The Importance of Getting Experience and How to Get It

by UMaineCLASAdvisingCenter

Everyday I meet with students and I go over some very important topics like their general education requirements and different resources available to them here on campus.  As part of my normal advising routine, I also ask each student about their career goals.  Most have at least a general idea of where they’d like to end up, and then we talk about how to get there.  What I stress, what I reiterate, what I hammer home again and again, is the importance of gaining work experience while in college.  The value of picking up experience in your chosen field while in college cannot be overstated.

The reality is that the days of a college degree setting you apart from the rest of the applicant pool are long gone.  Today, over 30% of Americans over the age of 25 have at least a bachelors degree.  For Americans aged 25-29, that number is even higher, almost 34%.  Over the past twenty years, the value of gaining work experience while in college has skyrocketed.  Numerous reports and studies have appeared over the last few years that show that students that graduate and enter the job market without any experience in their field are at a severe disadvantage.  Some show that a graduate with experience has almost double the chance of landing a job.

When you are working in your field while in college, you are definitely gaining that valuable experience that will help beef up your resume.  That is obviously important.  Equally, or even more important is that you are beginning to build your career and professional network.  If you do good work, you are not only more apt to get a good recommendation, but you are also more likely to potentially be offered a job by the same company after you finish your college degree.

Of course, setting yourself up for success on the job market is only part of the gains you’ll get from working in your field in advance.  Another very important aspect of gaining work experience is it gives you insight into the profession itself.  Many students have a very idyllic view of their careers-to-be, having only read about them or seen them on TV or in the movies. Others may have parents or relatives or friends in that field, and while they’ve heard about the type of jobs available, they may not have seen them up close.  Working in that industry while in college gives you insight into what a job in that field would be like.  Spending time working, seeing the day-to-day activities may well make you realize how much you really want to continue your studies and enter that field.  Conversely, you might find out that the field is not what you thought it would be, which gives you time to reevaluate your major and possible career choice.

But how should you gain experience.  Well, there are multiple paths.  You could find yourself a part-time job that is connected to your field.  Even if it is an entry-level position or seems like menial work and a dead end, it gives you experience.  It’s your foot in the door.  Don’t look down at the lowly positions you might have to work; they show dedication and hard work.  Another possible path is the internship.  While some internships are paid, these days there are so many students looking for internships that many are unpaid.  You are basically volunteering your time.  But again, it’s your foot in the door.  While it may seem as if you are giving your time away for free, the company is providing you with valuable experience.  In some fields, you can also simply be a volunteer.  Many fields are constantly looking for volunteers, from poor relief to humane societies to museums.  These may not be glamorous positions, but their value far outweighs the work you do.

To find these positions, you may have to do some legwork.  You should definitely check with your department, see if they have any listings.  Most do.  Also check with your faculty advisor, see if they have any contacts that they could use to find you something.  The Career Center also has a number of options.  The first and biggest is Careerlink, a database that contains jobs and internships for all majors and is open to all students.  Another is the Maine Mentor Program, which puts you in contact with professionals in your chosen career.  Connections and networking early on can lead to opportunities as you move forward.  And if you’re looking for volunteer opportunities, contact the Bodwell Center for Service and Volunteerism.

So, let me say it again and often.  Get work experience while you are in college.  Don’t wait and think that your college degree is all you need.  Get experience.  Volunteer.  Intern.  Work.  Do whatever it takes, just get that experience.