Part 4: Career Readiness Guide: Prepare For Success With Your Liberal Arts Degree | The Career Management Model: Experience

This is the fourth of seven articles in this series, click here to go to the first article. If you’re searching for a remote internship, go to our search results page that lists all of the remote internships and other entry-level jobs advertised on College Recruiter and then drill down as you wish by adding your desired category, location, company, or job type.


Why does Experience matter so much? For starters, engagement activities help you further explore potential academic and career options. As we noted earlier, in the Explore section of this guide: Books, websites, and even short observation and discussion opportunities can only get you so far in your exploration efforts. Sometimes you need a more hands-on type of experience to answer the questions that mere reading or observing can’t resolve.

The engagement activities you pursue might also lead you to stumble upon brand new academic and/or career options you’d like to explore—possibilities you’ve never considered, in great part because you’ve never even heard of them! The number of people who say they “fell into” their careers is staggering. But chances are they didn’t really “fall into” them. It was their own experiential actions that led to possibilities emerging. You don’t have to know your end goal to make progress toward it.

Maybe you (think you) already know what major(s) you want to pursue, or what career path you want to work toward. Experiential activities related to that major and/or career might help you confirm your prior assumptions: “My internship is only helping me solidify my decision to major in _______ and become a _________ after I graduate.”

On the other hand, engagement activities related to a particular major and/or career could convince you that you need to seek a different path: “This volunteer work is showing me that I don’t want to major in ________ after all, nor do I want to become a ________ after I graduate.” Admittedly, this can be a painful realization in the short term. But better to know sooner vs. later. And better to come to this understanding not through guesswork but through actual, hands-on experience. Be assured that all experiences will be valuable to you, especially if you take the time to connect them with your Core Career Competencies.

Finally, experiences offer you a way to gain new skills and competencies and, later, to demonstrate them to prospective employers or graduate/professional school admissions committees. If you become the activities coordinator for a student organization, for instance, you quickly begin honing your Oral & Written Communication competency, your Teamwork & Leadership competency, and more. If you participate in learning abroad or maybe even do an internship abroad, you can tell future employers how that specific experience has helped you develop the Core Career Competencies.

Advice From Liberal Arts Grads

Experience Is Another Way to Explore

“Get experience in many different fields to figure out what you like. Within a certain field, like health- care, do a lot of volunteering in your areas of interest to narrow down your search for what you enjoy.”

You Learn Your Interests Through Trial and Error

“Try everything! You never know what you may end up liking without trying it first. So say YES to everything you can in your career path, whether it is a project or an event. Say YES!”

There are far more ways to gain experience than you might be aware of. As you’re about to see, you have lots of experiential paths to explore as a liberal arts student.

In this section, you’ll learn about how to get started with gaining experience.

Internships » Research » Volunteering » Employment » Learning Abroad » Leadership » Student Groups

What Are Micro-Experiences?

Micro-experiences are short-term experiences that give you initial insights into a position or career of interest. They are a way to start small with building experience—which can make them easier to fit into your busy schedule.
• Gain project-based experience, perhaps working briefly for a faculty member on campus or for an organization (for-profit or nonprofit) off campus. Check out the third-party vendor Parker Dewey ( as well to learn about paid professional assignments ranging from 5 to 40 hours.

• Seek out an externship. An externship is an opportunity for you to engage in practice-based learning and observation in a specific field of interest. In its simplest form, it allows you to shadow a more experienced professional in an industry of interest. The duration of an externship is much shorter than that of an internship; thus, it doesn’t require the same amount of time or level of commitment.

Engaging in these short-term experiences will prepare you for more robust experiences such as internships, research, or leadership opportunities—the completion of which will make you more competitive in the job market or graduate/professional school admission.

Don’t Be Afraid to Pursue Experience Independently

“Make connections through the school, but also try new experiences independently. Researching
internships, jobs, and experiences is something that all college students should know how to do with little assistance. Take your future into your own hands and do what you want to do, even if it might be
different from what your peers are currently doing.”

Education and Experience Pave the Way Toward a Career

“Career paths are based not only on your field of study, but also on the experiences you gain during
your time in college.”


What Is an Internship?

