Every college student has probably heard how important it is to get real-world experience during their college career before joining the workforce. While this statement is certainly true, some students might not know how to get the unique experience employers are looking for. Others might simply hop on the summer job wagon and expect that experience to be enough to prove themselves on a job application (it’s often not).
Statistics from a recent Northeastern study prove this point. The vast majority of CEOs surveyed said U.S. colleges did not adequately prepare students for the global workforce: The results indicated 87% of CEOs believe college graduates lack job skills critical for success, 89% believe universities should incorporate more entrepreneurship education and 97% say universities should provide experiential learning.
In order to live up to the competitive job market standards, students are wise to obtain unconventional career experiences that make them get out of their comfort zones and into the real world. Here are four ways to do just that.
1. Take an internship in an unfamiliar field
Interning in a position that’s unrelated to your major — or simply unfamiliar or intriguing — can be a great way to learn multiple facets of business. For example, if you are a marketing major, consider applying for an internship at a financial institution. This practice can open your eyes to the world of finance, and potentially help you in future business situations. It adds color to a resume, and shows future employers a broad skill set. These types of experiences can also teach you what you like and don’t like in the working world, giving you a better idea of what kind of position you want to obtain after graduation. While it may be too late to jump on board summer internship opportunities, it’s not too early to start looking and interviewing for something in the fall, provided your upcoming course workload will allow for such time obligations.
An alternative to an internship is job shadowing. This is an excellent, low-key way for you to understand exactly what it is that a professional in a particular field does on a daily basis, whether that day begins at 3 a.m. or is more of a traditional nine-to-five position. You get to experience how the person interacts with other employees, clients and vendors, and get a sense of workplace communication and culture.
2. Practice public speaking
One of the most critical — and lacking — skills among new graduates is clear and effective communication. Instead of shying away from it, take advantage of public speaking competitions and writing seminars — even if it seems nerve-wracking on the first try. Getting started early and practicing often will help ease any fears and make you feel more comfortable. When it is time to graduate, you will be ready to get up in front of colleagues and executives and give presentations with confidence.
Even participating in a theater production can improve public speaking; acting has the added pressure of performing in front of a full audience. Performance experience shows future employers that you are confident in your ability to not only present at business meetings, but also to engage others.
It is important to remember that you can translate your experiences, even if they are not directly related to the working world, into proof points on an application. Being a team captain on a sports team, for example, can translate into speaking and leadership skills that will come in handy when managing a team of employees in the workplace.
3. Turn a hobby into a business
Your business idea doesn’t have to be life-changing or globally influential — it can be simple. For example, you can take a class to learn a new artistic skill like jewelry making, hone your talent and sell your products on a site like Etsy or at local craft fairs. Think of this as a “grown-up lemonade stand.”
An entrepreneurial mindset will impress future employers, and can be used as a proof point during interviews. Imagine being able to show a future employer knowledge of how to run a business — marketing, accounting, operations and product management included.
4. Seek international opportunities
An easy way to get out of your comfort zone could include traveling to a new country. A new culture can open your eyes to how others study, work and live. While abroad, explore the culture and, if there is time, help with a service project. These kinds of projects can provide you with a fresh perspective on how businesses function abroad.
No matter what students do this summer, they need to make it count. Now is the time to be getting as much experience under your belt as possible. Students with the most varied experiences will be the ones who succeed — especially those that are able to apply the skills they have learned during their internships and other opportunities to the positions they’re applying for.