Since job seekers can apply to a job with just the click of a button, job searching has become increasingly competitive. And it’s especially challenging for college students and recent college grads whose work experience primarily consists of student jobs, like unpaid college internships and part-time or on-campus jobs.
According to a recent study, employers spend an average of six seconds scanning your resume. About 80 percent of that time goes to reviewing your current and previous job titles and a few other professional key points such as position start and end dates and education level.
So how can college students better prepare themselves for the job market following graduation? To answer this question I spoke with Matthew Stewart, entrepreneur and co-CEO of College Works Painting.
College Works Painting is a unique college internship that gives college students the opportunity to run their own house painting business during the summer. According to internal surveys conducted, 90 percent of College Works Painting’s alumni find college-grad-level jobs within three months of obtaining their degrees.
Here’s what Stewart suggests for students looking to make the most out of their college career:
1. Get a challenging internship
According to Stewart, the solution for college students is to increase job experience while still in school. This means obtaining a hands-on internship every summer while in college.
“College students should be looking for experiences that will challenge them,” says Stewart. “When they get out of school they will be competing with thousands of other graduates.”
Stewart suggests the following to identify, qualify for, and get the best internship for you:
- Start with detailed career research: Where do you really want to be? What kind of job do you really want?
- Will the internship offer you real experience that will separate you from your peers?
- Will the internship be a good cultural fit for you? In order to do well at anything you need to enjoy it.
- What is the track record of the intern’s supervisor? Does he or she have proven skills to teach you?
- What are the job functions of the internship? Will you gain transferable skills from this job or is it mindless work that will not help build your resume?
- What is the industry recognition of the company? Have other college students benefited from the internship?
2. Treat your student job or college internship like a career
The easiest way to treat your student job like a career is to ask your boss to mentor you. Under the mentorship of your supervisor, you can expand your basic job functions and start taking your capabilities to the next level.
Since employers prefer potential candidates to quantify the accomplishments listed on their resume, take advantage of the professional relationship you have with your current boss. Work together to describe the quality of your experiences in language that will reflect well on your resume.
“College is not the time to relax, it’s the starting line, not the finish line,” says Stewart. “You need to treat college like it’s your future, and get ready for your life after college,” he says. “College consists of three summers, and by the fourth students should have what it takes to find a career.”
3. Be proactive and take initiative
Going above and beyond in your internship will set the foundation for your career. You’ll gain confidence by taking initiative, which is a core skill in the business world.
“It’s important to set goals. Everyone in history that has been successful was goal-oriented. It’s about setting goals and having a plan of action around those goals,” says Stewart. “I’m a big advocate of all sorts of jobs, and all sorts of internships that lead to the development of substantial work experience.”
4. Seek out promotion opportunities
You can seek out promotion opportunities in a several different ways. If you work for a larger company that posts job openings on their website, set up job alerts so that you get email notifications once a job is posted. At the same time, build a strong relationship with your mentor. Let him or her know how eager you are for more responsibility and advancement, and that you’re up for the challenge.
“Unless you graduate with a significant amount of real job experience, finding a job right out of college will be incredibly difficult,” says Stewart. “Gone are the days when a college degree came with a job offer stapled to the back of it.”
College students today face one of the toughest job markets in history. Entry-level jobs that previously went to recent college graduates now go to job-seekers with years of experience. A college student’s only choice is to graduate with impressive, real-world experience.