Preparing for the World of Work

When you’re applying for a job, having skills that are immediately useful to the employer will give you a leg up on the competition.

There are many ways to develop skills while you are becoming educated: summer or part-time work, internships, volunteer experience, extracurricular activities, elective courses, etc. Careful planning to get your foot in the door is required. To become competitive in today’s market, you need the experience and competencies related to your chosen field.

Internships, externships, part-time jobs, and extracurricular activities provide numerous opportunities for you to gain experience and develop the competencies required by your career choices.  Increasingly, employers are choosing new hires from their pool of former interns. To be competitive, students must demonstrate the drive to gain career-related experience beyond that provided through academic coursework alone.

Activity outside the classroom, whether it is career-related or not, whether a paid position or voluntary service, will give you the opportunity to develop many essential qualities sought by employers, such as leadership, interpersonal, and communication skills.

Internships and volunteer activities have an even more fundamental purpose, however: self-exploration.

Doing an internship in a career field of interest or taking part-time work in a setting about which you are curious can give you the “inside view” you need to analyze whether the field will be truly satisfying for you: “Is the-day-to-day work dynamic enough for me? Do I really enjoy working with the type of people in this field? Is the hectic pace exciting or exhausting?” All kinds of beyond-the-classroom activities allow you to explore potential careers early enough to test perceptions of yourself against working-world realities. This way you will avoid premature commitment to a field you don’t yet understand, or a single-minded concentration on one area of knowledge to the exclusion of other areas not yet discovered.

Training, Educational & Experience Requirements

  • GPA is important for most employers. (Minimum GPA expected by employers was 2.8, with only 5.7% of employers stating that they would be willing to hire a graduate with a GPA < 2.0.) (Recruiting Trends, 1994-95, p.20)
  • Work experience is becoming a standard expectation. You will want to find ways to get that experience through volunteer, internships, part-time work, summer employment, or full-time employment. There are many reasons for gaining experience; 1) you will be competing for jobs with those who sometimes have more experience than you, 2) employers want you to be aware of the demands of work and what it takes to be successful, and 3) you will be better able to know what you want and how to make your contributions to your potential employer.
  • Build a network of people who know you and your work and can serve as an information source for you or provide letters of recommendations. This will include professors, supervisors, counselors, etc.

Summary of Effective Orientation and Preparation for the World of Work

Surveyed employers were asked to design college programs that prepare the best possible new college graduates.  Some of the elements that were identified as essential were:

  • Mandatory work experiences in a field of study (i.e., part-time jobs, summer employment, practicum’s, internships, etc.); learn by doing and being involved; hands-on, practical experiences or simulations; case study work; “real-world” work orientation;
  • More problem-solving and less memorization; achieving results through proper management and leadership; furnishing experiences for challenging and testing college students; intellectually challenging, critical thinking situations;
  • More emphasis on people aspects; team-based assignments; group projects and associated evaluations; create a project/team environment; learn project management; strengthen team-player development;
  • Increased stress on communication skills and social competencies: writing, research, public speaking, conversation, listening, presentation, and related topics; grammar, coherency; interpersonal skills; conflict resolution and problem solving;
  • Well-developed logic and reasoning skills; build good judgment and decision-making skills; some technical proficiency; ability to independently set goals and accomplish tasks on time;
  • A broad knowledge base, including a multi-cultural perspective, in order to interact with others in an informed and appropriate manner;
  • Demonstration of leadership capabilities, e.g., in extra-curricular activities, model entrepreneurships; etc.


Extra-Curricular Activity (%) Great Deal-Extremely Important (%) Moderate-Some Importance (%) No Importance
Career-related employment 82 16 2
Internship 61 33 6
Co-operative education 48 37 14
Leadership in an organization 40 53 7
Student organization membership 28 66 6
Community service 16 71 13
Diversity training 16 62 22
Athletic participation 6 52 42

(Credit: 25th Anniversary Edition Recruiting Trends 1995-96. A study of 527 Business, Industries, and Governmental Agencies employing New College Graduates. Michigan State University p. 17.)

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