It may be hard to find a job, but that won't be a good excuse for a slim résumé when you're sitting across from a recruiter next year. Like it or not, college students are expected to pull good grades in tough classes while gaining professional experience on the side. And for students who depend on their own paycheck, steady work also brings in much-needed cash.
Your best bet is to look for a job that's related to the career you're hoping to pursue, so you can gain relevant skills, contacts, and experience. If you don't know yet which career is right for you, use your college job to help you figure that out, says Lindsey Pollak, author of Getting from College to Career: 90 Things to Do Before You Join the Real World. If you don't end up enjoying the job you choose, you can cross it off your list of potential careers.
These 10 jobs are great choices for students because they look good on a résumé, work around class schedules, and offer decent pay. Keep in mind that if you work on campus, your boss may be more sympathetic when you need time off to study for a sociology exam or finish that chemistry lab.
[See accompanying slide show: 10 College Jobs to Boost Your Résumé.]
1. On-campus tour guide: By showing prospective students, their families, and alumni around university grounds, you'll no doubt improve your speaking and presentation skills. It can also be an opportunity to learn more about your school. "You also demonstrate that you have maturity," says Dan Klamm, outreach and marketing coordinator at Syracuse University's Career Services office. "The school typically would only put someone in that role if they entrust the student to represent them in a positive and mature way."
2. Brand ambassador: Whether you're working for Pepsi, JetBlue, or Neutrogena, marketing a product to your peers can be a great way to make a buck—or at least bring home a few free samples. Many medium and large companies want a presence on college campuses, and those free samples are likely to make you a hot commodity among your peers. "That type of position has the backing of the national company," says Klamm. "You put down on your résumé that you worked for Starbucks in a marketing role, [and] that looks really impressive... In most cases, [students] are setting up events, they're generating word-of-mouth interest, they're speaking at student organization meetings. So it's a lot of the communication skills [and] organizational skills that a professional employer would be looking for." If you're interested in becoming a brand ambassador, RepNation, which connects students and companies, is a good place to start.
3. On-campus IT support: Because you'll gain real-world experience without leaving campus, this is one of the best work-study jobs for students working on a degree in a relevant area. Sue Dahlin, assistant director for career advising at University of Puget Sound, says technology-services work usually involves diagnosing and solving technical problems for other students and teachers, as well as installing and setting up computer systems on campus. Since that includes providing customer service, it can help you sharpen your "people skills," she says.
4. Social media consultant: As online brand building becomes more important, small businesses are turning to part-time or contract employees to help run marketing campaigns on Facebook or Twitter. Though some companies may be wary of having a student serve as the face and communicator for their brand, they may still hire 20-somethings for help with the technical side of social media. For students, that means a chance to use and improve both IT and marketing skills. Other so-called "virtual jobs," like programming or designing websites, can also be a good way to earn a buck, says Pollak, the author who specializes in careers for Generation Y. "A lot of small business owners are hiring people virtually to do their social media, to design websites, to do work that a lot of young people are really good at—and you never have to leave your dorm room."
5. Waiter or waitress: Some students make the mistake of thinking this doesn't look good on a résumé, but it's all about how you spin your experience. "[Don't] say, 'I served burgers and fries,' " says Syracuse University's Klamm. "It's all in thinking about the skills you learned in the position as opposed to the day-to-day actions that you took." Look for opportunities to show how you developed customer-service or team-building skills, he says. Restaurant jobs offer a decent paycheck, and many employers will work around your school schedule. Even better, you can often return to a restaurant after taking time off, and consistency looks good to a hiring manager. Admittedly, other jobs may offer experience that's more relevant to your future career, so don't dive into a server position just because the burger joint is where everyone else is working—but don't write it off, either.
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6. Writer: If you're headed for a career that involves communications—and most do—you may gain advantages by working as a writer. Look for work with the school paper or other campus publications or with an off-campus marketing agency. Many marketing firms and local or online publications can't afford to hire full-time writers, so they depend on freelancers to fill the gaps, says Emily Bennington, who helps college graduates transition into careers through her company, Professional Studio 365. Rather than wait for a job posting, you're better off contacting the firm or publication you want to write for and asking whether they hire freelancers, she says.
7. On-campus career services: It isn't easy for college students to learn the ins and outs of the professional world while keeping up their grades. Working in career services can help you become familiar with the job-hunting process and comfortable talking with employers and recruiters. At some schools, student employees may also hear about internship opportunities and networking events they may have otherwise overlooked.
8. Bank teller: About 1 in 4 tellers work part time, so college students might find flexibility in a bank job. This position will help you gain experience with customer service, and if you're moving toward a career in finance, it may be a good way to get your feet wet. But don't limit yourself to being a teller—even if that's what you're paid for, says Tom Fitch, assistant dean for commerce career services at the University of Virginia's McIntire School of Commerce. Instead, look to gain experience offering loans or opening accounts so you leave the job with more transferable skills.
9. Working for yourself: Regardless of the product or service you're selling, starting a business may appeal to entrepreneurial-minded students. If you can pull this off, you'll be able to set your own schedule, choose your clients, and possibly make contacts in an industry that interests you. Kevin Nall, associate director of Baylor University Career Services, says he's seen students start businesses, from laundry services that deliver clean, folded clothes to your dorm room to a system that allows students and faculty to easily pay all of their bills online. "They are obviously learning things by doing that and working out the kinks in a relatively low-risk environment," Nall says. And that entrepreneurial spirit is sure to help you down the line. "Any business, [whether] it's your own start-up company or an existing business, [is] looking for people who are considered innovative."
10. On-campus alumni affairs: Whether you're fundraising, following up on mailings, or working alumni events, this job is full of networking potential. Be professional yet personable when you call or interact with alumni, and you may score contacts that will help you land a summer internship or post-graduation job. And don't pass up the opportunity to work the registration table at alumni events. "Alums love to talk to current students," Pollak says—and that can work to your advantage.
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