It’s no secret that students typically attend college to prepare themselves for a wider range of employment opportunities. As noted in an earlier post, a strong majority of students say that getting a good job is their primary reason for attending college.

But it’s also true that many college students are already working as they proceed through their college education. Of the college students who responded to our Spring 2015 Student Engagement Insights survey, 63% currently have a job. However, 35% of students say that their job directly ties into the careers they hope to have. That’s a significant percentage… but, it still indicates that many students are currently working in jobs that aren’t what they’d consider to be a part of their personal career trajectory.

Even if students’ current jobs aren’t within the fields that they eventually aspire to work in, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t learning and developing valuable skills that will apply in the future. For these students, it’s a matter of learning how they might apply, and giving thoughtful consideration to how they might demonstrate those skills to potential employers.

These questions, adapted from exercises in Creating Career Success: A Flexible Plan for the World of Work, Francine Fabricant, Jennifer Miller, and Debra J. Stark can help students consider how their current work experience can apply to the career they hope to hold in their futures.

Tips for students: Make your work experience work for you

1. Make a comprehensive list of your experiences. Organize them under the following headings:

  • Past employment
  • Degrees, certificates, and professional credentials
  • Extracurricular activities (e.g., clubs)
  • Experiential learning (e.g., internships)
  • Courses and projects
  • Hobbies and leisure activities
  • Volunteer experiences
  • School and professional achievements
  • Personal achievements

Don’t limit yourself; if you think an experience may apply, write it down!

2. Decide how you’d provide evidence of these skills to an employer. Review the list you just made, and choose the ten skills you believe would be of special interest to a hiring manager. Be specific about what you learned, and where you learned it. For example, if you volunteered in a library, you may have developed the ability to interact with the public in a polished and professional manner. Or, if you worked as a camp counselor, you may have developed excellent teamwork and leadership skills. You could also think about your hobbies: your love of photography could come in handy in a variety of job settings. As you write your list, don’t just think about the tasks you completed (like cashiering, filing paperwork, or shelving books); think about how those activities helped you build relevant career skills.

3. Consider how you would demonstrate computer and digital literacy. It’s likely that potential employers will require some degree of computer savvy. How will you show them you have what it takes? Have you built a successful Facebook page for your band? Are you proficient with popular word-processing programs? Can you design a website? These, and other, skills are highly applicable on the job. Write out what you’ve done and think about how you can show your work to others. (Think about building an ePortfolio!) If you need some help developing these skills, think about taking a class, or visit your campus or local library to see what types of services and seminars are available.

4. Get specific about the ways that your major (and other college coursework) has prepared you for the workforce. Whether you’re a business major, a history major, an art major, or a nursing major, your coursework has provided you with a wealth of knowledge and skills related to the field you hope to enter. However, some of the applications may not readily be apparent, so it pays to spend time reviewing what you’ve learned and done in school, and how the skills related to those activities would be relevant within the work environment. Whether you’ve conducted scholarly research in an archives, analyzed raw data for formal reports, conducted work in a laboratory, honed your public-speaking skills through several presentations, or collaborated with fellow students on projects that required you to apply your problem-solving skills, just about every class you’ve taken has granted you some takeaway skill that you can demonstrate to a future employer. Stuck on finding specific examples? Refer to past assignments, your instructors’ syllabi, and the department’s website to refresh your memory, if needed. (Fabricant et al., 43-45)

By following the above steps, students will be on their way to showing future employers how they’re uniquely qualified for the jobs that appeal to them.


How do you help your students see the relevance of what you’re teaching (and what they’re learning) to their future careers? Share your thoughts in the comments.

For additional suggestions that will help students demonstrate their workplace-ready skills, review our previous post: Tips for Students: Identify Skills that Transfer to the Workplace.


Reference: Fabricant, Francine, Jennifer Miller, and Debra J. Stark. 2014. Creating Career Success: A Flexible Plan for the World of WorkBoston: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

©2014 Cengage Learning.