How to Gain Work Experience While You're Still in School

I was recently speaking to a group of students about their career aspirations and the task of finding work after graduation when the topic of "entry-level roles" came up. Anyone who has looked at listings for entry-level roles recently has probably noticed that the vast majority of them ask for candidates who have experience already – which can pose a challenge for recent graduates.

When you are studying, it can be hard to find the time to gain work experience that is relevant to your career goals – especially if you already have another job to pay the bills.

But it's not impossible.

How to Gain Work Experience While You're Still in School

First, you will need to figure out what days and hours are you available to work. Even if you can only spare a couple of hours a week, you can find opportunities that fit.

Then, speak with a career counselor at your school. They will likely be able to help you find jobs or internships relevant to your field.

If the counselor can't seem to find anything for you, it's time to put in some legwork.

1. The Basics

As always, your first step is research. Make a list of companies that hire your ideal role. Be sure you have an understanding of what each company does and why you would like to work with them. Then, you need to decide what kind of work you are willing to do: paid work, internship, or volunteer work?

Before you start reaching out to the companies on your list, make sure your resume is up to date in case anyone asks for it.

2. Make Contact

Now that you have the basics ready, it is time to get on the phone or go visit these companies. Calling is often the more convenient option for both you and the employers – plus, it is almost always easier to get five minutes of someone's time on the phone than a face-to-face meeting.

Write yourself a basic script to follow during these conversations: an introduction, an explanation of what you are looking for, and an outline of how you would benefit the company you are contacting.

Take notes during each conversation and be sure to record any follow-up steps you may need to take. Make sure to send thank-you emails to each person you speak to. Also, keep in mind that even if you get a "no" at this stage, you can ask about having your resume kept on file or ways to stay abreast of new openings at the company. Of course, you can also add the people with whom you have especially good conversations on LinkedIn and follow the companies there, too.

3. Consider Contracting

Another option for gaining work experience is contracting. There are numerous sites where you can advertise your skills and bid on assignments. The great thing about contracting is you can often set your own hours and work from wherever you'd like. However, contracting is a highly competitive world, so keep that in mind.

Depending on the types of roles you are interested in, you may also be able to reach out to family and friends to see if you can assist them with personal projects that could be added to your portfolio.

Finding suitable opportunities can be difficult, especially when you still have class to worry about. If you persevere and start developing your experience now, you'll build your network before many of your peers and have an easier time securing employment in your chosen field after graduation.

Stacey Gleeson is the founder and job search/interview coach at Primed Interviews. If you have a question about your job search, send her an email at