The value of adding practical experience to your résumé
I know what you did last summer!
You spent two months working… right?
If you’ve answered, “Yes!” to this question, then congratulations! You’ve already enhanced your candidacy on the job market. However, if you’ve answered, “Nope. I spent all summer surfing with my buddies,” then you’re best advised to keep reading.
Practical experience is a must-have for today’s job seekers. According to Brazen Life’s Huffington Post article titled “Why Gaining Work Experience Is More Important Than Your Education,” many colleges and universities report that students who’ve completed an internship or gained work experience during their studies have higher rates of getting hired. For example, at Iowa State University, of all students who completed a co-op program to earn a BS in engineering, an astounding 90 percent got jobs after graduation!
Why is practical experience so important?
There are a number of reasons why you need practical experience. First, it’s simply the smart thing to do when you’re preparing for a career in a specific field. Let’s say it’s your dream to work as a consultant for an international corporate relocation company because you love international travel and you like organizing things. So you get a part-time job working as an office assistant at a corporate relocation company… and you find out it’s very different from what you expected. There’s a lot of administrative work and red tape that has to be dealt with; plus, the people who are relocating are often extremely stressed. In short, you realize this isn’t the job for you—and you can concentrate on finding another job where you can put your passion and skills to work, for example in the tourism industry.
Alternatively, you might find out that you really enjoy the corporate relocation business. And that means you’re gaining invaluable industry experience that will look great on your résumé when you apply for a full time job.
Second, you learn valuable soft skills, such as discipline, perseverance, teamwork, leadership skills, communication skills, and problem solving. Employers will look for these in candidates, and they’ll want to see proof. So if you’ve spent a month as a team leader at Homes for Heroes, the leadership skills, teamwork experience, and problem-solving abilities you developed there can add significant value to your candidacy.
Third, working helps you build your network and can provide you with contacts in your chosen field. These contacts can be extremely useful when it comes to hearing about job leads and interesting opportunities. In addition, if you’ve impressed someone, he or she might be willing to write you a letter of recommendation for a job or a place in a graduate program.
Fourth, the company you’re working for might offer you a position after you’ve graduated. Your employer already knows your skills and abilities, and you’re already acquainted with the company—so it’s a win-win situation!
How can you gain practical experience?
Gaining practical experience is usually easier than you think. Granted, you won’t be able to work as a surgeon before you’ve completed all those years of medical training. However, you can definitely volunteer or work in a hospital and build your interpersonal skills, as well as your knowledge of how a healthcare organization works.
Look for opportunities to gain experience in your chosen industry by applying for any role, no matter how menial or junior. Additionally, internships are a good idea. And as pointed out in the University of Pittsburgh article, “Step 2: Building Your Résumé,” you can also shadow a professional. This involves observing someone at work in order to learn more about an occupation.
If you can’t find any companies where you can gain experience, then look at other opportunities. Non-profit organizations and recreational clubs often offer volunteer positions where you can enhance your skills. For example, if you’re looking to become an accountant, you could work as the treasurer for your local golf club, or if you’re looking to become a social worker, you could volunteer at a local rehab center.
Gaining practical experience is smart both in terms of deciding your career path and differentiating yourself from other candidates. So if you don’t yet have a weekend job, summer gig, or internship lined up, now’s the time to start looking for one!