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How can I get experience in a new field when I work full-time and go to school?

juggleMelissa from the University of Minnesota asked: 

I am trying to get experience so that I can eventually become an academic advisor. My challenge is that I work full-time (1 1/2 hours away from my university),  and  I take a bus (which makes for a 4-hour round trip commute),  so I don’t have time to volunteer. What can I do to try and gain experience?   By the way, I previously worked at two community colleges in work-study positions for at total of six years.  Is that experience beneficial?

Hi Melissa –

Yours is a challenging problem.  With only 24 hours in the day and so many demands on your time, it’s not a question of how can you do more things; it’s a question of how can you use the time you have differently to incorporate you desire to gain relevant experience and explore a career as an academic advisor.  Here are some ideas:

Leverage your relationship with your own academic advisors

As a student, you have a really good reason to visit with your academic advisors on a regular basis and get to know them well (and, of course, give them the chance to get to know you!).

Use the time you have with your academic advisors to get advised AND  learn more about the field and what it entails.  Every meeting with an academic advisor gives you some insight into what being an academic advisor is like and gives your academic advisors the opportunity to get to know you, you background and your qualifications.  Referrals and recommendations are very important, and the more people in the academic advising profession who know you and will refer and/or recommend you the better.

Get involved in your university community

Very often colleges and universities assemble committees to address specific topics and issues, and frequently they look for student members for these committees.  Ask your academic advising department if there are any opportunities for you to serve as a student representative on a department or university committee focusing on advising, student affairs or student life.  Committee service requires less time than do internships and offer similar exposure to working professionals and work environment. Translation:  More opportunity for you to get to know others and for them to get to know you! You might be able to squeeze in a hour or two every couple of weeks for committee service.  It might pay off!

Look for experiential learning and career exploration opportunities in your classes

A lot of classes have group projects and other elements that allow you to “do” rather than just “study” topics.  If they are available and will help you advance toward your degree, take these classes and use the projects to gain experience.

None of these are clean and easy solutions, but the challenge you are facing is not an easy one to address, so you have to get creative.

And yes, . . . .

Your experience working as a work-study student is beneficial

This experience shows that you are familiar with college work environments; that you know what it means to show up on time, work a full shift, support university operations and juggle responsibilities and priorities.

All of these are good things, but you can’t assume potential employers will see their value just because you listed the jobs on your resume.  Through your interpersonal communication, correspondence and resume, you have to help employers understand the qualifications you offer.

Lastly,

Pay attention to what is going on in the profession

A great way to show employers you are interested in their profession is to prove you are paying attention to what is going on in their world.  How do you do this?  Read the trade publications and follow the professional associations that connect professionals in your fields.  For academic advising and other work in higher education, I recommend you visit the following site regularly and become familiar with what is going on you the profession you wish to join:

Academic 360
AcademicCareers.com
The Chronicle of Higher Education Online Job Board
HigherEdJobs.com
National Academic Advising Association (NACADA) Position Announcements
National Association of Student Affairs Professionals (NASAP) Job Announcements
Student Affairs.com Position Listings

Good luck,

matt-signature

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2 Comments

  1. penn2career says:

    Reblogged this on WilliamPennUniversityCareerServices . . . . . and commented:
    I know many of you in both the traditional and CWA programs are scheduled to the max, but this post from the Campus Career Coach blog may provide some ideas about gaining valuable experience in a new field.

  2. […] How can I get experience in a new field when I work full-time and go to school? […]

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