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How To Get A Great Job (As A College Student)

Updated on March 8, 2012
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Before You Begin

There are a lot of things to think about before you even begin the job hunt: do you want a menial job that just gets you money or do you want to try and push forward in your career and find something within that field? It depends a lot on what kind of work load you have and what you think you might be able to handle on a mental and physical level. If you really are unsure if you'll be able to juggle a job and school, choose something simpler or wait until you're more comfortable.

That being said, don't assume that little/no job experience is a setback. Don't even worry about being a freshman, if you are. While these things are important for certain jobs, there are a ton of jobs out there that don't necessarily require these things or that are willing to take in a student.

Essentially, the first place to look is work study. I'll list some of the better options out there, from my own experience, below.

Some Things To Look For

Work Study: These jobs are best for students. Usually you have to qualify for work study (for x amount of hours or x amount of dollars per semester) through your financial aid package, but if you do it's something to take full advantage of. Usually these jobs are on campus, so transportation and time to get there are less important. The employers are also usually working intimately with the school and have had students before: this means that they understand the workload, the busiest times of year, and that schedules need to sometimes be flexible past what might be acceptable at a normal job. It also can potentially give you resources within the school with both the people you are working for/with, and the materials/facilities you might discover. Look for them early in the year though, because they go fast. And keep them during the school year: usually if you quit (which sometimes you just have to, but try not to), there won't be anything else for the next semester because everyone stayed in their job.

Part-Time: This can maybe be a little heavy, depending on your hours and your availability with your schoolwork included. If your schedule takes up the whole day, it might be a stressful job. But if you think you can handle it, then go for it, and you'll definitely get a lot of money. In my experience, past jobs etc are more important in these, as they are a little less understanding of the staff at your college who know that there are people who have never had a job who need oen no matter what.

Full-Time: Not suggested unless you want to die. But if you're going to do it, make sure you can do it. That's all I can say about that. I don't think I could brave that.

Internship: These are usually required by the end of a four-year program, but are encouraged starting junior year. This is a good way to find somewhere to learn about your career path and work within your field, in the real world. It's an exciting thing and if you find the right place, it provides you with connections and something to put on your resume. While there's more thinking involved perhaps in intern jobs, it's well worth it. The "training" atmosphere gives you the ability to grow as a person within your major as well as be supported by those already out and working. Just make sure your internship is PAID, because usually their pretty demanding. Unless you have no need for another job, taking an internship and a regular job is the equivalent of two jobs, and while you may be learning more at your internship being paid can be crucial.

Usually freshman don't apply for internships. Most companies (at least that I've looked at) try to focus on juniors and seniors who are more self-directed and need the credits. Don't let it discourage you though. It can't hurt to put your name out there. More examples later.

Freelance: There are freelance projects in several fields: design, fine arts, writing, data, web coding, etc etc. These can be great for building a portfolio-base and potentially getting yourself out there without having to necessarily leave the comfort of your home. While sometimes you do, for the most part you can communicate via e-mail to get the job done. There are plenty out there. Just make sure that if you're doing it online you have some sort of payment guaranteed and set up so that you aren't tricked into doing something for free. Also, make sure that if you're creating original work that you have the rights to it and everything is written on paper before you spend any time on the project itself.


The Resume

The resume is important. Very important.

Honestly, I was able to land a few jobs without one. But it gets so much easier now that I have one, and it's growing. I'm relatively new at resume writing, but having had it reviewed by several independent parties, I'm confident I can give a quick outline.

Some general rules:

  1. Keep it to one page. This can be difficult if you have a lot of content...but make it work. It can work. Trust me. You can do it.
  2. Black and white. Don't mix in colors or pretty icons or flourishes. It's all about you and your work and your professional attitude. Even if you're a designer, your general resume at the very least should have only information, nothing more.
  3. Hierarchy. This is important. The way you title your categories, the way you add the descriptions and other details etc guide the way your reader follows the page. So be conscious of this when you're switching font sizes. And remain consistent at all times with your font sizes. Always.
  4. The order. This is pretty important. The top gives the potential client your name, address, and contact info. Shortly after are the meat and potatoes, outlined below:
  • Title
  • Education (just college; if you haven't graduated, say you're a candidate for the bachelor of yadda yadda)
  • Experience: This includes education (extra-curricular, which can be from high school, and rewards given by your high school/current college), general work (where you've done any work in the past) and volunteer/leadership activity.
  • Awards and Scholarships: All of your acclaimed and awards from ninth grade plus that can be put down here to show proof of your merit as a young designer/educator/writer/whatever you're doing.
  • Skills: Word carefully and keep short. Try and stick to tangible abilities like "fast typing" and less on things such as "strong articulation" which should be shown throughout your work and resume, not stated.
  • References are a little iffy, depending on if you have room. If not, a simple references - upon request can work, or no mention of it at all. If the client wants references, send them later.

Setting Yourself Apart

Accomplishments are important and can definitely help you to stay on the top of an employer's list. However, there are probably many other applicants with many more accomplishments or stronger resume content that could easily out-impress you with just the text presented. If you're a freshman or even a sophomore in college, sometimes your experience might be lacking in relation to your upperclassmen or experienced employees.

