As a college or university undergraduate, how can you build skills that will impact your future job marketability—when your work is still being evaluated by letter grade, and your food options are still largely limited to your school cafeteria’s daily specials?
It’s never too early to start thinking about learning new skills, participating in volunteer opportunities, and earning certifications that you can add to your resume. With Gen Z set to make up 25 percent of the workforce, finding ways to stand apart from your peers now will pay off immensely when you’re ready to showcase your qualifications in the post-graduate working world.
Here are 7 ways to boost your resume (when you’re not hitting the books):
1. Complete an internship.
Whether you land at a law firm, your local newspaper, or a remote dude ranch, your internship experience will help you gain valuable skills and experience for a future job, as well as give you a taste of what a post-college job will be like. Internships can also provide college credit or actual paychecks to help offset college expenses. These experiences can open doors to more internships, glowing letters of recommendation, and, if you work hard and the stars align, even a job upon graduation.
Internships typically last the duration of an academic quarter or semester (or over the length of a summer or winter break). They are available in all kinds of industries including finance, technology, publishing, construction, legal, and performing arts. To find an internship with the duration, benefits, and field that fits with your criteria, start by making an appointment with your academic department office or college career center. They are a key resource for internship advice and access to available opportunities. Let professors and your personal and professional networks know what kind of an internship you’re seeking, and attend on-campus internship events and job fairs to meet potential matches.
2. Get a summer job.
Although lazy days at the pool may be tempting, getting a summer job is a smart move, and unlike pool-lounging, you can get paid for your time. Whether you stick around school for the summer and work on campus (and even take a summer class or two to get ahead) or find a job back home, a summer job can give you structure, responsibility, and another opportunity to add valuable skills and experience to your resume.
3. Take online classes and earn certifications.
The online education market has exploded, which is great news for students interested in learning a new skill and seeking an edge in the job market. On free-to-join sites like Coursera, you can choose to take a course, or dive deeper to earn a certification or even a degree. UDemy has courses to help people gain professional skills in all types of disciplines—from office productivity, to design, to teaching and academics, to personal development–and the courses can be downloaded and completed anytime. While your college workload may be heavy enough on its own, adding a course or two to complement your schoolwork shows potential employers that you have initiative, commitment to a field of interest, and a desire to learn and grow.
4. Become a Resident Assistant (RA).
Aside from the often free room and board, there are other compelling reasons to become an RA. An RA’s job is to welcome new residents to college life, be available as a resource for them on their dormitory floor, enforce school policies, and help handle tricky situations or roommate conflicts that arise. It’s a great way to not only meet new people, but also to give you experience dealing with real-life situations and building valuable leadership, communications, and problem-solving skills that will be valuable in a future workplace.
Donating your time to a greater cause and helping others is a commendable venture. If you’re not sure where to start, first consider what kind of a cause you’re interested in and then research non-profit organizations that work with that type of cause. Your volunteer activity of choice may be becoming a Big Brother or Big Sister for Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, or you might enjoy building houses for Habitat for Humanity, or tutoring middle-schoolers who want to go into STEM fields.
Tap into your campus’ volunteer groups and opportunities as well—often times you won’t have to look far to find a group working to clean up the environment, assisting at-risk youth, collecting food/supplies for those in need, or a myriad of other volunteer efforts. You can also check out online sites geared specifically toward young people who want to make a difference.
As an added bonus, when you volunteer with a cause that’s meaningful to you, your interest and commitment will shine through on your resume and be evident to potential employers in interviews.
6. Join professional associations and clubs.
Professional associations and clubs are made up of people in the same or similar fields who meet regularly to network, host guest speakers, and discuss issues important to their professional community. Joining a professional association or club offers networking opportunities with people in your chosen major or intended career, and can lead to future internship or job offers, access to potential mentors and an intellectual community of like-minded people, career advisement, and a chance to learn more about changes in the industry.
Your major likely has a related pre-professional group on campus. Many of these groups are affiliated with regional or national associations that have on-campus branches, such as Public Relations Student Society of America or The American Medical Student Association. Ask your professors and department heads about which groups are available to you, and look into clubs related to your major (or that you’re simply interested in) such as debate club, the school newspaper, theater club, or the college radio program to name a few.
If a club you want to join doesn’t exist, start one! The initiative, creativity and entrepreneurship you show will prove impressive to future potential employers.
7. Study abroad.
The benefits of studying abroad are endless:Venturing across the world for a semester, year or summer term can offer you the opportunity to see a new part of the globe while gaining exposure to a new culture, picking up a new language, learning practical life skills, making lifelong friendships, and much more.
Studying abroad can show potential employers that you’re adaptable in new environments, globally competent, emotionally intelligent, resourceful, responsible, and open-minded. It can also show employers that you’re ready for new challenges and opportunities, and that you value learning and growth in your personal and professional life. The Erasmus Impact Study showed that 64 percent of employers consider study abroad experience to be important, and 92 percent look for transferable skills that are typically gained from the experience.
While study abroad programs aren’t often free, financial assistance and scholarships are often available. Contact your school’s academic advisor or study abroad department to find out what kinds of programs and financial aid are offered.
Tap into your career center
Your on-campus career center is often an untapped resource, offering services that can help you with everything from choosing a major to polishing your resume and prepping for interviews. They are also skilled in placing students with internships and general job-hunting. Make an appointment with career center to discuss your goals and find out about additional opportunities to set yourself apart.