Work during school - how to get the experience you need before you graduate

By Sarah Terry

The transition from school to work can be somewhat troubling for a graduate looking to apply fresh skills in the job market. Some post-secondary grads describe an inability to find jobs in their field or a lack of certain practical skills necessary in the work environment.

The shock of going from full-time student to a full-time career can be offset by a little preparation before you graduate. Dipping your toes into the work world and splashing around a bit can help you a) find a job faster and more easily once you've finished school, and b) know what to expect and what is expected of you once you start that job.

There are several ways a student with little to no work experience can beef up his or her resumé. The categories below are just some of the options that your school might provide, or can help you become involved in.

Volunteering

This option is not for everyone, and in the life of a student - usually involving very little time or money - it can be a grind. But if you can swing it, volunteer work looks great on a resumé. It will usually allow for a greater range of experience, meaning you might not be able to get a paid position with an advertising firm just yet, but chances are that company will not respond negatively to free work. If you do a good job, said advertising agency just might help you out when you have that diploma.

Students looking to apply to teachers college can call any public school in their area and usually be provided a volunteer position with a simple background check. Even if you don't want to become a teacher, this kind of experience shows your ability to take on a challenge and expand your skill set.

Internships

The distinction here is between paid work placement and unpaid work placement (discussed under co-op, below). Paid internships are great for students, for several reasons, the most obvious being that you make money. But they also represent a halfway point between student-hood and career-hood that you might not be able to find anywhere else. You are working in a paid position with the responsibilities of a real job while still a student, usually receiving academic credit and useful, applicable experience. And of course, you're making money to pay off that student loan.

Some programs offer paid internships, usually in business-related fields. Some provide students with placements, and others allow students to find their own, usually with help. The University of Toronto, for instance, provides a "Professional Experience Year" Internship program that places upper-year students in positions around the world.

Co-op

Co-op may often involve unpaid work, but it provides valuable experience, and usually counts for credit in an academic program. Usually your program, department, teachers or school will help you find a placement if one is not provided for you. This gives co-op students a huge advantage over those seeking volunteer work. Use the contacts and industry knowledge of teachers and professors to get in to your field of interest.

Some programs incorporate a co-op component in a work / study format, alternating between semesters or set periods of school and work. This is beneficial to apply your skills in a work setting as they develop, form a lasting relationship with a potential employer, and also possibly see changes and long-term trends in your field.

There are many opportunities out there for students looking to improve their employment potential after they graduate. Even if your school does not have opportunities for student work, chances are a career counsellor can tell you about some options. Different schools and programs have different ways of providing student work experience, but the goal is to get you out there before you begin your career. You will be more likely to get a great job than those without a work background, and you will be more prepared to pursue a career.

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