How to Get a Job in College: Smart Tips for Students
The interviewee walked into our office wearing a top showing way too much cleavage and an earnest look in her eye. I had seen it before, the student who just knew that she was going to rock her interview and start her working life.
Not so fast.
After working as a student services coordinator at the University of Colorado Boulder for 10 years, I realized that many college students have no idea how their college work experiences could substantially affect their future earnings and career goals.
GPA and internship participation were major predictors in employment after college, and graduates who took one internship were twice as likely to land a job within six months after graduation, according to research by the National Association of Colleges (NAC).
One of the best parts of my job was working with my student assistants who helped me in providing services to a large number of adult international students who needed support, information, and encouragement while living in the U.S.
It was important that I impressed certain lessons upon my student assistants: Develop good savings habits, leverage their work experiences for future professional gain, and use their work contacts as references to participate in future work-related opportunities, such as the Fulbright Program.
Let’s be clear: I would not have been able to do my job without my student assistants. However, I did notice some trends in hiring, managing, and firing students. While working with them, I could see how simple decisions would impact their future earnings potential.
Make no mistake: Interviewing is a key skill at a time when you have perhaps an hour (if you’re lucky) to make an impression.
Be humble, prepared, and willing to go the extra mile.
There is a multilayered approach to your search for an on-campus job. Done correctly it can set you up for long-term financial success. Let’s break it down:
1. Become a Star on Campus
It’s not as hard to do as it sounds. In order to become an attractive job applicant both on and off campus, there are several tactical approaches you should consider that will make you stand out from the rest of the pack.
College life offers a ton of opportunities to develop leadership skills. Write down your passions, then do a search for campus groups that satisfy them. If you don’t find a group, start one!
Some groups include:
- Any cultural alliance
- Student leadership programs
- Language clubs
- Panhellenic organizations (sororities and fraternities)
- Any interest (musical theater, debate)
2. Network With Intention
If you’re nervous about connecting with people on campus, don’t be! Everyone is probably experiencing the same amount of anxiety. In addition to joining different groups on campus, take time to network with your professors and graduate assistants in a sincere way.
These connections will be of value to you not only during your university years, but also for many years after.
Have fun making these connections. If it’s not genuine, your lack of interest will be obvious.
3. Time to Work
First, be strategic about your job search: Use your university’s Office of Student Employment to not only find jobs on and off campus but learn how to have a good interview and what to expect as an employee.
Do research about your target job market and fine-tune your résumé. Tools like Jobscanto help on this front by optimizing your résumé for online job applications.
If you are studying a STEM-related subject, look for on-campus science research or an office that offers opportunities in your field. And once you have landed the job you wanted, treat it as a regular job, not something that you’re casually doing while in college before moving on to “bigger” things after graduation.
This is the time to learn to work hard. After all, that is what life will ask of you.
4. The Art of the Interview
There is an art to rocking your job interview. Many people have become confused by how casual current workplaces are — or aren’t.
I can’t tell you the number of times that I had wonderful interviewees who showed up in low cut tops and wrinkled clothing and assumed a familiarity with myself and my colleagues that just wasn’t appropriate for a first-time meeting.
Here are some quick pointers for a fantastic on-campus job interview — even if you don’t get the job. Frankly, these are basic for any interview:
- Do your homework. Research the department that’s interviewing you. The department heads will take note and appreciate that you took the time to find out more about their department. Have the information of the person who is interviewing you on hand. Research him or her.
- Be on time. This feels like a no-brainer, but it’s still a big problem. You should arrive around 10 minutes before your interview starts.
- Be presentable. Strangely, out of all the people I interviewed, the male students were more likely to arrive well-dressed and presentable.
- Remember the basics. Bring a copy of your résumé, and do not arrive listening to music or with your cellphone on. You’ll have plenty of time to chill after the interview.
- They don’t know you. Yes, they may have had time to glance at your cover letter or résumé, but if you can also supply references or letters of recommendation, you will stand out. It shows that you’re organized and a go-getter.
- Have questions. As part of your preparation, make sure to have at least two or three questions ready to ask about the position or about the interviewer to show both your interest and that you have done your homework. There is nothing worse than getting to the end of a good interview, only for it to become clear the candidate knows nothing about the organization or the job.
