Lee (@LeLee092) is a faithful tweep and retweeter. She asked: “what’s better-an internship, work experience (related or unrelated) or being active in college (SGA/RSO)?”
To state the obvious, doing any of these activities is better than doing none of them. You want to show prospective employers what you know, what you can do, and that you are passionate about something. It is also important that you not see these opportunities as a “check list,” but rather as vehicles for identifying and satisfying your true passions (i.e., they need to be real to you). You will get much more out of the experience and impress far more people by following your dreams.
The choice among the alternatives you list depends on your goals as well as your progress in identifying a career. Participation in registered student organizations can be very helpful in identifying a potential career. Many RSOs focus on the transition from college to employment. They regularly feature guest speakers who talk about what they do and the type of lifestyles associated with their careers. Attending these sessions and asking questions can help you decide whether a given career holds promise for you.
Holding an office in an RSO or being elected to student government is a good way to develop your team-building, negotiation and leadership skills. It gives you an opportunity to show you can mobilize resources, direct the work of others and get results. If you are going to put the time and energy into this activity make sure the group is going to do something consequential–something you would be proud to share with a prospective employer because it showcases your skills. You are unlikely to be able to demonstrate these same skills in an internship or entry-level job, so I wouldn’t view work experience as a substitute for these student leadership activities.
Unrelated work experience can pay the bills and does demonstrate an ability to juggle a busy schedule while in college, but it is unlikely to help you decide where you want to go in life. Internships, if done right, can be a great way to sample a job and get some mentoring from a more established professional. Employers who have structured internship programs that regularly take in students tend to offer better learning experiences than smaller firms that have a more unstructured approach. A good internship program is a lot of work for the employer. They are willing to do this and pay their interns as part of an overall employee recruitment and selection strategy. Companies that want to “one off” projects in the name of educational opportunity for unpaid student interns should be avoided. If you want to do an internship, start early and consult the internship coordinator associated with your major.
Paid work experience at what you want to do after college is best. This assumes you know what you want to do and can handle the workload while attending school. Related work experience offers advantages similar to an internship, but is the most difficult opportunity to secure without having a degree. Being someone’s assistant is a reasonable goal here– you can experience the job vicariously and hopefully gain a valuable mentor to help guide your career.
Whatever you decide to do, make sure you have the time to do it well and that it won’t sidetrack you from getting your degree. A focused, long-term strategy is most likely to get you where you think you want to go….it is a marathon, not a sprint.
Paul Jarley, Ph.D., is the dean of the UCF College of Business Administration. He blogs every week at http://www.bus.ucf.edu/dean. This post appeared on July 1, 2013. Follow him on Twitter @pauljarley