Be it as an engineer, IT professional, an Educator or Instructional Designer, earning a degree is always a fine step toward launching your career. But it is not the only way to give yourself professional leverage. In a lot of cases, for example, experience is much more valuable and better regarded. Not to mention, remunerated. Just contrast the median pay for a degree-mandatory job as an Early Childhood Educator or a Social Worker, with the annual income of a Patrol Officer, Executive Assistant or Structural Steelworker.
Why does it look like we are all aware of the value of experience, but can’t quite see if the value of a degree stacks up to it? There’s little disagreement about the importance of experience. There’s few other places where you can get what the hands-on kind provides. While you can always work on campus or positions that are “distant from the action,” there are plenty of options to earn an living, while slowly but surely setting yourself up as an expert in your field or niche.
Never fear freelancing
There are many skills that you can apply (and therefore develop) as a contractor. And thanks to technology, it’s easier than ever to find short-term, quick-and-to-the-point opportunities. Online freelancing employment platforms like Upwork list an array of job postings in areas such as administrative support, design, writing, and marketing. You can also post a service, such as data entry or web researching, to attract attention from employers. Along with being flexible, freelancing allows you to set your own rates and work when it’s convenient for you, such as between classes or on the weekends. What’s more, keep in mind that freelancing is not synonymous with short term relatioships. Freelancing can be the perfect job interview, or first attempt at a long enduring partnership.
Kick your earning potential gear early on
Freelancing is a great way to gain experience and to make contacts, but it does require you to spend time managing your customer base. If you rather see yourself devoted to one project that you can see (excitedly) as a developed line of business, then there’s no doubt: You should consider becoming an entrepreneur. Foundr offers some details on how to start an ecommerce company, covering everything from building your own online store, to the benefits of dropshipping.
Even if you don’t have prior retail or ecommerce experience, it will start making sense if you are driven by making your product better, or by the success of relentessly testing trending products or ideas until you find the (literally?) million dollar one. Most of the time, you can get started with a minimal investment, and some manufacturers offer resellers pre-designed sites that work right out of the box. The biggest benefit of creating an online storefront is that it’s flexible and, once it’s up and running, requires minimal time and attention.
Your Resume saves the day, your Portfolio wins it
When you turn your sights towards a traditional career, know that competition is fierce, and you will need to ensure that you stand out. Polish your resume until it shines before dropping your name in the proverbial hat when positions become available. There are many types of resumes, and there is no one style that appeals to all fields. Look online for industry-specific resume examples, but don’t be afraid to highlight out-of-industry experience that may be useful as well. For example, if your passion is fashion design but you had a short but intense stint in social media marketing, say so. You may be able to get a gig updating your favorite designer’s Instagram and managing their other social outreach projects. This might not be your ideal job, but it gets your foot in the door and gives you a behind-the-scenes look at the industry.
Occasional options… and making the most of them
When you don’t need a constant cash injection, nor committed all your productive time to an employer regardless of what use it ends up having, there are still ways to earn, even if you’ve taken a full load at school or are involved in athletics. Seasonal jobs, such as lawn care service or working as a lifeguard at the community pool or rec center, are available in nearly every city. They can prove more challenging than they appear, and give you unique human interaction perspective. Similarly, you can babysit, tutor, work at an elementary school’s aftercare program, or clean houses. Even these occasional opportunities can be valuable, and you never know when you’re going to make a new connection that can have a positive and long-lasting impact on your career.
Just put yourself out there!
Going to school and working or running your own business isn’t always going to be easy. It requires dedication and time, and you may miss out on social opportunities and events. However, the sooner you get yourself in position, the sooner you can succeed.