What Not to Do in a Job Interview
1. Bitch About Your Current or Former Employer
One thing you’ll want to avoid is bashing your current employer.
“How do you think that reflects on your judgment?” asks Jan Hudson, COO of the recruiting firm Surf Search. “Do you think your potential future employer will see that as a positive? They have to think they could be next. Of course, you will inevitably get the ‘Why do you want to leave your current position?’ But you have to be smart.”
Otherwise, they will just see you as difficult to work with. Never burn a bridge.
Better answers to why you want to leave your current job could be career growth and trajectory, or that you’re seeking more challenging work and experience.
2. Don’t Get Personal If You Need to Reschedule
Sometimes, you can’t avoid rescheduling.
Try not to get too personal about why you’re rescheduling. Definitely don’t let them know if it’s because you’re interviewing elsewhere.
“We recently had someone call the morning of his interview to ask if he could reschedule because he got another interview and is more interested in that position,” says Greg Kuchcik, lead in HR at Zeeto, a data discovery platform.
“Kudos for honesty, but no hiring manager wants to turn away all the other candidates and give someone a shot who can’t even fake that we’re his No. 1 priority,” he continues.
3. Don’t Get Too Personal in the Interview
Try to avoid getting into details about your personal life.
“I once asked a candidate if he had time constraints, and he said yes because his mom had driven him,” Kuchcik says. “When I commented on what a nice mom, he jumped into a 10-minute story about how his license was suspended and showed me his ankle bracelet that he had because he had three DUIs!”
“If you want to share because it’s relevant or you’re presented with personal questions, try to brush by them lightly, as oversharing or talking too much about yourself can make things awkward,” he adds.
“You also do not want to volunteer anything that may offend the person interviewing you because, let’s face it, we all have our personal values that may not align with those of your interviewer or the company itself.”
4. Show Enthusiasm for the Position
Before you shake hands and part ways with your interviewer, try to gauge their response. If you’re fairly confident that you crushed that interview, ask for the job.
“The biggest mistake one can make is not asking for the position, especially in a sales environment,” says Gene Caballero, co-founder of Your Green Pal, a lawn-mowing service. “We want the interviewer to close the proverbial sale and ask for the job at the end of the interview. This is a mistake that many make when it comes to solidifying themselves as a front-runner for a position.”
That said, use your instincts, common sense, and etiquette. If it doesn’t feel right to ask for the job then and there, then don’t!
In fact, while that may be the norm for sales-related positions, it could come across as plain weird elsewhere. Just reiterate your passion for the job, and succinctly reiterate three reasons why you are the right candidate.
5. Don’t Clam Up
If you are interviewing for a job you’re qualified for, have some confidence. Try not to let nervousness keep you from having an open and comfortable discussion with your interviewer.
“Don’t let nervousness keep you from letting the interviewer get to know you,” says Karyn Ezell, an executive coach who specializes in helping new leaders and entrepreneurs develop their team and organizational culture.
“Everyone is nervous in an interview setting, so do what you need to do to prepare yourself,” Ezell continues. “I recommend you prepare answers to expected interview questions, such as, ‘Tell me about yourself’ or ‘What is your experience with this technology, etc.?’”
Some questions you can almost always expect include:
- What qualities do you think make you a good fit for this position?
- What is your availability? (Be honest on this one.)
- How do you work with others?
- How do you handle pressure?
- Describe how you were reliable in past jobs.
Stick With It
Try to work your college job for as long as possible to build job longevity in your résumé. It speaks to your reliability and commitment. If you flip burgers at three different cafeterias in one semester or flit from job to job, it does leave future employers wondering about your ability to stay committed.
Remember, when you’re applying for jobs, you’ll be competing with people who are just as competitive as you, if not more so, but they may have fewer connections or less experience in the field. That will work to your advantage.
How to Get a Job in College: Final Tips
While in my position, I did hire a few people who interviewed horribly, but who I felt would be open to an honest critique and dialogue about improving.
Some students had to be told how to dress. They appreciated the feedback and had no idea their clothing was making us have a negative perception of them professionally. They learned small changes can make a big difference.
Your college work experience is the first step in your long-term wealth-building journey. You can also continue to touch up your skills with online courses.
Be intentional, choose wisely, and have fun!
Additional reporting by Jazmin Rosa.