How To Gain Real Work Experience as a College Student

As of late, whenever you look through the online classified ads or college's career website for job postings, you see that they require experience. But then you ask yourself, “How do I gain real work experience if I am still in college?” It is no surprise that after the financial crisis of 2008, companies required work experience because the labor market was filled with seasoned veterans who did not retire or flooded with college graduates seeking employment.

A few years ago I was having dinner with a couple of young professionals who recently graduated from college and were complaining about being stuck in the same jobs they had in college. The only thing that changed about their positions was that they went from regular employees to managers. One of them told me how he applied for a newspaper company I worked for at the time and did not get the job because he had no experience. The gentleman said that he applied to get experience and when he said that I was just astonished that he would even say that.

Start Out With An On-Campus Job

To avoid a similar situation, you are going to have to take charge of your experience by building skills through your college employer and internship experience.

The first step is to get a real form of employment, whether that’s on campus or at a company. If you work on campus with the easiest job swiping ID’s and expect to get a real job after college, then you are in need of a reality check.

Build The Skills Early

When you are looking for a campus job, apply for those where you can build skills such as event planning, creating budget spreadsheets, public relations, marketing, or other skills that will help you land a job after college.

If you do land a job on campus, don’t expect to be at the top of the chain. You will more than likely be at the bottom and have to work your way up. Take advantage of the opportunity to work on campus and work on skills that people will pay for when you graduate. When I worked on campus, I took advantage of on-campus jobs for the networking, convenience, and opportunities to work on job skills.

Internships For Experience

If an internship opportunity comes along take it, but make sure you continue building your skills. It is better to intern for a local small business that will allow you to work on projects with their employees than to intern for a Fortune 500 company that won’t enable you to do anything except make copies and do coffee errands.

As a junior in college, I interned for a State Senator and I was in charge of the Senators summer annual health fair, which was one of the largest in the state. The coordination was stressful, but I managed to get it completed without any hiccups.

When I was in graduate school, I consulted disadvantaged entrepreneurs in the townships of South Africa. The real life experience helped me land a job as an assistant branch manager for a large bank.

Real life experience is not about showing up to work and swiping ids at the front counter. Real life experience is about gaining skills that companies are willing to pay for. The opportunities are available. You just have to make them happen.  

Jose L. Fulgencio is an educator, blogger, podcaster, and entrepreneur. As an educator, Jose enjoys teaching others ways to succeed in their life goals, personal finances, and finding solutions to integrate technology in their classroom. Jose enjoys the outdoors, running, and a good glass of red wine. Make sure to join Jose every Wednesday @ 8pm for the personal finance #save4you tweet chat. Visit

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