1. Study what you want to pursue. At times, some employers will hire entry-level professionals whose degrees were not directly tied to the field of work. To better your chances of making that jump, take a class or two that relates to your target position. It could be an online course regarding software that is prevalent in that industry or a public speaking class if you want to pursue sales opportunities. Taking relevant courses demonstrates that you have thought through a potential career enough to recognize what might be relevant and that you actually took the time to pursue that knowledge. To an employer, this shows that you can identify an opportunity and take advantage of it.
2. Take on projects that expand your hands-on experience. Most courses have projects or extra assignments that can further a student's classroom education beyond the books. Volunteer for these. At its best, these opportunities enable you to develop rapport with your instructor, deepen the relationship with teammates and provide a more three-dimensional application of theoretical instruction. To an employer, these extra achievements display a commitment to self-development and higher standards.
3. Join a group. Campuses and communities are filled with groups and associations that meet to further their knowledge on subjects ranging from marketing, social media, biomedical engineering, technology, sales strategies, fundraising, project management and more. Savvy employers know that students and new graduates who are passionate enough about a profession to spend time in the evenings or weekends learning more about it make driven employees. Your involvement clearly demonstrates that you want more than the average job seeker and that you are willing to use your time accordingly. Employers want those skills in their workplace.
4. Volunteer. We all realize that people don't get paid to volunteer. So, why do they give their time to do so? Volunteers are typically passionate about an idea or cause and want to find a way to make a positive impact. They may also enjoy being in the company of other like-minded peers. Furthermore, they may recognize the additional benefits of learning new skills, expanding their perspective and creating the networks that often result from volunteer work. Regardless of what is the motivation, volunteer work pays dividends emotionally, socially and professionally. Research supports that employers frequently factor in volunteer experience when hiring. Taking the time to help the cause goes a long way to establishing your ability to commit and contribute.
5. Intern. The best way to minimize an employer's risk is to show that you have pursued and succeeded in internships that are similar to his or her career position. It does not matter if the role is paid or unpaid, the value comes from actually doing work that is similar to or a direct segue into a targeted profession. In an internship, students and entry-level candidates have an opportunity to learn critical business skills as well as gain valuable exposure to office protocol, professional etiquette and rules of the road for interacting with colleagues of all levels. The mistakes made and lessons learned while interning give entry-level job seekers the extra confidence and relevant examples that make the difference when interviewing for a career role.
In short, when a candidate who has held a similar role to the one for which he is applying says yes to a career, the employer recognizes that it is a more meaningful yes. The experienced applicant has a deeper understanding of the position and the world of work. Any first-hand knowledge and a track record of educational and extracurricular involvement, makes an unbeatable combination when interviewing.
A passionate investment in your future is very desirable to an employer. Whether you take advantage of all five opportunities listed above or only have time to add one, you're giving yourself a key advantage in the hiring process. The best way to ask an employer to invest in your career is to invest in your future first.
Robin Reshwan is the founder of Collegial Services, a consulting/staffing firm that connects college students, recent graduates and the organizations that hire them and a certified Women's Business Enterprise (WBE). She has interviewed, placed and hired thousands of people across a broad spectrum of companies and industries. Her career tips and advice are used by universities, national clubs/associations and businesses. A Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Robin has been honored as a Professional Business Woman of the Year by the American Business Women's Association. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa and as a Regents Scholar from University of California, Davis.