08. Work It! Flaunt Your Work Experience

Nothing impresses a potential employer as much as a successful work experience you’ve already had. This module discusses how to add to your work experience (internship, anyone?) and explains how to describe even the most mundane entry-level job so that it sounds like a valuable character-building experience that will serve you well in your career. The questions in this worksheet prep you to tell interesting anecdotes that flaunt your experience and showcase your best characteristics.

When you’re applying for a job (or even an advanced academic degree, such as an MBA, PhD, or MD) nothing takes the place of actual work experience, be it paid or as a volunteer. When you get in and do the work to learn about an industry or professional role that you are interested in, you learn something beyond the classroom, and show a great deal of initiative and responsibility.

Employers and graduate-level admissions committees love to see work experience of any kind on a résumé, because it shows you possess an ability to work with others and balance your commitments, as well as a willingness to work hard.

If you have not been able to get a job that will give you the kind of experience you feel you need to secure a position in your desired career, consider volunteering with a community nonprofit in a related field. If you want to work at a newspaper, for example, is there a local paper that is sold to benefit the homeless, a college publication, or an in-house newsletter at a charitable organization that will allow you to contribute? Nonprofits are often much more willing to let you try something new to help you become who you want to be than companies are to pay a salary to an untested candidate without experience in a given field.

But that doesn’t mean that you can’t make the most of a job that is willing to pay you a salary for your contribution—whatever the position. Sometimes the best place to learn customer service skills are in the entry level positions that college students have, such as waiting tables or working in retail. The company you eventually want to work for may not care that you’re great at folding sweaters, but they will value the fact that you have clearly demonstrated your ability to manage your time, your capacity to get along with co-workers, and your development of your own personal workplace boundaries. The experiences you have at your entry-level job can become the stories that you tell employers in an interview, anecdotes that will add to the building of your personal brand and make you stand out from your peers.

Internships as Work Experience

No one wants to hire someone without experience, but how can you get experience if no one will hire you? Internships were developed as an answer to that question. These programs provide practical experience for beginners in a profession, sometimes for pay or class credit, but often just for the value of the experience itself.

Today, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), “an internship is a form of experiential learning that integrates knowledge and theory learned in the classroom with practical application and skills development in a professional setting.”  For example, if you are in the science field, you may want to look for a research-oriented internship or one where your own research contributes to a larger study.

And while an internship isn’t meant to be a stepping-stone to a job, it is an opportunity to impress a potential future employer while gaining invaluable experience. Internships serve the employer by giving them a chance to train and evaluate their interns. According to a survey conducted by the NACE, sixty percent of 2012 college graduates who participated in paid internships received at least one job offer.

You can find out more about internships at http://www.internships.com/student/resources/ , and more about getting one in the Career Marketing module “Intern Intel: How to Get—and Make the Most of—An Internship.”

Whether your work experience consists of an entry-level job, a volunteer position at a nonprofit, or a paid or unpaid internship, it’s something you want to flaunt on your résumé and in job and admissions interviews. When you’re trying to incorporate work experience into your personal brand, consider:

Module 8 | Work It! Flaunt Your Work Experience