If you need a little extra money to get yourself through college, a work-study job is a great way to do so. The Federal Work-Study program helps students earn some extra cash towards their tuition, textbooks and more through working at their school part time. In a world where unpaid internships have become the norm, it can sometimes feel like your job at the library is holding you back from your career—but it doesn’t have to! We talked to career experts about the best ways make the most of your work-study job.
1. Appreciate the positives
Even if your work-study job isn’t necessarily your dream job, think about the fact that someone has hired you and is investing money in you. Your work may not be super exciting, but someone is willing to pay you for it, and that’s not something many interns can say. Don’t take for granted the fact that someone is giving you money so you can gain work experience!
Another huge benefit of a work-study job is that it’s usually way easier to fit into your busy schedule than an internship. “Most students who work on campus can fit hours in between classes and do not need to have a large block of time to fit in 10 hours [for an internship] during the week,” says Won Kang, the senior associate director for career development at Barnard College. “It can be more difficult with internships depending on where the internships are located.”
Since your work-study job is most likely on or near campus, it will be way easier for you to schedule shifts between classes, and you don’t have to worry about the time and money that you would lose commuting to an internship.
2. Develop your skills
If you think your responsibilities at your work-study job are meaningless and won’t get you anywhere, think again. Reyna Gobel, a student loan and career expert and author of CliffsNotes Graduation Debt: How to Manage Student Loans and Live Your Life, says that students with work-study jobs benefit because employers “want to give them tasks that are worth paying them to complete.” People aren’t just handing you money for doing a useless job—whatever you’re doing is worth the money you earn. Your experiences there are valuable!
Kang says “the main objective should be to get the most out of the opportunity that you have been given. Once assigned tasks are completed, make sure to request more work and figure out how best to serve the department.” Take advantage of this chance to learn about the workplace and prove yourself as a valuable employee, no matter what job you have. Through your work-study job, you can learn important workplace skills, such as organization and people skills, that will help you in the real world.
3. Make it work for future job applications
Even if your work-study job is totally irrelevant to what you really want to do after graduation, you can always make it work when you apply for the job of your dreams. There’s always a way to make your previous experiences applicable to the job you want.
“Always base resumes on the individual job you’re applying for,” Gobel says. “Look at the job description and then see which skills match what’s needed.” Maybe you worked out a new filing system while working in your school’s admissions office. That kind of innovation and organization will be desirable to tons of employers!
Kang says, “It is important to highlight the skills developed at your work with detailed information with statistics and accomplishments.” You should be customizing your resume for different jobs anyway, so take a look at your work-study experience from different perspectives to figure out how what you did can apply to different jobs. Don’t be afraid to show off your accomplishments from your work-study job; just find the best way to make them relevant to what you’re applying for.
4. Make it relevant
Your work-study job can be just as applicable to your desired career as an internship. “Traditionally, [a] work-study is tied to specific coursework or major requirements,” Gobel says. This gives you a huge advantage over having an unpaid internship, because while unpaid interns may be working their way along their career path, they aren’t getting paid for it.
If you have a work-study job all throughout college that’s relevant to your major, you can work your way to a job you might really want after graduation. You may not have a ton of options when it comes to where you work, but talk to your career center about how to get a work-study job most suited to your future career goals.
If you can’t get a completely relevant work-study job, don’t be discouraged. Any job is another great addition to your resume; it will demonstrate your work ethic and skills and help fill in gaps between other jobs and internships. Whatever kind of job you have, highlight all of your most relevant duties in your resume so potential employers can see that you’ve been working towards a job in that field
5. Don’t waste your time
Unfortunately, some work-study jobs just require that you sit behind a desk for hours at a time. However, that doesn’t mean that the time you spend at work should be completely wasted!
Emily, a recent graduate of Barnard College, had a work-study job at her school’s library help desk. “Most of my job involved sitting behind a desk waiting to answer questions or give directions, so I would bring my books along,” she says.
Bringing your homework will help you boost your productivity and make your time at work pass by faster. Just be sure you don’t completely ignore your job; check with your boss to see if there’s anything you can help with before settling into a nice, long study session!
6. Make connections
A work-study job doesn’t just boost your resume; it expands your network, too.
“Getting a job after college is about both connections and experience,” Gobel says. Who you know can be just as important as your skills and knowledge when it comes to a job hunt. You’ll be able to ask your manager for a reference, and you never know who your coworkers will know or what they may do with their own careers one day.
So how do you make strong connections at your work-study job? Gobel says to really get to know the people you work with. Everyone from your boss to other students can be great career connections to have in the future. Be sure to connect with all your coworkers on LinkedIn so you can stay in touch. Make close connections now and you’ll have them long into the future!
7. Snag a job post-graduation
If you’re graduating soon and starting to panic about your post-grad plans, talk to your boss at your work-study job.
“Always ask about open positions a couple of months before graduation,” Gobel says.
If your work-study job is at a nonprofit or even on campus, there may be room for you to move up after graduation. You have experience doing whatever your work-study job is, so you’re more qualified to continue working for the organization. Even if it isn’t the job you’ve always dreamed of, staying on after you graduate will show future employers that you’re dedicated to your work, and it will give you a little more time to figure things out.
No matter what you’re doing, your work-study job can be a valuable experience to boost your career in the right direction. Take advantage of it, collegiettes!