I like to think that I get my job offers through enthusiasm - this means that I show my interest in the job sincerely and professionally. Strong and concise articulation are key, as they show the employee that not only are you ready to do the work and gain the experience, but that you're able to articulate what you want and assert yourself and your skills. This really does go miles in impressing potential employers. They could hire the person with years and years of experience but whose resume and cover letter are sent out to every other company, or they could go with someone who took the time to write a thought out paragraph on themselves and why (though perhaps unqualified) they deserve the position.

This works better for small companies and less so for larger corporations, who are probably more interested in quantity rather than quality.

Even if you don't get the job, your name will be on their list. It doesn't hurt to apply to 5-10 jobs. If you get responses but eventually don't get the job, you're more likely to be considered in the future. For example, I was unable to do a job because I was inexperienced in coding, but they have my name in mind now for design-heavy projects, etc. When I first applied for my internship, the position was filled, but I met with them anyway about potentially helping probono with some side projects. When their past intern left, they emailed me about taking up the next three months. I never thought it would happen a month later, but I had put myself on their radar.

Take chances, apply for things you'd never expect actually being hired for. Sometimes employers can surprise you with their flexibility and willingness to learn with you or teach you with an understanding patience.

If you're a college student, make sure you're not getting ripped off. While I wouldn't suggest expecting above minimum wage, make sure you're not being underpaid or unpaid for something you've put work into. A lot of companies hire college students because they are essentially cheaper and have new eyes. Some people might take this willingness to do work for less pay too far, and eventually you'll be taken advantage of. If you're doing freelance work, make sure you've pulled up a contract to ensure you get paid and you get the appropriate rights to your work. Even asking for some upfront compensation might be beneficial. Don't start working until you have the budget and your pay rate figured out. Or else you'll be wasting your time, even if they don't receive any of your work. If you're worried about overpricing yourself or your hourly rates, poll family and friends about what might be appropriate, or do research on what others charge in your field and compare it to their level of experience and reputation. Lower/raise your prices accordingly.

The Interview

I haven't had many interviews, so I can't write much on this. You might need to refer to other hubs, depending on how professional or stringent your employer might be.

In the past, my interviews have been pretty relaxed. Most of your interviews as college students will be, especially if you're applying at smaller companies or organizations.

As cliche as it sounds, try and be yourself. There are some minor adjustments, though: depending on who you're dealing with, adjust your attitude or your demeanor appropriately. If you find out that your interview is going to be laid back and more conversation-like, relax yourself and join in on the conversation. Don't stick to your serious, scripted routine (if you have one). Make sure you still know what you're going to say though, and remain articulate. Don't stress the small details like "uhms" and stutters, as long as it's not too often and too distracting.

That being said, your posture and overall physical reactions are important as well. For the most part, I tend to slouch. Usually this isn't a concern, but I try to lean against a table or sit back in my chair so that it's not quite so obvious. Leaning forward slightly might also show interest in what your interviewer is saying/asking. This can be helpful when they're explaining the company and/or job. Nodding is a good idea as well. Don't interrupt unless they stop talking for a second, where a quick "yeah" or something definitive could help show you're still listening. As counter-intuitive as that sounds, it's worked for me so far. Also, smile! this is more important than you think it is. Showing you're happy to be there, comfortable and confident can all be shown through your smile. No camera smiles, though. Make sure iti's genuine or at least not constant. Laugh lightly if it seems appropriate, etc etc. Just act naturally with a little more happiness.

Overacting anything might look weird and might make the interviewer think that you're hiding blatant flaws. Or that you're so nervous or self-doubting that you've built a persona you think they'd want. And that'll get you fewer jobs than being honest and making human errors of stumbling over a few words or fidgeting a few too many times.


Landing the Gig

This is so exciting. In my experience, this either happens over the phone after a quick interview or in person after the interview. I haven't had a job where I've been told to wait to hear back yet, but I'm assuming that call or email would be similar.

Don't lose your cool. As exciting as it might be, try and keep calm and celebrate later. Maintain a professional and controlled demeanor; they could easily take back their offer. Further, make sure that prior to accepting the job you know your schedule and what they want hours-wise and days-wise. If they don't coincide and they aren't willing to comply or you can't, then it's not the job for you. Don't waste their time, it's rude. They will most likely ask what days are best for you to work, so have those days and hours ready. Ask them what hours they would prefer so that you can negotiate when you work to satisfy both parties.

And then show up on time, and prepared!

Conclusively...

Good luck!

Sometimes you get nothing, no matter how many you apply to. I must have applied to 7-10 jobs at the beginning of this semester and I heard back from 3. It seems pretty dismal, but this is a good start. Don't get discouraged, because someone somewhere is looking for you and you'll find your perfect college career. It's stressful and time consuming, but it's exciting and rewarding. Don't not apply because you think you're under qualified, and don't not apply because you want to avoid menial jobs and that's all you think you can get. It takes a lot of time and research to find jobs if you're a little pickier, but it helps a lot. Just make sure you're not giving your personal information to unverified sources, and get your name out there!

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