Advice to college students: Get a job!

by Grace

College graduates’ biggest regret is not getting more work experience.

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… Pew Research survey asked college graduates whether, while still in school, they could have better prepared for the type of job they wanted by gaining more work experience, studying harder or beginning their job search earlier.

About three-quarters of all college graduates say taking at least one of those four steps would have enhanced their chances to land their ideal job. Leading the should-have-done list: getting more work experience while still in school. Half say taking this step would have put them in a better position to get the kind of job they wanted. About four-in-ten (38%) regret not studying harder, while three-in-ten say they should have started looking for a job sooner (30%) or picked a different major (29%).

This is consistent with the advice that focusing exclusively on academics in college is a mistake.

Students become more valuable to employers by spending time in the real world.

But many have never been in an office setting and had the experience of having to work hard for a difficult boss. They may not understand the sense of urgency that permeates the fabric of most work environments, and they may misread the cues and signals of prospective employers and recruiters as they search for a job.

Advice to college students:  Get a job!  (But don’t slack off on studying.)

Related:  Put kids to work to fix the problem of delayed adolescence (Cost of College)

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9 Responses to “Advice to college students: Get a job!”

  1. The type of job matters. Most of my students do work, typically warehouse work, or cashier at a big box store, or security guard – stuff like that. Those jobs pay bills but do nothing else for the student, except cause conflicts with school work. On the other hand, my students do not take jobs related to their career goals, in many cases because they are too busy with their lowlevel jobs, and that lack of targeted experience does make their job searches much harder. I was speaking to a technical executive from a large company who had done initial interviews that day with a bunch of our seniors, and he told me he was really surprised at the students lack of technical internships or job experience.

    So you can’t tell students to just “get a job” because the wrong kind of work experience can hurt

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  2. I agree with CSProfMom—students with low-level jobs that eat up all their time get no advantage when looking for technical jobs, and the hit on their grades can be substantial. Advising students to take jobs related to their career goals is good advice, but just “get a job” can be seriously counter-productive.

    I advise students in STEM fields to look for summer research jobs, either with industry or in academia, as these are enormously helpful both in getting into permanent jobs and getting into grad school. I don’t tell students not to take low-level jobs, as those doing so usually have no choice—with the continued state disinvestment in education, students sometimes have to work nearly full time to pay tuition at state schools.

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  3. Jobs in their fields are best, but work experience of almost any kind is valuable. And of course, many students need the money.

    It’s my impression that most internships and major-related jobs are extremely competitive and there are many more qualified applicants than there are jobs. But perhaps that isn’t the case in some technical fields.

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  4. Internships in technical fields are competitive, because they are so enormously helpful (and they generally pay reasonably well).

    Work experience “of any kind” is not all that valuable—taking a hit on the GPA in order flip burgers or make cappuccino is not a good trade-off for people aiming for tech jobs. Even an unpaid research position while a student does more for getting a decent job after graduation.

    The “work experience of any kind is valuable” mantra comes from those who wish to take advantage of students by having them work at minimum wage, even though it kills the time they need to study and learn what they need for a real job.

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  5. Having done my time flipping burgers, I would say that those jobs don’t even teach work skills, aside perhaps from simply showing up on time – but an engineering/CS major has usually already learned that skill. Definitely, an unpaid research position is far better – but our students often can’t take those because of their burger flipping jobs. You have no idea what a problem is it – I have students disappear for 2 or 3 weeks at a time because of shift changes or mandatory training. They can’t go for REUs even though REUs are paid because they can’t disappear from their current job for 2 months. My students would have a much better shot at the best jobs if they didn’t have to work 30 hours as security guards or shelf stockers. This is a subtle, or maybe even not so subtle, way that inequality is increased.

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  6. Such antipathy toward work experience is interesting. You all have seen the negative side — poor students working too many hours at the expense of good grades or valuable extracurricular experience. Of course I’m not promoting that, especially since that was my college experience. But I stand by my opinion that “work experience of any kind is valuable”, particularly for students who have not worked at all or very little. And I’m not trying to take advantage of students.

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  7. I think “any work at all” is great advice for teens from wealthy leafy suburbs who are heading to Trinity or Oberlin and who have never worked at anything save some babysitting or lifeguarding. A few hours a week of burger flipping is good for those kids and isn’t going to hurt their grades. But when you have kids who are already starting behind because of their background, who are working 30 to 40 hours a week at lowlevel jobs, often alongside co-workers who are not good influences (and that was very much my experience – my co-workers were doing and selling drugs on the side), for employers who could care less that they have school obligations, you have a problem. And when employers tell us after reviewing student resumes that they are surprised at their lack of technical work experience, as happened last week, then you doubly have a problem. The reality is that technical employers really don’t care about work experience as a gas station attendant. They want students with proven skills in technical areas, who have shown they can work in a technical environment. My students largely do not have that, and thus they are at a severe disadvantage in the job market.

    This is especially resonating with me right now because of the comments of the employer last week, and because we have been meeting with our career center trying to figure out what to do about the problem. We have no answers yet. I would like to see us develop a true coop program such as what Northeastern does, which would allow students to earn enough money while working at jobs that advance them. But developing a program like that could take years.

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  8. Reblogged this on The College Money Man Blog and commented:
    I agree work experience is a strong factor in future employment. But should we refine this to say, it helps to gain employment in a related skill area over flipping burgers. While anyone that puts in an honest days work is doing the right thing, it is more helpful to their careers to try and gain experience where they can gain needed skill sets.

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