internshipsI walked across the stage during my undergraduate ceremony thinking I had received my ticket to the world. Unfortunately, the small private school I attended didn’t have a Career Services department, so I was on my own – with limited confidence and even less experience – for my job search in a metropolitan city. I created my resume from an online template and sent the same document to several employers, receiving little to no response. Looking back, I can see why: I not only had difficulty communicating what skills I had to offer, but, in reality, I didn’t have many skills beyond the classroom.

Jeffrey Selingo alludes to this very issue in his recent article, “Why are so many college students failing to gain job skills before graduation?” He points out that the issue lies with students focusing too much of their attention on selecting their major and not enough on gaining practical experience. Even Google says in the article that one’s possession of a degree is “no longer as clear [a sign] as it used to be that someone is job ready.” If only someone had communicated that to me before I had graduated!

In today’s job market, entry level positions are no longer truly entry level; as they often require some kind of experience within the field. While your academic program of study may not require a formal internship or practicum to be completed, this does not mean you shouldn’t obtain such experience. Employers are placing a heavy emphasis on experiential learning. Thus, new graduates must be able to demonstrate that they can apply their academic knowledge in the real world.

Easier said than done, right? Working in an internship or volunteer position while enrolled in classes, working full-time, and taking care of a family can be a challenge. Your time is of the utmost value, and it may require some personal sacrifices. Think of the end goal though; employers are not looking to hear excuses as to why you did not track down opportunities to boost your level of experience. They will simply overlook you and move on to the next qualified candidate.

Don’t get overlooked! Here are a few tips to finding an internship or volunteer position:

  1. Start somewhere. You don’t have to quit your day job and pick up a full-time, unpaid internship. See what you can find that will work with your schedule. This may take a bit more effort than making some cold calls, but maybe it’s simply volunteering with a local organization five to ten hours a week after your day job.
  2. Consider your field of interest. Where do you want to end up? Review some current job vacancies in that field to determine what skills are needed so you can hone in on them when taking on a volunteer position.
  3. Not all internship positions are unpaid. Check out the Pathways program on USAJobs.gov for open positions within the federal government for current students as well as recent graduates.
  4. Not all volunteer options can be found online. Make a phone call to discuss what opportunities may be available at a company of interest. Then, sell yourself! Showcase how you can benefit their company.

By Kristen Carter, Career Coach at American Public University System

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