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How to build job experience in your career field

While federal statistics show that earning a bachelor’s degree can lead to higher income on average— more than $400 more per week than with a high school diploma — a degree alone is no guarantee you’ll land a good job.

“You really need a combination of education and experience to get hired for most jobs,” according to David Meintrup, MA, a certified career coach for Phoenix Career Services™.

“In fact, a lot of hiring managers feel that today’s new graduates are not prepared for the workforce and are cutting back on entry-level hires,” he adds, citing a 2013 Adecco study. “But one of the good things about University of Phoenix is it allows you to get your degree while also working and gaining job experience you can apply to your future career.”

Here, Meintrup shares tips to help you be marketable in your chosen field:


Seek experience early.

Research potential career paths even before starting college so you can make informed educational choices and begin racking up relevant experience.

“Say you’re interested in working in the pharmaceutical industry,” Meintrup says. “You’ll need to study the sciences, as well as business, but you can also learn a lot by working at a local pharmacy as a pharmacy technician,” for example. “With additional education, you could then utilize your pharmacy industry experience when seeking employment upon graduation.”

He stresses that you should “never underestimate the power of industry-specific experience on your resumé — even if it’s the part-time job you had when you were in school.

Study job descriptions.

Meintrup recommends reading posted job openings regularly to track in-demand job skills, experience and educational requirements, and to tailor your skill set accordingly.

“The ideal hiring fit is someone who has the combination of skills that an employer is seeking,” he emphasizes. “Use the Phoenix Career Guidance System™, O-Net and openings posted on sites like Indeed, SimplyHired and employer websites to stay informed and plan accordingly.

“If a job requires one year of office [management] experience, find a way to get it,” Meintrup stresses, noting that you might need additional training, an internship or to accept a lower-level position that you might not have considered otherwise.

Consider volunteer work.

If you need to gain experience or skills in a certain field before you can get hired for pay, volunteering at charitable organizations is a good way to do it, Meintrup says, adding, “Usually with nonprofits, there is always more need than people to do the work.”

Aside from helping worthy causes, he points out that volunteering can add bullet points to your resumé, give you stories to share in job interviews and expand your networking opportunities.

Meintrup suggests checking sites like VolunteerMatch.org and idealist.org to search for opportunities by type of organization, project, needed skills and location. You’ll find “everything from volunteering at a music festival to being a board member at a local charity,” he says, adding that you also can contact specific charities directly.

Job seekers who are not currently employed should consider volunteering six to eight hours per week as part of their job-search routines, Meintrup recommends. If you’re currently employed, two to three hours of volunteer work per week is a good amount of time.

Get hired by small family businesses.

“Some of the best resumés I’ve seen were from people who worked for family-owned businesses while they were still in school, because it allowed them to wear many hats and learn multiple skills at once,” Meintrup notes.

These enterprises can run the gamut from local pizza parlors and insurance agencies to janitorial services and mail-order companies. “Even if you’re hired as the part-time help, you’ll likely end up doing everything from invoicing and customer service to budgeting and payroll,” Meintrup says.

Don’t discount prior experience.

Many students who attend college later in life or switch careers want to hide their work histories and start fresh. But they’re doing themselves a disservice, according to Meintrup. For example, if you spent several years during college working in restaurants and then got an IT degree, you could market yourself to corporate dining conglomerates, he points out.

“You not only have the IT knowledge; you’d have significant experience in the restaurant industry already, which shows those companies you’d understand their culture and products.” A former hotel clerk who gets a degree in business is in a better position to go into hospitality operations at a hotel or theme park chain than someone with unrelated experience, he adds.

“Don’t throw away 20 years of experience just because you got a new degree,” he cautions. “Instead, see where they intersect.”