Practical knowledge — the kind of knowledge that comes from hands-on experience, is a must for the work force. However, the normal college environment that requires attending class can only give a student the theoretical knowledge that is needed for employment.
Today’s employers expect look for applicants who will perform well from the day that they are hired.
“Graduating students are faced with the reality that the job market is tougher now than it has been in the last three years,” said Drema Howard, director of USF’s Career Center. “Fewer jobs equates to more competition amongst applicants; it also means that employers are able to be more selective and can expect more from their employees.”
Students are advised to prepare to enter a competitive job market. But this can often be difficult for students who need to work part-time while attending college.
“Our students are very busy. Over 75 percent of them work as well as attend school,” Howard said. “So it is understandable that taking on more work can seem overwhelming for some students, but (they) need to decide on their willingness to invest the extra effort now for a return later on.”
Howard said there are several options to consider when deciding what work experience best complements a student’s major. Structured internships, cooperative education and practicums can all be arranged through the university with advanced planning, or you can opt to find practical experiences. Some, but not all of these positions, offer payment either in the form of an hourly wage or credit hours.
Students should keep in mind that in many cases the opportunities USF offers to students in work experience are competitive, meaning that students must apply for the positions; they are not simply awarded.
For students who work and attend school full time, reducing the number of hours at work to accept an internship may not be possible. In this case, students should be creative and resourceful.
“An internship is a great way to explore a career and see if it is a good fit, and it also gives the valuable experience of networking and makes you more competitive, but not every student can manage it,” Howard said. “If this is the case then they can do things like setting up a couple of informational interviews with people in the field in which they want work to get a feel for what they do, what is expected of them and also to network.
“If the place you currently work at is not helping increase your knowledge about your desired field, then try taking on some different projects at your current job. For example, if a student works at the front desk of a hotel and is majoring in public relations, then they can try to get some experience by offering to help with their employee newsletter,” Howard said.
Another way to gain valuable leadership experience is by joining a professional club on campus and becoming actively involved in it. This can provide chances to network and gain contact with professionals.
It is important to only choose clubs that will actually benefit career options.
“Students should use every viable means of gathering experience that will pave the way to their future career,” Howard said.
Not all colleges on campus require their students to gain career-related experience before they graduate even though they do recommend it. However, some departments such as the College of Education require each student to complete a full-time internship before graduation.
Typically, an education major obtaining an internship the last semester before graduation. For this internship a student will work with a professional elementary or secondary educator and experience how he or she deals with all of the things that arise on a daily basis in the classroom. The internship culminates with students taking responsibility for their mentor’s class for six to eight weeks.
“We believe that hands-on experience helps make a well rounded student, and we think that an even blend of theory and practical experience is the equation for a student’s success,” said Paulette Walker, internal director of undergraduate programs and internships. “I always tell students that I want them to be prepared well enough (so) when they graduate from this department, that I would feel comfortable having them teach my grandchild.”
Students interested in gaining career-related experience can talk to a sequence advisor, look for opportunities to gain experience on their own, and visit the Career Center and talk to a career specialist.
Students may also find opportunities for work experience by attending the two events that the Career Center has coming up in September. The center is sponsoring a part-time job fair for students Sept. 4 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Student Services Building breezeway. It will also be sponsoring a career networking fair for students Sept. 25 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Sun Dome. Before attending, students should prepare resumes and practice interviewing skills.
The Career Center offers a variety of resources to students interested in gaining work-related experience. It also offers students the chance to gather information on different career choices and to polish resumes. Students also have the option to do a virtual video interview to get a feel for the type of questions that an employer is likely to ask and to get comfortable with the interviewing process.
In the spring, the Career Center will be offering, for the first time, four sections of a career development course that students can earn two credit hours. “The class will be for students trying to decide what they want to do and will focus on self assessment tests and on how to prepare for a job search,” Howard said.
To get more information on the Career Center’s services go to http://www.career.usf.edu. To schedule an appointment call 974-2171 or go to SVC 2088 Walk-ins are welcome for a 15 minute advising session with a career specialist.