08/06/2014 03:36 pm ET Updated Oct 06, 2014

Campus Ambassadorships: The Internship Stepping-stone

Finding an internship during freshman or sophomore year is more competitive than ever before. I have dozens of friends who are well qualified, intelligent, and hungry for a challenging position. However, the reality of the situation is that freshman and sophomores can't compete with their older classmates. Seniors and juniors have more work experience, more class time under their belt, and have been able to network for several more years than their younger counterparts. With more to offer employers, how can these students get a leg up?

Brand ambassadorships are one of the easiest ways for students to grow their resume, gain relevant experience, and create connections at their favorite brands. Although unbeknownst to students, thousands of companies have these programs ranging from startups to Fortune 500 companies like Coca-Cola, Google, Victoria Secret, and others. Students act as an on-campus liaison to their employer, doing a variety of activities ranging from sales to marketing, to product feedback and development. In addition to the added resume benefit, students can also get lots of free products and software, earn money, and even potentially gain credit toward graduation, as many universities recognize the benefit of these opportunities.

Experience is the key to any resume, and getting a foot in the door with your potential employer is half the battle. This is where college ambassador programs can play an important role for students. A 2014 NACE Job Outlook survey concluded that 94.8 percent of employers prefer candidates with some type of work experience. Hiring managers aren't looking for their interns to be superstars in any given field, they just want to know that they are proficient using common software and will show up every morning ready to work. Although brick and mortar jobs may help prepare students for the 9 to 5 grind they can expect post-graduation, they don't provide the resume builder a student needs to stand out. By gaining experience in a variety of industries and creating relationships with employees of major brands, it allows a student to bring more to the table than other potential internship candidates.

Another common conversation between millennials looking to land a valuable internship often revolves around a student complaining that they lack the network or connections to get their resume on the right desk. Brand ambassador programs allow you to do just that. By making a connection at the brand, you prove to them, through your work on campus, that in fact you are more valuable than the upperclassmen at your university. From a business standpoint, why would a company hire a co-worker's friend's son over a dedicated student representative who has proven to be an evangelist for the brand and impressed his or her supervisor with the quality of work they can provide? The answer is they won't.

These programs have become hugely important to brands as they seek to gain access to the hard-to-reach and extremely valuable college demographic. Young college students are making their own purchasing decisions for the first time. This demographic is extremely vocal on social media about their brand opinions, and are 70 percent more likely to make a purchase that was recommended by their peers. Additionally, as I mentioned before, ambassador programs also offer brands a significant cost reduction in terms of hiring great talent. By working with students as early as freshman year, they are able to begin to formulate a database of potential summer interns and future hires.

In conclusion, all of these programs exist, and provide unprecedented access to contacts at student's favorite brands, relevant work experience, and the possibility of earning compensation, university credit, and landing their dream internship. So why aren't students taking advantage of these programs? The answer is that most companies use an outdated and inefficient process of finding students and running their programs. Companies list opportunities on their individual websites under a slew of different titles like "brand ambassador" or "campus rep." This makes them impossible to find on search engines, and each program requires a lengthy individual application.

The solution to these issues lie in the brands ability to promote their program, have job postings in a central location where students can find them, and a simpler application process. Although a highly motivated student may spend the time searching for programs, filling out applications, and making sure they hear back, the reality is most students don't. If a company wants the most value out of their program, they need to invest the time and money to simplify the process for their students, not just spend a few hours coming up with a cool program.