College Students and Summer Employment

As the school year winds down, many college students, particularly graduating seniors, are looking for employment. Some are searching within the field of their major, while others are willing to take whatever they can get. With the current state of the economy, it has become more difficult for students to find work during their summer vacations. More than ever, students are competing with more experienced and older job applicants, as well as individuals who are willing to work more hours for less money. The statistics and what appears to be a lack of signs in business windows and job boards may prove intimidating for many young job applicants.

Despite this, the president and various states are reassuring students ages 16-24 that the job market is looking up for these youngest applicants. Around 54 percent of young people are currently employed in the United States. Most of the recent and upcoming job openings are expected to be part-time and temporary positions. There are mixed messages going to the nation’s youth, however, in regards to the availability and amount of jobs, particularly with the high unemployment rate of the general population.

“Most students complain that they cannot find the types of jobs they really want or that they don’t know how to find ‘career’ jobs versus ‘regular’ jobs,” says Bridgette Coble, director of the Office of Career Services at Metro State.

Some students fear that the prospects of summer work are very bleak. Last summer, an estimated seven out of every ten students were unemployed. For college students, there are alternatives to working during the summer, including taking summer classes, interning and studying abroad. Unfortunately, summer classes and study abroad programs will be costly without some form of financial aid, and besides finding a paid internship there is not really an opportunity to earn money. However, there are often work-study opportunities in certain departments during the summer months, and many internships offer the chance for students to be hired on for a full-time position following the internship.

Graduates have perhaps an even tougher dilemma, being that they are now thrust into the job market with seasoned professionals in their field. Many companies are looking for fresh-faced entry- level applicants, but many will overlook a recent graduate in favor of someone with years of experience. Add to this the fact that most college students and recent graduates are limited in the kinds of jobs that they are eligible to apply for, as many companies require applicants to have at least a few years working with a similar company.

The Office of Career Services at Metro State helps students look for part-time and permanent positions in their chosen career field. According to career counselor Emily Frank, “the employers who recruit with us are looking for a little bit of everything: part-time, full-time, entry level, and experienced.”

Students who visit the Career Services office can expect to receive one-on-one career counseling by appointment as well as access to the Metro State online job board called Metro State JobLink. This website, as opposed to a national web site like Monster or Career Builder, provides students with the opportunity to stand out more in their applications because there is more of a direct connection to potential employers.

“The employers who post on that site are looking specifically for our students and alumni,” says Frank.

For some graduates, the possibility of not finding a job in their field, or not finding employment at all, is quite daunting. In addition to being thrust out into the workforce with seasoned professionals, many graduates will soon be facing the reality of having to pay back thousands of dollars in student loans after their six-month grace period comes to an end.

While the Metro State Career Services office does not offer job placement for its students and graduates, the center hosts workshops on how to apply for jobs and how to write and rewrite resumes and cover letters that look more desirable to employers.

“Career Services helps students learn how to go about a job search…which leaves our alumni in a better place for a job search down the line,” says Frank.

The number of young and less experienced applicants increases from the months of April to July each year, with July being the month, on average, when most youth obtain employment for the summer months. Jobs for students are now more varied than retail and food service; many students are now opting for mentorships, co-operative education programs and programs that pay students’ tuition in exchange for fulfilling volunteer hours.

Coble says that the best time to begin applying for a summer job is actually in January; she warns that some employers have “extensive interview processes and early deadlines,” for students who are job hunting. She also recommends that students network as often as possible and attend job fairs during the course of their spring semester.

The methods by which employment is obtained in recent years have also changed from the way that students’ parents and non-traditional students once knew. Many companies will only post that they are hiring through online vehicles and social networking websites. Some students are able to find employment through their institution’s career centers, and others will look specifically for work-study programs so that they are able to more effectively balance school and work obligations.

There is also a population of students who are fortunate enough to obtain work through networking and developing connections with working professionals who can give them entry level opportunities or internships. Networking is a skill that most students view as valuable after graduating, but it can be used while a student is still in college to find and forge connections and pathways toward job search success.

“Use social networking sites like LinkedIn intelligently. Join professional organizations. Employers generally want some kind of face-to-face contact or a recommendation from a trusted source,” recommends Frank.

In addition to searching for summer jobs, it is also wise for students to begin searching for entry-level jobs in their major’s career field in order to prepare early and to become more knowledgeable about what employers in their field are looking for in a job candidate. It is also a good idea for students to pay attention to key words in job descriptions and to use those words to write an effective cover letter and resume. Many employers look specifically for those key words in applications to determine whether or not a potential employee has done their research about the company and who they are looking to hire.

Resumes and cover letters should also be tailored to each individual company that a person is applying to. Many employers can detect a generic resume and cover letter; it is better to follow a general template or outline but to personalize the application as much as possible. This is where it is crucial to research companies or organizations before applying to them; employers want to know that job seekers wan to work for them rather than to just work.

Internships offer a viable alternative to obtaining paid summer employment; in fact, there are actually a fair amount of internships that do pay wages or stipends to their student workers. For students who may be having difficulties finding traditional jobs, internships provide students with real-world experience in their chosen field while allowing students to learn from the experience. Once students graduate and look for employment in their field, it is assumed that the applicant is well-versed in the ins and outs of that specific industry, while internships allow students and recent graduates to learn and grow without the expectation that they should already know all things pertaining to that position or field.

“It’s a good alternative…it allows for experience in the job field—students [who have had internships] earn a degree with experience,” says Rhonda Eaker, director of the Applied Learning Center and Internship Program at Metro State.

Eaker also says that internships can turn into paid positions about one-third of the time; meaning that sometimes employers will offer paid part-time and full-time positions to highly qualified interns near the end of the internship period. This allows students to transition smoothly from unpaid internships to a job in their chosen field.  Having an internship often allows opportunities for students to network in their prospective job field.

Even if a student is unable to find a paid internship, unpaid positions are required to offer academic credit to students; so while students are learning on the job, they are also earning credit toward their degree. The best time to apply for internships is in the semester before the desired semester to begin an internship. If a student wants to intern for a company during the summer, Eaker recommends that the student begin to search and apply for positions in March. The Internship program at Metro State also offers a job board that is similar to Metro State JobLink; it is called TIP (The Internship Program) Online. Like with JobLink, students are required to register and upload cover letters and resumes for potential employers to view.

“It’s rare for a committed student to not find an internship,” says Eaker.

While millions of college students and recent graduates this year may find themselves in a mixed bag of sorts when it comes to finding a job, it is important for students to not feel defeated. Even if prospects appear bleak, it is always worth a try to improve on a resume, network with professionals and to seek out alternatives such as internships and volunteering. The key to obtaining a summer job may very well be to maintain positivity and persistence in all endeavors.

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