How to Gain Job Experience While Still in College

Unfortunately, getting your first job after college can still be a challenge, even with a degree. With millions of young adults across the country graduating and applying for the same jobs, how are you supposed to land one?

Here are a few ways to help you stand out in the applicant pool:

  • Apply for internships or externships while you are still in school.
  • Work on your own projects to practice your technical skills.
  • Build a portfolio of your work to show employers.


What’s an internship, and why is it important?

You may or may not have heard of this before, but internships are a great way to feel out a career field or job while you are a student. You can gain experience and determine if it’s the right fit.

An internship is a professional learning experience that offers meaningful, practical work related to a student’s field of study or career interest. It gives students a chance for career exploration, development, and new skills. Depending on the company, internships can be paid or unpaid, and you may even be able to get some college credit.

Students can have summer internships as well as during the school year. There are benefits to both, but there are a few things to consider before deciding. If you have a very dense semester with coursework, extracurriculars, or even a part-time job, taking on more work at an internship may not be in your best interest. School should come first, and you don’t want your education to suffer because you accidentally took on too much.

If you have questions about where best to fit an internship into your schedule, speak with your career or academic advisor. And if you’re passing on an internship because you need the income from a part-time job, look for a paid internship!

Where can I find internships?

If you’ve never had an internship before, you probably don’t know how to find one. That’s okay! There are a few different options to help you find the perfect one.

One easy resource is available to you right on campus. Often your college’s career centers, advisors, and professors have connections with local businesses or companies that have opportunities for students. You can also attend on-campus career fairs that typically occur in the spring.

There are also many online platforms to search for internships, such as LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Indeed, Handshake, and even on companies’ direct websites! You may even find out about internships by talking to your parents, who can keep an eye out in their network that you otherwise wouldn’t have access to.


Of course, you are learning all types of skills while you are in school, but as you get farther along in your degree, some skills get pushed to the back burner, or maybe even things that you don’t have the opportunity to learn. You can fine-tune your skills by completing personal projects in your spare time.

For example, if you want to write, look for sites that will publish your blogs or articles. Or if you’re into something like graphic design, watch tutorials or take online classes to sharpen your skill set.

You can take your education into your own hands to improve your knowledge and give yourself an edge over other applicants — all before you even graduate.

Of course, this may not be possible for all majors or career fields, but there is still a way you can practice your skills. Check with your campus and see what clubs or student organizations are available where you can connect with other students to network within your particular field.


Now that you have worked on projects in and out of the classroom, you should have somewhere to keep them.

Your experience and knowledge can be shown by more than the jobs listed on your resume. A digital portfolio is helpful for many different fields, but not all. However, keeping your past work to show employers will go a long way when you are applying for your first job out of college.

The real purpose of a portfolio is to provide tangible proof of your work and value in the workplace by documenting your accomplishments and the quality of your experience.

You can create a free digital portfolio with sites such as WordPress, Squarespace, or Wix. You can upgrade to a custom domain for a small fee. Name the portfolio with your name so it pops up easily in online searches.

You can also attach your portfolio to your LinkedIn account for recruiters to access. Plus, consider bringing a physical copy, or pull it up on your laptop or tablet when on an interview, along with your resume.

Another significant part of having a portfolio is you can keep growing it! The chances of the first company you intern with being your dream job are not likely, even if you land a permanent role after graduating. As you grow and gain new skills, keep projects, analytics, and results in your portfolio to show future employers.

Some roles have practical assignments during the interview process, and readily available projects can help you stand out and land a position!

The job market can be competitive, but the good news is there are plenty of jobs out there! While you are still in school, take some time to do some research on your career field and positions that you might be interested in. Take a look at the requirements and see what skills they are looking for and if there is anything you can learn about, or ask a professor or colleague at your internship.

No matter where you are in your education, it’s never too early to start thinking about the next steps and where you want to be after you graduate. College will go by fast, and before you know it, you’ll be heading off for your first day of work!