Complement Your Degree with Proven Talent to Succeed

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CTU Work ExperienceWithout a doubt, pursuing an education is an important career move that shows your desire to gain expertise in a particular field. A degree opens many doors that might otherwise be shut and immediately tells employers something about your knowledge and commitment. Education alone, however, oftentimes isn’t enough to attract the attention of hiring managers. They also want to see that you can apply your knowledge to “real world” settings.

“As the entry-level job market grew increasingly competitive during the economic down-turn, proof of experience became even more critical,” says Christine Bolzan, founder of Graduate Career Coaching, which provides custom counseling to college students and new graduates navigating the job application process. “Training programs have compressed, and fewer companies are willing to invest in training unproven talent.”

The bottom line: Don’t wait until graduation to start looking for related experience.

Internships, Employment, and Volunteer Work

Simultaneously developing the one-two punch of education and experience can prepare you to be immediately competitive in the job market following graduation. In fact, impress those in charge during your work experience and you may find a pathway into a career with that organization. Supervisors and co-workers also can serve as references when you enter the job market and may be able to point you toward employment leads.

For example, internships provide many students with hands-on training in their area of interest. Check with your career center for opportunities, or directly seek out programs at companies for which you might someday like to work. Similarly, an applicable full-time or part-time job can be valuable both for networking potential and résumé enhancement. If your degree will be in healthcare, working at a hospital—even in an administrative role—can provide a first-hand look at what goes on in that environment.

Unpaid work opportunities can even be valuable if you have the time and financial resources to take them. Nonprofits often welcome prospective marketing professionals, website developers, and the like to assist their limited staff. Contributing in such a manner shows a particular dedication to the field because you’re devoting time without monetary gain and still gaining relevant, hands-on experience.

Make the Time Count

Just as you carefully select courses, think about what you want to get out of a work experience. A possible approach is to examine actual postings for jobs to which you aspire after graduation. Learning what these positions entail can help you craft your experience to match what employers value. If customer service is prized, see if you can take on challenges in which you regularly interact with the public. See the phrase “highly motivated” pop up often? Ask your current manager what additional responsibilities you can take on. Keep a journal of these experiences so that it becomes easier to remember and connect the dots for interviewers down the line.

Merging the Two Spheres

For additional help finding work opportunities and figuring out which experiences are most likely to impact your future career, seek help from your instructors.

As Bolzan notes, “Instructors are an often overlooked networking resource that students hesitate to approach with career-related questions, and yet they can provide tremendous help linking students to alumni. Approach instructors with your specific career targets and ask if they are in touch with alumni, recent or more senior professionals, who can help you explore options in your desired field. An academic advisor in your course of study will likely know the many ways students who have studied a similar discipline have applied their skills and knowledge in the professional realm.”

Remember that your instructors and Career Services at CTU are there to guide you, and their knowledge isn’t simply limited to the classroom. Take advantage of these resources around you so that you can begin accumulating the knowledge and experience you need to put you ahead of other job seekers when graduation rolls around.

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Image Credit: Flickr/Kiva Dang