If you’re currently a student, have recently graduated, or if you’ve even breathed near academia at one point or another, you’ve probably heard the same questions over and over again:
*So, what’s next for you? *
What are you going to do with that degree?
How’s your job search coming?
While the questions are usually well-intentioned, it can still be stressful to have an impending graduation date on the horizon with no post-graduate job in sight. Or, maybe you’re still in high school or college and you’re looking to find a job that can help pad that student budget while also preparing you for that “real world” everyone keeps telling you about. Whatever your reason for beginning your job hunt as a student, you should know that there are plenty of resources out there for you, and ways to find a job you’ll be proud to write down first on your resume.
If you’re a student, the biggest concern you probably have about writing a resume is a lack of job experience. While it’s true that most student resumes don’t focus on traditional work experience, a little creative thinking can go a long way. Things like volunteering experience, extracurricular activities, and hobbies and interests can all find a home on a student resume. While most employers won’t be looking for lengthy work history sections on a student resume, you should still be aware of expectations when you’re writing a resume as a high school or college student. Let’s take a look at both resume categories in closer detail.
As a high school student, you’ll likely be writing a resume for the first time, and to get your first “real” job. Rather than being paid cash for odd jobs around the neighborhood (fellow high school babysitters, I see you), you’ll be on an official payroll, working structured hours, and possibly having to cooperate with the corporate world for the first time.
The expectation for high school student resumes is that you’ll have absolutely no official work experience. Instead, use your studies, interests, and extracurriculars as a way to demonstrate that you have the discipline and self-organization skills to thrive in a part-time job.
While most resumes absolutely require a “work experience” section, a high school student’s resume doesn’t always need to be so structured. The key to writing a killer resume as a high school student is to make everything clean, organized, and clear. Remember, this is an employer’s first impression of you, and you want to do your best to make them forget about any unsavory stereotypes they might be holding onto about teenagers.
A great way to begin a high school student resume is with a resume objective. This brief paragraph at the beginning of your resume acts as an official introduction to a potential employer. You can use this section to highlight a few of your top achievements and introduce yourself to the hiring manager. Remember to keep this section brief and to the point. You don’t want it to take up too much space, but it can also be a useful tool to present yourself professionally.
Junior at William McKinley High School interested in pursuing veterinary science education. Currently hold a 3.5 GPA, president of the McKinley Animal Rights Society. Currently, I’m seeking part-time employment in an environment that will allow me to be involved with the care of animals.
Why it works: this resume objective follows a clear path: this job-seeker has a great GPA, is interested in ultimately becoming a veterinarian, is currently involved in an animal rights extra curricular, and would like a job that includes animals. A hiring manager would see this resume objective and understand exactly why this person would want the job, and why they’d be a good fit for a role.
Remember, resume objectives are an easy way to customize your resume for each job you’re applying for. Think about what you want to get out of each job and how it relates to your path, and then use the resume objective section to begin telling your story.
Much like a high school student resume, writing a resume as a college student is more about your personal and academic accomplishments than your work history. While you might have a part-time or summer job from high school to speak about, it’s also common to not have any work experience at all when you create your first resume as a college student.
As a college student, you might also be asked to create a CV rather than a resume. CVs might be used when you apply for internships, grants, academic programs, or awards. While CVs have much in common with resumes, there are a few key differences. The biggest difference is that a CV lists every one of your academic and professional achievements, where a resume is more curated and specific to the job you’re applying for. Resumes are usually 1-2 pages in length, whereas a CV can be as many pages as necessary to list each and every award, conference, major project, internship, volunteer experience, and job you’ve ever held.
In general, the process for writing a resume as a college student is very similar to that of writing a resume as a high school student. Much of the time, you’ll be applying for internships, externships, co-ops, or work experience programs in your industry, which means you can use your academic record in your favor when you’re creating your resume. Think about the type of job you’re applying for, and how it fits into your long-term goals as well as your current area of study. For example, if you’re applying for an internship at a tech company, and you’re a current computer science major, a stellar GPA is going to indicate to the hiring manager that you have an aptitude for the work you’d be doing in the internship.
While it’s not always easy to work part time when you’re also juggling the demands of student life, there are several reasons why you might benefit from working as a student. First of all, obviously, you’ll earn a bit of extra cash. Gone are the days where working part-time on campus would pay for your entire degree, unfortunately, but having a bit of extra money to help with expenses or leisure over the course of your student experience certainly couldn’t hurt.
Working part time as a student also allows you to gain work experience before you graduate. Even if your part time job doesn’t seem to have anything to do with your area of study, you’re constantly learning transferable skills on the job. Looking to work in marketing, but your part time job is in retail? Even if you don’t realize it, you’re getting great experience with collaborating, communication, and pitching products – all things that hiring managers certainly look for when recruiting for entry-level marketing positions.