An internship is a paid or unpaid experience that is connected to your learning and career goals, as well as your professional growth and your development of the Core Career Competencies that signify career readiness.

An internship helps you:
• Test out potential career choices and organizations.
• Get a better sense of the types of job tasks you enjoy (or don’t enjoy, as the case maybe).
• Develop professional skills and build a network of contacts that will help you when you’re looking for a job, applying for graduate school, or pursuing another post-graduation path.
• Connect what you’re learning in the classroom and through your engagement activities with the world of work.

Internships can also lead directly to full-time, permanent jobs. If you think about it from the perspective of the employer, this makes sense. If you were the boss and you wanted to hire someone, who would you hire? A relative stranger—for example, someone who applies for your open position because they saw it on the Internet? Or would you hire the fantastic summer intern who was already trained in and working for you?

The choice is clear: Employers want to hire people they trust.

In fact, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), while 65 percent of employers look for any type of relevant work experience on the résumés of new college graduates, 56 percent prefer the kind of work experience that comes from internships or co-ops. Moreover, another NACE study shows, when employers are deliberating between two otherwise equally qualified candidates for an entry-level position, two key attributes play the biggest role in the final hiring decision:
• Internship experience with the employer’s own organization.
• Internship experience in the employer’s industry.

How Do I Find an Internship?
Start by using the career center job platform, which also features internship listings. Talk to career center staff to learn how to best leverage this tool.

Search Online
• Contact organizations of interest—by visiting their websites or contacting internship coordinators there—to learn about opportunities.
• Use internship directories and internship websites.

Advice From Liberal Arts Grads

You Never Know Which Internship Experience(s) Will Be Valuable

“Obviously look for internships related to your career aspirations, but do not hesitate to also apply for
internships that may not be totally related if you are struggling to line up a position. This experience
may be more valuable than you think, and the skills you develop may still be applicable to a position
more in line with your ideal career path.”

Internship Experience Is Worth the Sacrifice

“Don’t give up opportunities just because of your current job. Take risks. If you want to do an unpaid
internship but you currently have a paid job, do the unpaid internship. It helps build your network and

Search Your Network
• Get help from a career counselor, your advisor, and/or a faculty member who can work with you one-on-one to uncover internship possibilities and prepare you to land one of them.
• Talk to professors and staff members, many of whom a) have connections at various organizations, and b) will know where previous students have interned.
• Talk to your fellow students—particularly juniors and seniors—to see where they (or people they know) have interned.
• Search for the school’s alumni page on LinkedIn ( and contact alumni for internship leads and related advice.
• Talk to your parents and other family members, as well as neighbors, relatives… anyone you can think of!

Here’s what you can say:
“I’m hoping to get an internship soon so that
I can explore career options and develop my
skills and Core Career Competencies before I
graduate. My major is ______, and I hope to get an internship doing ______. Do you know anyone who works in this field, or who works somewhere that might have internships in this field? Or can you think of any other ways I might find an internship? If not and you hear of something later, I’d appreciate you keeping me in mind.”

Other Search Strategies
• Attend career fairs—on campus, in the community, and/or in your hometown.
• Explore interning abroad—your advisor, a career counselor, and/or a faculty member can help you.

How Do I Know If a Particular Internship Is Right for Me?

First, consider your academic and personal goals. Also factor in your strengths and values. Do you want to work for a nonprofit? Then focus your search there. Do you want to pursue advertising, whatever the setting? Then search for internship opportunities related to that field (e.g., advertising, marketing, public relations).

Write a brief goal statement for yourself.
“I would like an internship that will give me an opportunity to…” This type of statement, if you take the time and energy to develop it, will guide your internship search better than almost anything else can.

Do an informational interview. Talk to someone in an organization or a field that interests you. If it seems like a good fit, ask this person about internship possibilities in the organization. (Note: You’ll find extensive advice on informational interviewing on pages 56-60 of this guide.)

If you have trouble finding the right internship, try pitching your own.
Wondering how to successfully pitch an internship? Ask your advisor, a career counselor, or a faculty member for advice and guidance.

Internship FAQs
When should I do an internship? Getting career-related experience early in college is a smart thing to do. Some employers have a preference for sophomores or juniors, but it is quite possible to get an internship as a first-year student.

