THE DREADED "EMPLOYMENT CATCH-22"
Picture yourself on graduation day-diploma in hand, looking forward to embarking on that long-awaited career of your dreams. Now imagine yourself applying for professional positions, only to be told you lack the required work experience. The dreaded "Employment Catch-22"-you can't get a job because you haven't already had one! Increasing numbers of college students are avoiding this trap by working while they complete their academic programs.
By the summer of 1995, more than 60% of all college students worked, with the majority working part-time. A variety of factors over the past 20 years have contributed to this trend. Changing demographics of the student population are reflected in more older students and students supporting children on campus. Tuition costs and living expenses have grown. At the same time, public subsidies for college students have decreased, and there has been a general trend toward work-related forms of financial aid. Students who desire greater financial independence are less willing to rely on parents for support. And many students wanting to minimize debt upon graduation are unwilling to take out loans, preferring to "work their way through college."
I. Work Opportunities And Benefits
For students, the obvious benefit of working is income to pay for tuition and living expenses; however, many less immediate benefits accrue to working students, as well. Students and employers alike are increasingly citing internships, part-time work, or volunteer experiences as the single most important factor in finding employment upon graduation. The most valuable employment experiences give students the opportunity to work in a targeted field, increasing the chance of employment in that field after graduation. Even when not related to the student's major, however, work can benefit the student. Through work, the student can improve self-organization, establish a greater sense of responsibility, learn more about personal strengths, and clarify values-all while gaining in self-confidence!
Work allows students to explore a career field, test career interests, and develop a career plan. Students also identify skills and build a professional network. Work experiences are resume-builders that give students a competitive edge in the job market after graduation. Employers believe that graduates who worked while in school experience a much easier transition into full-time employment after graduation. Students with employment experience tend to have more realistic expectations and career goals than do their non-working counterparts. Perhaps for these reasons, employers like to hire graduates who have worked for them while in school. It is especially common for students to find post-graduation employment with an organization where they interned.
II. Balance Between School And WorkBut what about academics, you ask? Doesn't working affect academic performance? Certainly, as a student, academics should be your first priority. College students today have many demands on their time. In addition to the hours required in preparation for their courses, many are actively involved in student organizations that compete for study time. For active students taking a full course load, the decision to work while attending college warrants serious considerations-particularly for those entering the University for the first time. Students need to strike a balance between school and work.
In deciding whether or where to work, consider work options that encourage academic success and maximize benefits to you as a student. Work which is related to your academic major is least likely to negatively impact academic performance. Employers who believe your education is important are more likely to provide a supportive environment for student employees. If you are new to the University, you may want to begin working as few hours as possible until you get adjusted to academic life. If you have successfully combined school and work in the past, chances are you can do so as a University student.
III. Value Of Work Experience To EmployersThere is some evidence that students who work actually do better in terms of academic performance and persistence than do their non-working counterparts. Working students learn time management skills, develop higher levels of motivation, enhanced self-esteem, and a strong support system. Work experience is also one of the most common and productive forms of involvement for college. All of these things have been linked to academic success. Among the types of work available to students, internships, and co-ops fit the optimal profile for academic performance and career success.
Employers surveyed by the National Association of Colleges and Employers prefer to hire graduates with prior work experience. They believe graduates with part-time work experience produce better quality work, accept supervision and direction more willingly, demonstrate better time-management skills, and are better able to interact with co-workers on team projects. Given two applicants with equal academic qualifications, 94% of these employers would hire the candidate with part-time experience over the one without work experience. Employers rank work experience second only to communication skills.
IV. Volunteer For ExperiencesAnd volunteering works, too. Through volunteering, students often gain professional work experience and exposure to social problems in non-profit agencies. From the employer's perspective, volunteering demonstrates impressive motivation, commitment, and social responsibility. The valuable training student volunteers receive is, in itself a form of payment for service.
V. Where Do You Start?
Okay, so you're sold. Now...where do you start? Above all, start early-don't wait until your senior year! Sometime during your freshman or sophomore year you should visit the Career Services Center or Student Employment Office on your campus. These offices post job listings for thousands of local, national, and international opportunities. If you are awarded Federal Work-Study as part of your financial aid, check out the work-study jobs available to you. Most work-study positions are located on campus, but some are located in community service agencies off campus. Early in your academic career, you may want to explore part-time or summer job opportunities. These positions may be local, throughout the United States, or overseas. The best time to begin applying for in- ternships and co-ops is sometime during the second semester of your sophomore year. Unlike work-study, part-time, seasonal jobs, and internships or co-ops are not contingent upon your financial aid award.
VI. Selecting EmploymentNo doubt you, like most students, have learned valuable research techniques through your coursework. Put those same research skills to work in search for a part-time job or internship! Visit your Career Services library or resource area. Talk to employers at job fairs or career days hosted by your University. Compile a list of employers-complete with addresses-likely to employ people in your career field. Counselors in your Career Services Center or Student Employment Office may assist you with developing your resume and preparing a cover letter to your target employers. They might also suggest resources for successful interviewing and job-search strategies to help you in your search for part-time employment or internships.
The decision to work or not to work is definitely yours-but if you chose to work while you are in college, utilize all resources available to you-especially those of your Career Services Center or Student Employment Office. There, trained and knowledgeable professionals can help make your job search easier. One thing is certain-students who work part-time or who complete an internship during their college career are not likely to be found in the "Employment Catch-22" line upon graduation.