Meeting the qualifications for a job isn’t easy. Being actually prepared for the job is even more difficult. And though I will admit that my experience is limited, I’ve found that the big long list people often cite of things that will prepare you for the working world can really be boiled down to a few major things.
So, particularly if you’re feeling like you’re lacking in experience or are just starting out in the emerging adult world, focus on these things:
Interning. Interning somewhere you love is great, but this is really about base experience. Get your foot in the door somewhere. First, future employers will see that you’ve at least put in some office time, or the equivalent for your field. Second, you get to know if you do or don’t like the type of work before you commit to an actual job. Third, you’ll just become more familiar with the working environment and hopefully feel a little less lost once you step into it permanently.
Of course, a part-time or full-time job is also great experience, but in a lot of fields that’s nearly impossible to get without internships. NOTE: This is not the case everywhere, but in lots of places there are legal requirements regarding compensation, usually meaning that if you aren’t being financially compensated you’re obligated to receive school credit. If whomever you’re interning for isn’t on board with either of those, it might be time to consider other options.
Group projects. I know you hate them. I do too. And there was a time when I was naïve enough to look forward to being done with school so that I didn’t have to deal with them anymore. The truth is the rest of your career will be, in some way or another, filled with group projects. In other words, learn how to handle them well. Also keep track of significant experiences in group projects as examples to give during interviews with potential employers.
I’m really fortunate in that my major in college provided a billion and one opportunities, including multiple classes where we had semester-long, large-scale projects. None of the direct results were groundbreaking (though one project did get published!), but the skills I got to hone in those projects have made me much better-equipped to handle myself now. So yeah, they suck, but they can actually pay off.
Hard skills. I can’t emphasize this one enough. It’s great that you know stuff, but employers want to know that you can do stuff. I actually wish this is one that I had been more proactive about, because while I have some hard skills (particularly with Adobe CS), more computer skills (like HTML) would have qualified me for a wider range of positions. I made up for it a bit in this area by having very specific softer skills under my belt, like experience with writing/editing styles, certifications, and work samples — so it can also be worth looking for opportunities like that if they can apply to your field.
The good news is you can always learn hard skills, whereas the window of opportunity on interning and group projects is a bit more limited. But that doesn’t mean you should put it off until post-college or late in the game if you can help it. Find a basic coding class, or take a shop class that relates (even loosely) to what you want to do.
Be nice. This one feels obvious to the point of debating its inclusion, but it’s no joke. Being not only polite, but amiable and gracious, can do just as much to help you land a job as a lot of experience. And guess what? You can gain experience in that literally whenever, and it very well may set you apart from other applicants. Just remember, people hire people who they want to work with.
I hope that was helpful, and I’d love to hear what you’ve found served as the most valuable experience. Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!