Is an internship required? An internship may be required for some majors and not others, so you’ll want to check with your advisor. Either way, internships are strongly recommended for all liberal arts students.

What can I do now to get ready to be a competitive internship applicant? Gain experience in other ways: through research,
volunteering, part-time jobs, learning abroad, student groups, leadership roles, and micro-experiences. Work hard in the classroom as well; your grades matter, of course, and so do your applied projects.

What financial resources exist for internship participation? While many internships are paid, some are not. Your advisor (and/or a career counselor or faculty member) may be able to help you identify and pursue financial assistance opportunities such as scholarships, grants, and stipends. Be sure to talk to someone before you rule out an unpaid internship.

How do I get academic credit for doing an internship? To earn credit for your internship, you need to have an academic component to your experience. Your advisor can help you understand this process and complete the necessary paperwork and/or coursework.

Can I do an internship abroad? Yes! To learn how, talk to your advisor, a career counselor, and/or a faculty member.

How Do I Get the Most Out of an Internship?
It’s one thing to simply obtain an internship. It’s quite another to get something valuable out of it—and to contribute something valuable to it as well.

When it comes to getting the most out of an internship, think about the experience in three phases:

• Preparing before your internship begins
• Succeeding during your internship
• Ending your internship skillfully

Your advisor, a career counselor, and/or a faculty member can help you navigate all three of these phases successfully, as can your internship supervisor(s). So don’t try to go things alone. Tap the expertise and insights of the people around you to make your internship experience a great one.

Advice From Liberal Arts Grads

Complete As Many Internships As Possible

“Complete as many internships as you are able, in a variety of different areas to find out what you’re
interested in. If one internship doesn’t lead to a further opportunity, don’t worry—another one might.… My first couple of internships did not make me feel like I was moving forward professionally, but it was my experience with those prior internships that landed me the one that grew into a salaried, full-time position.”


Why Do Research?

Research experiences offer all kinds of opportunities for you to develop the Core Career Competencies—like Analytical & Critical Thinking, Applied Problem Solving, and Oral & Written Communication—that signify career readiness. Through research, you study difficult problems without any guarantee that you will eventually find “the answer.” You’ll need patience, persistence, and perseverance.

Research experiences also help you:
• Build relationships with faculty and other students who are studying topics of strong interest to you.
• Explore research itself as a possible career path.
• Develop expertise on a subject that fascinates you.
• Make money and/or earn academic credit for your efforts.

Research FAQs
How can I participate in research? Start by
talking to your advisor, a career counselor,
or a faculty member to learn about potential
research opportunities.

Some academic departments also offer opportunities to engage with faculty members through research and related activities. You can also volunteer, or find a paid on-campus job that involves research.

What is the first step to getting started with research? Consider what subject you’re interested in studying, and then find a faculty member who is an expert in that area. You can reach out to a faculty member

you’ve had for a class, ask your academic department for recommendations, or read faculty profiles on department websites.

You don’t need to have a completely formulated research plan. You just need an interest that matches the interests of the faculty member, along with a willingness to see how you could get involved. Here’s an example of a brief email you could send to a faculty member:


Why Volunteer?

Volunteering is a beneficial way for you to start gaining experience and building a professional network. It’s also accessible. Not only do you need no prior experience to engage in volunteering at an organization, but you also frequently have flexibility with the time commitment, making it easier to fit into your busy schedule. Volunteering allows you to explore various organizations, career paths, and work settings, all while continuing to develop your Core Career Competencies. In short, volunteering acts as a meaningful stepping stone to future experiential learning or professional opportunities.

But there’s more: Volunteering gives you the chance to create positive change in your community, too, whatever that community may look like. Perhaps it’s a city. Perhaps it’s a center where children gather to play after school. Perhaps it’s a nursing home where senior citizens live out their remaining years.

Whatever the case, your volunteer work matters—and the impact likely goes well beyond your own personal and professional development.

Employers agree. In a Deloitte survey, 92% of the more than 2,500 employers questioned said they believe volunteering expands an employee’s professional skill set. And 82% said they are more likely to hire job candidates who have volunteer experience.

Volunteering FAQs
How do I find volunteer opportunities?
Your advisor, a career counselor, and/or a faculty member can help you identify volunteer opportunities on campus and in the surrounding community. The website VolunteerMatch ( is also an excellent resource, as is the career center’s job platform.