In general, you can divide your options for part time work as a student into two categories: jobs directly related to your field of study, and jobs not directly related. As we’ve said, even jobs that aren’t directly related to what you’d like to do after graduation can still be hugely beneficial when it comes time to go searching for that first full time job, and those jobs are often easier to find. This is mostly because many jobs related to your field require a degree, meaning you’d have to graduate before you can even get your foot in the door.
If you’re dead-set on working in your field part-time while you study, that doesn’t mean you’re out of options. Research companies in your future industry to get an idea of where you’d like to work eventually – even if they don’t have positions suitable for you right now, keeping them in mind for the future never hurts. You can also take advantage of networking opportunities afforded to you through your school – maybe your program holds job fairs or other networking events for the industry that you can attend.
In general, the most common way to work directly in your field while still studying is to take on an internship. The main pro of an internship is that you’ll be gaining experience in your field before you graduate, meaning your first resume after graduation can contain a work experience section with points that directly relate to your prospective jobs, and prove to potential employers that you have what it takes to work for them. The infamous man con of internships, however, is that they pay very little – or sometimes not at all. While laws have changed over the years to avoid predatory unpaid internships, you might still find yourself in an uncomfortable situation where you have to choose between working in a field you love and making enough to support yourself. In the US, unpaid internships are illegal unless the intern is the “primary beneficiary” of the internship. Usually, this means you’ll receive school credit for the internship and your employer will have to actively work to educate and mentor you about the industry. If that type of situation works for you, then internships can be a massively valuable addition to your resume.
If you’d prefer a more straightforward, traditional part time job, where you may not be gaining direct experience in your industry but you’re being paid regularly, you have several options. One way to begin looking for a job as a college student is to check out job boards and other resources directly provided from your school. Think about what’s going to be easiest for you – are there restaurants or stores near or on campus that you might be able to work in, for example?
If you live in a city, perhaps taking on gig work through companies such as Uber, DoorDash, TaskRabbit, or another platform could provide you with the right combination of money and flexibility you need as a student. If this seems like a good option for you, think about the culture of your area. If you go to college in a large city, you’ll likely have plenty of opportunities to work for these types of companies. If your college town is smaller, or less busy, you might have to think creatively. Maybe there aren’t many restaurants or businesses, but lots of people have dogs that might need to be walked or looked after!
It’s taken years of hard work, countless late nights, and probably more caffeine than you’d care to admit, but you’ve finally graduated. You’re probably exhausted from the effort it takes to get a degree.
So, this is probably not the best time to tell you that your hard work may have just begun.
You might not want to think about it this way, but your first job after graduation might be the job hunt itself. It can take a lot of time, energy, effort, and creativity to ensure that your first job after graduation is perfect (or at least as close to it as it can be!)
When you’re looking for your first graduate job, research your new industry carefully. What types of jobs are you qualified for? Is there any additional training or experience you need to get the type of job you think would suit you best? Think about where you’d like to see yourself in 10 or even 20 years, and then think about what the path to that destination might look like.
Many people take part in some kind of internship or graduate scheme to bridge the gap between graduation and their first full-time job after college. While these programs have their own pros and cons (which we’ve already discussed above), some graduates find that easing themselves into the industry is an excellent way to dip their toes into many different aspects of it in order to find out what they actually enjoy doing. For example, if you take part in a computer science graduate scheme with an eye towards becoming a front-end developer, but through the course of your work experience discover you have a real passion for UX design, you can begin to carve out a more specific career path with that knowledge and experience.
Companies (often large tech companies, though other types of companies, such as publishers, also occasionally offer graduate schemes) offer graduate schemes as a way to attract fresh talent. The purpose of a graduate scheme is to recruit new graduates for a set term (usually a year or less) and provide mentorship and education, while still paying them as full-time employees. Instead of working in one set position, you’ll be exposed to many different parts of the company and the industry as a whole. This way, you get to learn about the structure of the company as well as how different departments work together – and how you fit into that. Graduate schemes are more common in the UK than elsewhere in the world, but they’re becoming increasingly common elsewhere, as seen in places such as Shopify’s hugely popular Dev Degree program.
Graduate schemes are seen as an alternative to traditional unpaid internships that provide participants with everything they need to succeed in the graduate scheme company and beyond. Generally, prospective participants apply for graduate schemes in their final year of college and begin working once they graduate. At the end of the graduate scheme, participants are either offered a permanent full-time position, or they’re given the tools to find a different full-time job elsewhere (and by that time, they’ll have a year’s worth of work experience for a major company under their belt!)
