Want to boost your job prospects after graduation? Any part-time work during college can give you an advantage.
"Balancing work and school shows you can manage your time," says Nicole van den Heuvel, director of Rice University's Center for Career Development. "And jobs that aren't glamorous show that you're not a prima donna." But with a little strategizing – and a little luck – you can land a position that will really enhance your resume.
First step: Go directly to the campus employment office during freshman orientation. "You'll be on campus before the upperclassmen. Take advantage of that," suggests Michael Sciola, Colgate University's associate vice president for advancement and director of career services.
[See photos of great college jobs.]
Here are some skills-boosting job ideas.
1. Social media coordinator: This job, which involves using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, WordPress and similar platforms to spread the college's or another employer's message, will burnish your communication skills and is likely to make you super-savvy about the latest technologies. Experience could also include data analysis, looking at various metrics that measure viewer engagement, and strategizing how to improve those metrics.
An advertising major at Boston University, Valentina Monte leveraged her "personal obsession" with Twitter by convincing a local pizza restaurant where she worked as a hostess to pay her to do its social media, and getting hired by Procter & Gamble and HBO to use social media to market the brands on campus. Monte, who graduated in 2012, now works full-time for HBO's social media and performance marketing team.
2. Campus brand ambassador: As Monte discovered, the race to grab college students' attention and dollars has companies like General Mills Inc., Google and Coca-Cola Co. hiring on-campus ambassadors to do everything from wear the brand's logo to tweet about the products.
Besides learning sales, marketing and strategy, you'll get a grounding in the products – and the inside track on a job after graduation.
3. Help desk staffer or computer salesperson: You'll pick up tech skills manning your school's help desk, but chances are you'll learn them working in the electronics section of the campus store, too. Because many schools require students to have laptops, the campus store is where the machines are issued. You'll often install software and do minor troubleshooting, plus gain product knowledge that could prove valuable when you're job hunting.
After four years in the campus store at the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill, Sam Hudson, who graduated in 2012, approached a representative at a job fair looking to fill positions at Lenovo. "I said, 'I've been giving out your computers for a couple of years,'" says Hudson, now an account coordinator for the company in North Carolina.
[Check out hot college majors that lead to jobs.]
4. Office of institutional research assistant: This is the office that surveys students, alumni, professors and parents, which could involve quizzing the freshman class about the first-year experience, asking parents about their education financing plans and gathering alumni perceptions of the school. So any job in this office will offer an opportunity to learn about collecting and analyzing data.
"I think that's one of the best tools any kid can have," says van den Heuvel. "To go into consulting, to go into investment banking, to do so many things."
5. Career center staffer: Any job in the career center teaches customer service and how to interact in a professional environment. "If you work in the career center, you'll learn how to greet people and how to make small talk," says Sciola. "All these little things are so important in getting a job."
Problem-solving and computer skills also will come into play as you help students and employers who are having trouble logging in or who want to post a job. Plus, think of the job-search wisdom you'll soak up and the facetime you'll get with potential employers.