Advice From Liberal Arts Grads

Volunteering Can Confirm What You Want to Pursue

“Volunteer at places or in areas where you think you want to work. I often doubted what I wanted to do until I did service-learning in schools, assisting teachers. Through service-learning, I realized that I had made the right decision for my future career. You can never know until you try!”

Volunteer Experience Offers “Insider Knowledge”

“Get involved in as many volunteer work opportunities as possible. Even if the opportunity isn’t teaching you new skills, it can teach you industry insider knowledge, which is incredibly valuable.”

Your Volunteer Work May Lead to a Job

“Volunteering in your field really helps. The only hospital that offered me a job after graduation was the hospital I had volunteered at for years.”


The Value of Work Experience

Whether you pursue it on- or off-campus, employment offers yet another chance for you to continue developing your Core Career Competencies, while also providing you with the obvious benefit of added financial support.

On-campus student employment can be particularly helpful. For starters, it often comes with flexibility: You don’t need to travel (or at least travel very far!), and you can plan your work schedule around your course schedule. An on-campus job can be especially useful to you if you’re an international student. Both F-1 and J-1 students are eligible to work on campus, and the work does not need to be related to your field of study.

Off-campus employment is also a valuable way to build your Core Career Competencies. Part-time customer service positions, for instance, teach you skills related to Applied Problem Solving, Oral
& Written Communication, Teamwork & Leadership, and Ethical Reasoning & Decision Making.

Finding work that is somehow related to a career or field you are exploring can be

especially beneficial. Working as a camp counselor, for instance, builds competencies and knowledge that will be essential to you success if you want to become a teacher. Similarly, working as a social media assistant for an office on campus allows you to hone your expertise for a future marketing career.

Employment FAQs
How do I find on- or off-campus jobs?
Begin by using the career center’s job platform and outside websites to explore potential job opportunities. Then talk to friends, family members, your advisor, a career counselor, faculty members, and others to ask about specific job leads. You could even stop by the offices/places (on or off campus) that interest you to inquire about the possibilities.
(Note: The Excel section of this guide offers extensive information on job search strategies.)

Advice From Liberal Arts Grads

All Work Experience Matters

“Work as much as you can while you’re in school. No matter what it is, it will give you workplace
experience. Workplace experience will help you truly develop your work ethic, and help you develop
self-awareness so that you know how to change and how to be better at whatever it is you try to do.”


Why Participate in a Program Abroad?

It’s difficult to fully articulate the many benefits of an educational experience abroad. The existing program options are full of opportunities for you to not only develop the Core Career Competencies, but also gather experiences that will help you demonstrate those competencies later—to prospective employers, for example, or graduate/professional school admissions committees.

By going somewhere new, experiencing a different culture, and perhaps even speaking a different language, you have the chance to sharpen competencies like Applied Problem Solving, Innovation & Creativity, and Engaging Diversity, to name just a few. The (seemingly) simplest things become more challenging when you’re out of your element and in a new culture whose norms and expectations might be quite different from those of your home culture.

When you successfully navigate these challenges, your confidence will soar. And for good reason: You will know that you can succeed in situations where you may find yourself, at least initially, outside of your comfort zone. You’ll see that you can handle whatever is thrown at you—then adapt and succeed anyway.

Learning Abroad FAQs
How do I get started with exploring learning abroad options?
Search the school’s website as well as outside websites to get a general sense of the learning abroad opportunities and programs that are out there. Then seek additional, in-depth guidance from your advisor, a career counselor, and/or a faculty member.

What programs exist? There are opportunities to study, work, intern, volunteer, or conduct research abroad. Experiences vary in length. Some last only a few weeks during an academic break or in the summer. Others last for a semester and up to a full academic year. Your advisor (and/or a career counselor or faculty member) can help you match your academic, personal, and professional interests and goals with opportunities available in an array of countries.

How do I pay for learning abroad
Program costs vary depending on the length of the program and the location you choose, but know that there are a lot of cost-effective options available. Your advisor (and/or a career counselor or faculty member) can help you explore them.

