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To Be or Not to Be?

 Relevant and Practical Experiences

Imagine yourself in the driver's seat -- the personnel director, who has to pick the best candidate for the job. The selection has been narrowed down to two well-qualified candidates. Jill is a 3.0 graduate with leadership experience in various campus organizations, a few volunteer experiences, a semester of international education in England, a number of related summer jobs, a campus job doing research for a professor, and an internship in the field she desires to work in the future. Bill is a 3.0 graduate with the same major and no experience outside of the classroom. Who would you choose?

Employers generally want as many guarantees as possible that they are hiring a person who can do the job. The best way to assure this is to hire people with a track record of relevant and practical experiences, someone who has learned and tested on-the-job competencies. In many situations, a person with a lower grade point with more experience may well win out over a candidate with a higher grade point.

If it is obvious that people with experience are more employable, then why doesn't everyone obtain as much experience as possible? There is probably not a simple answer to this dilemma. For some students it is a lack of awareness and encouragement; for others it is a lack of defined goals and motivation to seek out these experiences. Most students lead busy and complicated lives, and the path of least resistance and procrastination allows some to return to old jobs or jobs they don't have spend much time and effort obtaining. Some jobs provide excellent sources of needed money and it is difficult, if not impossible, to pass them up for related jobs with lower pay or unpaid experiences. No matter the reason, life goes on and there are always repercussions to our early decisions. How are your decisions today going to be judged by employers in the future? What investments are you making for yourself, future lifestyle, and possible family?

 What are the Benefits of Gaining Relevant Experiences?

There are many benefits in obtaining relevant and practical experiences. Perhaps the most important personal benefit is that these experiences will either increase your motivation to continue in the field, or to search for other alternatives before you go too far in your present field of study. Here are a few benefits to obtaining practical experiences.

  • gain better sense of self-esteem and independence
  • develop new dimensions of your personality
  • become a more interesting person
  • improve interpersonal, written, and oral communication skills
  • gain an appreciation for working with individuals from diverse cultures
  • understand and practice ethical behavior
  • gain supervisory/leadership/teamwork skills
  • develop new friendships
  • enhance self-management skills
  • obtain work related, transferable skills
  • develop conflict resolution skills
  • gain job search experience
  • develop a professional network

 What Are Some Ways You Can Obtain Practical Experiences?

Of course, pay is always nice, but unpaid experience may be worth gold in the future, by helping you obtain the type of position you want.

  1. Part-time Job in the Field
    Starting out at any level will provide you good exposure to understand a specific work setting. You will get the opportunity to speak with and learn about people in the field. It is easier to learn about daily routine, required skills, rewards, and advantages and disadvantages of the position when you are actually in the work place.
  2. Volunteer Work
    There are excellent opportunities, especially in public service, education, and health, to gain volunteer experience. You will learn many of the same things as you would from employment. It is a wonderful chance to ask questions concerning job settings and duties. Employers look favorably on people who demonstrate professional development through public service.
  3. Internships
    Internships are generally on-the-job experience set up by employers in conjunction with educational institutions. They generally involve receiving academic credits. Some internships pay, but others do not. Not all internships have to be for credit. You need to decide if receiving credits is in your best interest since it does cost money and requires completion of additional academic assignments and/or papers. The more you research internships, the more you will develop an understanding of how and where to look for appropriate sites. On this campus, each academic department handles their own internships. Check with your department for the appropriate person to discuss this option or check out the Career Services Office website for additional information.
  4. Summer Employment
    Seek out relevant and practical experiences for the summer. Before you develop long-term family and job commitments, your summers provide you excellent opportunities to see the world. The main question you should be asking is: Why Not? With all of the excellent resources, including the Internet, the sky is the limit. Starting early and being creative in your search will pay off.
  5. Job Shadow
    Spend 2 or 3 days following someone around in an environment in which you may want to work. This can be an excellent way to gain awareness of a field and explore the next step in your professional development. People generally enjoy sharing with others what they do; all you need to do is ask and be respectful and responsible.
  6. Informational Interviewing
    Informational interviewing is much like shadowing, but it involves interviewing for a shorter period of time in order to get specific career information. Because they are short, you can afford to set up many interviews in order to gain information, perspective, and a larger network.
  7. Join Professional Organizations
    Many professional organizations have student chapters. Even if they do not have a student chapter, check if you can join and develop an understanding of what is happening in the field.
  8. Attend Relevant Conferences and Seminars
    There are many organizations, agencies, and private companies providing opportunities to gain employment-specific knowledge and skills. At times, the only way to obtain specific skills required by an employer is through such training. Obtaining such knowledge and skills can greatly impress an employer.
  9. Take Course Electives to Complement Your Career Goals
    Making a decision to take a course related to a career area can be an excellent move. There are many courses that will not be required but are good to take. Not only will you learn relevant information, but future employers respect your efforts to go beyond the boundaries.
  10. Participate in Study Abroad Programs
    International travel and study will not only develop self-confidence and maturity, but it can also be a selling point to future employers, as long as you can articulate the relevance of what you learned and the skills you gained from your experience abroad.
  11. Join Student Organizations and Clubs
    You can develop excellent skills by participating with and/or leading others in campus groups. Just joining an organization to put on a resume is not enough; you must be active and develop yourself professionally and personally.
  12. Research Papers
    Whenever possible, chose to research career opportunities while completing class assignments.

