THE BLOG
04/12/2013 06:13 pm ET Updated Jun 12, 2013

Binge Drink or Build a Resume this Summer: Expert Offers Advice for Students and Parents

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How can college students build their resume and "stand-out" for potential employers.

The 2013 spring semester is ending next month at most universities. So for many students the burning question is: What do I do this summer? Binge drink or find a low-wage job?

Proactive students will do neither. They will further their professional development and do something that will challenge them, get them out of their comfort zones, and build their experience levels.

I proudly graduated with a B.S. degree from Northern Arizona University, with a major in marketing and public relations. The school, for some reason, didn't offer credits in my "minor" (attending happy hour), but I am certain I would have received a 4.0 in the subject.

With a great ambition and a totally unrealistic understanding of my value to employers, I set my goals high upon graduation. I would accept no less than $60,000 per year for my first job. I received no offers.

I asked my parents to finance a bar for me. It was my specialty. They declined. Apparently bars are expensive to open, difficult to run and fail at an alarming rate. Who knew? So I spent two years working at mediocre jobs while returning to school for a master's degree. Looking back, I don't know what I was trying to "master," since I hadn't yet had any real professional experience. My real goal was to look busy -- and returning to school did accomplish that for me.

There is a good reason why companies don't hire college students with master's degrees and no professional work experience: They don't know anything. Why would you want a master of nothing running a company?

Fortunately, I have an entrepreneurial side and started my own company. When I interviewed and hired myself I didn't require experience. And I was able to overlook the fact that my entire resume was filled with waitressing jobs. Most employers will not be this accommodating.

Although you may be unwilling to start your own company, you must still be able to impress an employer. As an employer now, I would not look at a resume filled with degrees having little meaningful work experience. If you are smart enough to earn a degree you should have acquired some relevant experience before you ask me to employ you. I don't want to pay for remedial training.

Students, who spend four years in college while working at part-time jobs, are not necessarily building important work experience for their future. Certainly they are learning needed skills such as dependability and punctuality, but most employers don't care if you have served 50,000 hamburgers. They want to know if you found a creative way to serve the public and they enjoyed your service. Hundreds of thousands of students graduate every year. In this economic climate, with fewer job openings and greater barriers in place for people seeking entry-level positions, how can an applicant stand out from the rest?

How does a college student build a resume?

Answer: Volunteer for work at a non-profit organization that is working in a field that you find interesting and important. Or do research in your community to find a local need that should be addressed and work to fill that need. Show potential companies that you can develop a plan and execute it successfully. Find a need in the community, locate the talent to help, and turn the problem into a problem solved. This is what a potential employer looks for from a graduating student: Creativity, leadership skills, and innovation.

Most college graduates come out of school with debt of more than $20,000, and yet have little relevant work experience. How does this help to find a potential employer? Students should start applying their natural talents and abilities as early as high school into volunteer work. This will help them to learn what they enjoy doing and are also good at. It will help them learn skill sets that will be useful in their careers. And let's not forget, making a positive difference is important. Doing "good" is always good.

I make volunteering for a non-profit or creating a new humanitarian project one of my student's course requirements as a college professor. Multiple-choice tests for students are ineffective for real world learning and job placement. The "real" test in my class is requiring them to find a cause that piques a students interest and then educate them on how to recruit classmates to make a difference in the community. It's a different style of teaching and learning.

Students: Thousands of non-profits and charities exist across the country. Pick one you like and volunteer. Students can volunteer their expertise in marketing, accounting, psychology, biology, and all other areas that surround their college majors. Parents can help by introducing their children to the non-profit community.

Working at a fast food restaurant may pay minimum wage, but the learning gained there will only be equivalent to that minimum pay. Helping others for free not only builds important skills, it creates a moral resume that money can't buy.