Learning Abroad Expanded My Worldview

“Through my study abroad experience, I met professionals and scholars and saw how businesses and education worked in another country. What was even more impactful was the insight I got into the lives of regular people and how strongly culture shapes people’s lives. I learned to genuinely appreciate and embrace differences and to be open to new change and new ideas.”

“I Learned So Much”

“I was shocked by how much I learned when I was abroad. I was taking two content classes as well as Arabic, and I learned so much. I came back and my professors were shocked at how much I had learned.”


Why Get Involved with Leadership?

If you’d really like to develop the Leadership part of your Teamwork & Leadership Core Career Competency, working in some sort of leadership capacity is perhaps the best thing you can do.

Whatever leadership path you pursue, you’ll be setting yourself up well for the future. Leadership is a highly sought-after competency—among employers, graduate/ professional school admissions committees, and others. In fact, according to a study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), when employers are deliberating between two otherwise equally qualified candidates for an entry-level position, the trait “has held a leadership position” plays the fourth-highest role in the final hiring decision. Leadership is also the sixth-most-frequently-identified attribute (cited by 73 percent of the respondents) that employers look for on the résumés of new college graduates.

You may or may not see yourself as a potential leader. There is no one, “right” personality type or skill set you need to have.

Leadership development is just that: the development of your leadership competency. You can do it your way, and you don’t have to be—or lead like—someone you’re not.

Leadership FAQs
How do I get connected to leadership opportunities?
Your advisor, a career counselor, and/or a faculty member can help you identify leadership opportunities and develop a plan for pursuing them.

You’ll want to especially consider applying for leadership and peer positions on campus—in student government, for example, or in the residence halls or student groups.

Advice From Liberal Arts Grads

Say Yes to Leadership Opportunities

“Through my leadership experience, I have been challenged, scared, hopeless, hopeful, irritated,
overjoyed, and every other emotion possible, as the students I have helped show me that there is still
much to learn and that I will always have to grow. This happened because I said yes to this experience
and have continued to say yes.”


Why Get Involved with Student Groups?

Whether you join a well-established organization or help launch a new one, getting involved in student groups is a fantastic way for you to develop the Teamwork (and quite possibly the Leadership) part of your Teamwork & Leadership Core Career Competency. You’ll work with your fellow students to get things done, after all—to create some sort of positive change.

Some of the work you’ll do will already be precisely defined; some you’ll define as you go. Along the way you’ll be developing other core career competencies as well: Ethical Reasoning & Decision Making, for example, as well as Innovation & Creativity and even Digital Literacy. (You’ll use all of these in something as apparently straightforward as developing compelling, informative content for your student group’s website.)

Your work with student groups will also help you build friendships with other students who share your interests—its own lifelong benefit. And it will frequently connect you with alumni, prospective employers, and other potentially helpful people, since some student organizations bring in guest speakers and/or host community events.

Student Groups FAQs
How do I find student groups of potential
Start by searching on the school’s website. Then ask for suggestions from your advisor, a career counselor, and/or a faculty member. Look for organizations that meet regularly, host programs and events, and provide service to the greater community.

And if the type of group you’re looking to join doesn’t yet exist on campus, think about starting your own!


The more experience you gain, whatever the method(s)—and the sooner you gain it—the better you’ll be able to continue shaping your academic and engagement path toward career readiness. Purposefully. Proactively. Planfully.

As you take part in each experience, thoroughly document what you’re doing, what you’re learning, and what you’re gaining—especially in terms of your Core Career Competencies and related skills. Don’t wait until weeks … or months … or years after an experience ends to capture it! Your memory of it will be much more clear, and therefore much more valuable, if you document it sooner vs. later. Somewhere, somehow, in whatever way works for you (e.g., writing things down, making video or audio recordings): Document, document, document.

The time and energy you put into carefully documenting your experiences—as you go—will be well worth it in the end. You’ll know exactly what you’re getting from your liberal arts education and what you have to offer as a result. You’ll then be poised for the next phase of the Career Management Model: Excel, which focuses on how to effectively communicate your career readiness to employers, graduate/professional school admissions staff, and others.

— This is the fourth of seven articles in this series. Click here to go to the next article. This series of articles are courtesy of the collective expertise of the staff in the Office of Undergraduate Education and Career Services in the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota.

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