4 Ways to Build Real-World Job Skills While You’re in High School
Simply put, it’s unfair to ask teens to develop adult-level skills at such a young age. You’re already handling a lot (standardized tests! APs! Figuring out what to do with the rest of your life!) and you don’t need any more on your plate. But, unfortunately, to get a job or an internship in college, you need to have a few things to put on your resume already. Employers need to see that they won’t have to teach you basic skills and that you’ll fit in as a professional.
You already know that internships, jobs, and extracurriculars are important, and can help to build a solid resume. But most students already have those. How can you stand out? Here are a couple tips to think innovatively about what you have in front of you already. With a bit of creativity and without a ton of extra effort, you can easily develop crucial soft skills that both colleges and employers will love.
Join the Debate Team and Learn Negotiation
This one’s a particularly useful tactic for kids who hate conflict or haven’t practiced it yet in other activities. Model UN’s another example of the same type of program. Standing up, in front of people (the horror!), and deliberately defending a decision in the face of opposition is not easy. But like basic math and writing, it’s a critical skill you’ll need as an adult no matter what you do.
One day, you’ll need to convince someone to give you a full-time job. Raise your salary. Buy the product you’re promoting. And so on. So if you learn it early and practice it often, you’re putting yourself ahead of others who don’t. You’ll also learn how to advocate for yourself.
Debate teams usually engage in competitive activities that pit you against other teams and schools. MUN conferences assign teams to different countries and allow a more free-form style of debate to partner or face off on larger issues. Both of them make for a resume-builder even if you don’t win anything.
Newfound debate skills become a selling point for just about any internship or job, especially if it involves sales, marketing, or client work. Plenty of entry-level jobs require you to do all three.
Do Service Learning Instead of Just Service
Volunteering/service work is a core aspect of the high school curriculum. Colleges used to see it as a sign that you cared deeply about causes that were important to you, but now everyone does it. Since you’re already going to participate, why not optimize your experience to build some job skills too?
Service learning combines learning objectives with service opportunities. So, for example, say you’re volunteering for a charity. Service might mean volunteering at one of their events. Service learning, on the other hand, means working for that charity in a greater capacity. You might call local businesses to fundraise, develop marketing materials, help keep track of donations, or do planning for future events.
The best first step is to ask the coordinator that manages service opportunities at your school or reach out to the service group directly. Ask how you can be more involved or where their area of greatest need is. Tell them you’re there to try and make their lives easier.
Once again, any activity that builds skills like these can go on the resume. Volunteer work can even go under the Experience section next to jobs you’ve had. Fundraising skills in particular are covetable for jobs and other opportunities.
Make Your Own Mini Co-Op
A cooperative education program offers academic credit for job experience. Some high schools and colleges like Northeastern build co-ops into their educational program (often called a co-curriculum) so that students get as much as a year’s worth of job experience while they’re also in school. You get credit for working to develop your career, all at an early age. Unfortunately, not all schools make it as much of a priority, which means if you’re not in a program, you might have to do a bit of extra work.
First stop: go to your college counselor or dean. What opportunities are out there? Has a company or non-profit approached the school with an opportunity? Is there a teacher or class that incorporates real-world activities or projects?
If there’s nothing, go to your teachers next: can you take one of their projects or assignments and go work with a business to complete it? Can you expand a small project and do the same thing? Can you get extra credit for working on the assigned subject matter with an expert in the field? Plenty of teachers will be impressed and gratified to see that you want to do a deep dive into their subject. But, again, make sure they approve your efforts before you go for it.
You may not be able to find something you can do all semester long with the support of your school, but these mini-career development opportunities are around and, once again, worthy of putting on a resume. You might not be able to put it under Experience if it’s short or not part of an official program, but it absolutely could go under Activities.
Optimize Your Social Media Presence
This one might sound counter-intuitive. As a teen on social media, you might hide you social profiles by not using a real name or posting any profile pics that would identity you. That’s smart if you want to be on social media but not expose yourself to scrutiny. But social media isn’t just a social activity anymore: it’s a powerful tool for individuals and organizations.
Most sales and marketing jobs require a working knowledge of social media, and you can’t share your profiles if they’re private. Later down the road, if you ever want to write or publish (or even if you’re competing for a high-profile job), you may have to demonstrate that you can build followers and an audience. A personal, or semi-personal, profile is a solid way to accomplish this.
You’ve probably already seen these, but semi-professional accounts allow individuals to share some personalization through the filter of their work/passion. Someone who’s selling a book might share inspirational quotes, snap a picture of their desk, or talk about what they’re reading to inspire them. It’s all done through the filter of their work, but there’s a person there too.
Do you have a passion project or a special interest? Sports, fashion, drawing? Anything like that can be the basis of a semi-professional social media account. By building and growing a profile, you’re learning branding and marketing all while making fun use of your spare time.
Getting the Most out of Your Time
Potential job skills are lurking in plain sight, and you don’t have to do a ton of extra work to take advantage of them. Your circumstances may not allow for any of the above, or they may allow for totally different opportunities. Keep your ear to the ground. Ask your parents for help. Listen and volunteer when someone says they need professional assistance.
A perfect way to brainstorm activities like these is to work with a mentor. The CollegeVine Near Peer Mentoring Service pairs you with college students who have found these kinds of activities and used them to set themselves apart in their college applications. They know what colleges want, and they’ll help you get there too.
Want more tips on improving your academic profile?
We'll send valuable information to help you strengthen your profile and get ready for college admissions.