on volunteer work. But you can also find volunteer work by searching organizations like VolunteerMatch or your local community centers.   

Volunteer work is also a way to explore career paths. For example, if you are considering going into animal veterinarian care or zoology, think about volunteering at the local animal shelter! But volunteer work doesn’t have to be about furthering your own career path either. What is essential, is that that you should be volunteering for a cause that is important to you, because you will work better when you care about what you are working on. To employers, it shows passion, dedication to cause, and commitment to public service. It also establishes you as a well-rounded and valuable member of any community that you join—in start-ups or in large companies. 

5. Research experience

This one can be a little tricky. However, it can be very valuable for building a resume, especially if you are interested in pursuing a career in research. Some schools have designated programs for students, but it can be difficult to find research positions, especially at universities where graduate students do the bulk of research. Get to know your professors and the research that they do. Go to office hours and ask them about research opportunities. 

On your resume, describe the work that you did and how it ties to your academic expertise. Describe data or library research and the type of project skills you developed. It’s important to say how your research matters and how your work ties into the field that you are interested in. Remember, this is about painting a bigger picture of you as an excellent student, who goes above and beyond to do academic work. 

Building a resume while in school can be tricky, but it’s not impossible. Think about what you spend your time doing outside of the classroom, and start writing down what you contribute to your school and community. You’ll start to realize that you have more experience than you thought!

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  • Helena Ong

    Helena Ong is a freelance writer and journalist from San Francisco, California. In the past, she's worked at San Francisco Public Press, World Policy Journal, and NBC4 Los Angeles. She graduated from Pomona College, where she served as Production Editor for her college newspaper, The Student Life.

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