With the spring semester in full swing, many college students are eagerly awaiting summer break. While there’s nothing wrong with a little down time and fun in the sun, students should use the three-month break to beef up their resumes with career-related experience.

While the job market shows some signs of improvement, students face an uphill battle landing a full-time job after graduation and should use the break between semesters to maximize their chances of getting hired.

“Employers are looking for students who have done meaningful work,” says Lynn O’Shaughnessy, author of The College Solution. “They’re not just interested in students who may have devoted a lot of time studying and getting straight As. They want students who have shown initiative and are motivated and have pursued interests outside the classroom.”

We talked with career and job experts about ways to make your summer vacation into a valuable experience.

Internships

Interning is one of best things college students can do over the summer to increase their chances of getting hired after graduation, the experts agreed.

“Internships are usually highly competitive as many realize gaining experience will help in their job search after graduation,” says Jason Lauzer, HR manager and job expert on JustAnswer. “Graduates need every competitive advantage they can get, and an internship is a great way to achieve it.”

Even if internships aren’t openly listed for companies you are interested in, tap into the network of people you know through friends and family who are in the industry. Meredith Haberfeld, executive and career coach, says that getting out and talking to people about gaining real-world experience can lead to a position. 

“Often the internships end up bridging into future employment at that same organization when, in so many cases, the internship didn’t even exist,” she says. “It got created by connecting with someone inside the organization and making yourself available and designing it together.”

Academic Activities

If you want to get ahead in your schoolwork (and keep your brain active during the summer months) look into what summer classes and lodging are offered at your school or local community college.

“Finding a class at a community college that transfers to the graduate’s main university should shave off time from the degree and save money in tuition,” says Lauzer.

If you an upperclassman, Haberfeld suggests looking into the possibility of a fellowship or independent study.

“If you work with your advisor or a professor in the department that you’re in to find out where you can learn about relevant fellowships, it’s a really amazing thing to do on a school break,” she says.

Volunteer

“Volunteering is an amazing place to collect experience that you can use in your resume, not only to show your civic leadership and community service, but to show how you have leveraged your skills and intellect to make a difference for an organization,” says Haberfeld.

Gaining perspective and helping those in need with others who share your interests can also lead to positive network connections.

“You can meet people volunteering that might be able to help you later on,” says O’Shaughnessy. “You also might be able to do some meaningful work that you wouldn’t have done if you were looking for a paycheck.”

While volunteering can make for quantifiable experience to talk about with a potential employer, Lauzer advises that if you can get an internship, take it.  

“A hiring manager certainly appreciates seeing a couple volunteer positions, but ultimately wants someone with relevant education and experience,” he says.            

Conduct Your Own Individual Project

If you don’t land a job or internship in your area of interest, the experts recommend taking matters into your own hands. Whether it’s making a short film, writing a book proposal or project that’s related to your career interests, actively pursuing your interests will look good to future employers.

“Those kinds of self-directed, independent projects speak volumes both to future employers, graduate schools, and oftentimes are their own ways into [a business],” says Haberfeld.

Experts suggest creating a blog that is focused and relevant on your career aspirations. There are several programs that make creating a professional-looking blog simple.

O’Shaughnessy says having a Web presence can increase your chances for opportunities and getting hired down the road.  

Showing initiative and your own capabilities can be great examples for your professional network to see and show your talents beyond what’s on your resume.