 Searching for Relevant and Practical Experiences

Because there are so many avenues for practical experiences, there are many resources to locate them. Once you have located possible sites to gain experience, it is recommended that you act professionally: i.e. brush up the resume, cover letter, and interviewing skills. The following sites are places to start your search:

  • Career Services Office
  • Student Involvement and Employment Office (SIEO)
  • Academic Departments
  • LRC Reference Room
  • Internet
  • Wide variety of books related to summer jobs and internships

The Internet is an excellent way to locate experiences all over the world. Many sites will have e-mail to contact them easily. Even if a place doesn't advertise possible opportunities, ask them. Convince them by your enthusiasm and professionalism that you will be of assistance to them. Check early—perhaps this year is filled, but you will be first in line for the next opening.

Unless you have some strong commitments or responsibilities keeping you in familiar surroundings, why not be adventurous and branch out into new territories. This is a special time in your life where you have the freedom and ability to explore the world!

 Things to Do During and After Your Experiences

Once you have an experience you must now make some decisions how you're going to make the most of it. Push yourself! The following items are suggestions to incorporate into your experience.

  • Keep a journal
  • Discuss your experience with friends, family, faculty, and staff
  • Perform informational interviews with other people you work with or at the place you work
  • Volunteer for extra assignments
  • Develop professional references
  • Keep records of projects you have worked on
  • Make lists of the skills developed and knowledge you learned
  • Obtain written evaluations and/or letters of recommendations
  • Learn to communicate how your skills can benefit future employers
  • Answer the following questions
    • What did you learn about the job, people, business, industry, and yourself from this experience?
    • How would you describe the ideal candidate for the job you held?
    • What skills and qualifications do you think are necessary to be successful in this job? Who would you hire?
    • What do you know now that you wish you knew before you started?
    • If you were to receive some type of recognition for your work, what would it be?
    • What advice would you offer other students seeking practical experiences?

After you have completed your experience, remember to write thank you letters and to keep up with these people. Let them know how much you appreciated this opportunity. The network you build today may help you in the future!

 Getting Started

Your first step is to commit yourself to seeking and obtaining relevant and practical experiences. The earlier you start, the more time you will have for more experiences. For many students it is deciding to take the first step. Most students once they obtain a practical experience are able and motivated to continue to seek out additional experiences. You may want to map out your future on a piece of paper. This will assist you in identifying the type and amount of experience you are ready for in your life.

Whenever and wherever you get stuck in your planning -- seek out assistance. Staff in the Career Services Office is available to assist you. Also, check out the “Relevant Experiences and Internships” section of our website for links to possible experiences. Remember—the choices you make today will follow you in the future!

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