An internship is a work experience program that allows college students and recent graduates to gain experience in their field. Not only do internships provide work experience, they also help you learn about best practices in your field and help you become more comfortable with an office environment. As an intern, you’ll generally work on administrative tasks while shadowing full-time employees, allowing you to contribute to the office and learn about the field all at once. Internships can last anywhere from a week or two to a year or more.
You might have heard many different takes on internships over the years. But, really, what are they? Are they all exploitative and underhanded, or can they actually provide you with valuable experience as you enter the workforce?
The definitive answer is… it depends. The most important part of considering an internship is to carefully research the company, the internship program, and the value it brings to you, specifically. While this isn’t the purpose of internships, many companies over the years have offered internships solely for free or cheap labor, which has resulted in internships often carrying a bad reputation.
In many states, internships now must either be paid, or directly beneficial to the participant. Many companies work with colleges to provide credit for internships in order to satisfy that requirement. Others will offer a stipend at the end of the internship, while others, still, will come fully paid. You can nearly always safely assume that an internship nowadays will come with some kind of benefit to you (outside of gaining work experience in your industry). They key is to consider what kind of benefit you’re looking for, so you can decide which types of internships are worth your time. If you’re looking for extra credit, or if your degree program requires a work placement in order for you to graduate, you may be able to take on an “unpaid” internship if your financial situation allows for it. In other scenarios, you may only be able to participate in an internship if it’s fully paid.
While you’ve almost definitely heard about internships, externships are less common, and you may not know that they could also be a valuable way to increase your work experience and overall hireability. But what’s the difference between an internship and an externship?
The two are similar, but, in general, an externship involves the participant shadowing someone in their field in order to understand the daily tasks involved with their work. Picture med school students following a physician during their day to get a sense of what a day in a the life of a doctor is like.
Unlike internships, externships are almost always unpaid, and almost always supported by a college or other educational institution. While you can (and absolutely should) still use externship experience as a way to demonstrate your familiarity with your field on your resume, an externship is more about showing you the ropes in your future career.
You might have heard whispers about it – that all-powerful, possibly mythical being who managed to secure a full-time job at their company following an internship. But is it really possible?
Depending on your industry, the company, and how well your internship goes, the answer could be a resounding yes.
You’ll probably have a decent idea of whether your internship could turn into a full-time job before you even begin. Do your research about the industry – is hiring from internships common practice? If you can’t find direct answers about the relationship between internships and full time jobs, you can get a sense of it by researching industry turnover. If your industry or role moves quickly, and is in demand, internships are usually a great hiring pool for recruiters. If people tend to stay in jobs for a very long time, or if there are fewer jobs to go around, it might be more difficult to get hired full time after your internship. If your internship is taking place at a company, or in an industry, where hiring after internships is common (or at least possible), the best thing you can do to improve your chance of getting hired is to treat your entire internship like a job interview. While you’re an intern to learn the ins and outs of your industry, you can also make yourself extremely useful. Interns have a reputation for being coffee runners, organizers, and photocopiers – but that doesn’t mean you can’t be the best coffee runner, organizer, or photocopier your company has ever seen.
As your internship comes to a close, it’s a good idea to organize an informal meeting with your supervisor. Ask about how they think you did, and what you could have improved upon. Make it known that you’ve enjoyed your time as an intern, and explain why you’d love to continue working full time for the company. Even if you aren’t able to secure a full-time position, ending things on a positive note with a supervisor can lead to further opportunities down the road.
Whether you got it after an internship or from good old-fashioned job hunting, your first job after college is a massive milestone that should be celebrated. But if you’re entering a competitive industry, it can be easy to start comparing yourself to others and wonder if everyone’s getting incredible full-time jobs except you.
While that’s probably not the case, some job hunts are harder than others. It might be because of your location, it might be that your industry is niche and ultra-competitive, or it might just be a slow period in your industry when hiring isn’t a priority. Either way, the number one thing you need to get through your first full time job search is determination.
After graduation (or before, if you’re looking to really plan ahead), make a list of all the skills and traits you’ve gained from your education. Think about soft skills, like collaboration and organization, as well as hard skills, such as specific technology you’ve mastered or protocols you’ve learned how to implement. Outline how you’ve gained these skills, including examples of each. From there, you can begin researching entry level positions in your industry, keeping an eye out for job descriptions that mention those skills.
Use those skills to create the perfect resume (customizing for each job you apply to, of course!), and you’re well on your way to landing your first job after college.
The period of your life immediately after graduation can leave you feeling untethered and confused – especially right now. But, thankfully, with a bit of preparation, you’ll significantly raise your chances of scoring an awesome first full time job after college!
Content Manager & Resume Expert
Maggie is the Content Manager at VisualCV, with years of experience creating easy-to-understand resume guides, blogs, and career marketing content. Now, she loves helping people learn how to leverage their skills to start their dream jobs.
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