9 Tips to Build Professional Skills with an On-Campus Job

Your college job can boost your career

On-campus jobs help students gain skills and experiences. Student employees have to work within a team, communicate with others from different backgrounds and identities, problem-solve, provide customer service, lead their peers, manage projects or even analyze data. These roles can set them up for success in future interviews for internships or jobs.

Use your work-study award

One of the benefits of earning income through a federal work-study position means earning one does not count against you when you complete the next year’s FAFSA. Because FWS is a financial aid need-based program, work-study income (although taxable) does not affect your future financial aid eligibility.

Aside from offering soft skills, the 6,000-8,000 student jobs on campus can connect you with faculty, staff and other students. Those who work here are more likely to feel like they are part of the campus community. In addition, these jobs allow students to remain right on campus, instead of having to commute.

Students may discover that in addition to having extra money to spend, they are more satisfied with their college experience and are more prepared for the future.

You can start your on-campus job search now by creating a profile on Handshake. And once you land your college job, here are nine tips to help you make the most of it.

1. Use this student job as an education in communication.

build communications skills at uc davis
Students talk with Linkedin's Ryan Sandler about writing better profiles, job interview skills, and photograph them professionally. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Don't think about this job as being just a job you're taking to pay for gas or save up for school. Make an impression on your supervisor or teammate or customers about who you are and how you project yourself.

2. Get a grip on customer service.

customer service experience at uc davis
UC Davis alum Mora Som has learned a thing or two about customer service since opening her restaurant, Taste of Angkor, in Sacramento, California. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis) 

Retail gives you exposure to a lot of different things. The upside, and sometimes the downside, of the job is the people you're helping. Some are angels, and some make you want to throw down your name badge and walk right out the door.

Don't give in to the steam pouring out your ears. Problem solving your way through frustrating customers is necessary. Employers are often looking for workers who have experience in “client relations,” but that's just a fancy way of saying “dealing with people."

3. Stick with a budget and a savings plan.

The best time to learn how to manage money is to start now. Even if you're only bringing in $50 a week, head down to the bank and open up a checking account and a savings account, both of which are typically free for students and lack a minimum required balance. Then come up with a list of expenses like gas, lunch, car insurance and entertainment, as well as items or experiences you want to save for, like a new car or tuition for a summer class. Decide what you need to do and how much you can and need to work to cover your expenses and savings goals.

4. Figure out how to work with people you don’t like.

learn job skills at uc davis
Communications majors learn first-hand from professionals crucial skills that help them advance in the workplace. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Do your best to find a way to work together efficiently. Fight the impulse to complain or push this person's buttons; anything less than solid teamwork will ding your reputation. If this person is making your job significantly more difficult, don't hesitate to bring the issue to your boss. Frame it in the light of: "I'm not sure how to handle this. You showed me how to take inventory this way, but Christina insists I do it that way, instead."

5. Master the professional workplace.

You have to be punctual. You have to be mature in your behavior and interactions, express good judgment and demonstrate initiative and focus.

6. Take initiative.

One crucial skill that can serve you well in both your personal and professional life is the ability to show initiative. If you constantly wait to be told what to do, then you waited too long. The habit of initiative entails seeing something that needs to be done and either doing it or figuring out ways to do it. The more you work on initiative, the easier it becomes. The key is finding ways to be resourceful and taking action or doing something before others do it or before you are told to do it. Taking initiative shows the hallmark of a leader in the making.

7. Learn to take responsibility.

Own up to your mistakes. Blaming others is the easy way out. When you blame others you are stating that you are incapable of rectifying the situation. When something goes wrong, blaming others strips you of your power. When you take responsibility, your primary focus is to identify what went wrong so that you can fix it.

8. Ask for what you want.

find a mentor at uc davis
From left to right: Beth Broome, students Kayla Salvucci and Pamela Hernandez, and LeShelle May chat during the STEM Snap the Gap, a year-long program to provide mentors to 15,000 girls in California. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

The best way to be heard is to be a strong communicator. And the best way to learn how to communicate well is to practice. Start practicing by finding a mentor who can give you personal and professional feedback as you start looking for your passion project or a career path. Go on LinkedIn and find professionals who hold your dream job right now. Then send them a note of admiration saying, “I really admire you. If you have 10 minutes for me to give you a call and ask you some questions about how you got to where you are today, I’d love that." You'll be surprised by how many people have done the same thing, and want to pay it forward to the next generation.

9. Connect with every person you interact with.

Because 70 to 80 percent of jobs are secured through networking, the people you reach out to now can help you land the job of your dreams.

Ultimately, every experience is valuable and can lead you to discovering what you like to do and what you don't. Your dependability, punctuality and judgment come into play here, too. It's all a reflection of your personal brand. Look at everything you do and think about how you would translate it during a future interview to make the most of your experiences.

Ami Tripp is the assistant director of the Internship and Career Center. 

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