(ARA) - The growth of a college student from the first year of instruction to the final days as an undergraduate is immeasurable. But what happens in the time between these two milestones? Book reading, paper writing and party going generally make the list, but employers are telling us to add another item - practical on-the-job training.
Internships have become an essential key to compete post-graduation, so make your work count. Start building your company "wish list" early on and you'll be able to find the right spot to gain true hands-on training, says Jennifer Mleko, director of career services at The Illinois Institute of Art - Schaumburg.
"You should be identifying potential employers, reading industry publications in your field of interest and building a network of contacts starting the first or second quarter of school," according to Mleko.
Julianne Pelfrey, director of career services at The Art Institute of Ohio - Cincinnati, advises students to start the research process as early as six months prior to the anticipated start date. "You should eye small to mid-sized businesses," according to Pelfrey. "Internships with smaller companies typically provide more opportunities for junior employees to gain practical experience. There's a greater chance for involvement in a project from conception to production with these organizations."
Both Pelfrey and Mleko caution against limiting options by solely seeking paid internships. Students should focus on job duties, experience gained and opportunity for growth - in your education and your career. No amount of cash flow trumps the chance to vet out potential career paths.
But what about the actual application process? How are you to compete with other star students vying for the same role? These simple steps may land you in a recruiter's office sooner than expected:
First is the cover letter. While we would love to think these have become a thing of the past, the introductory notes fill an employer in on what students are hoping to gain from the work stint and which past experiences will serve them best in the desired post. Passion, drive and desire to learn are what managers are yearning to see.
Next step is the resume; Pelfrey says it's time for students to pull away from traditional business templates and up the ante with personality-driven resumes. "Design should never overcome content, but employers love seeing ingenuity and creativity from their future proteges," she says.
If you're light on employment history, bulk up the resume with applicable classroom projects, freelance samples and pro-bono work. And don't forget to highlight transferable skills. Mleko says, "The purpose of a resume is to emphasize experience by showing variety and a diverse skill set. Whet the recruiter's appetite by showing what you can bring to the table and tailoring your resume to the job you're applying for."
The last piece of the puzzle might be the most important tip for workforce newcomers: professional portfolio. Yours should be stocked full of writing samples, design projects and inspired original pieces. Even works in progress will get hiring managers going, so invest the time in selecting a collection that represents range and competencies.
Pelfrey and Mleko stress the importance of having at least one internship under your belt come commencement time, but the more the better. With the "wish list" made, a target in mind and submissions ready to go, students can lock down invaluable internships. Forget making copies, your internship is about making career connections.