04/23/2012 03:31 pm ET Updated Jun 23, 2012

Attention Students Making Summer Plans: Think Resume First

Summer is right around the corner and millions of high school students and their parents are starting to think about summer plans. Decisions about travel, camps and summer jobs will be made in the coming weeks as the school year winds down.

In today's competitive global economy, it is never too soon for young students to think about building their resumes. Relaxing and hanging out with friends might sound like the ideal summer break, but in reality, summer is an opportunity for young people to build their resume and gain important real world work experience.

One of the first things I look at when I receive a resume is the candidate's experience at the very early stages of his or her career. Was he or she passionate about their field at a young age? What did he or she do about it? Did they chase their dream job right out of the gate?

In today's tech driven world, kids have valuable skills and knowledge to share -- probably more than they realize -- and there are businesses that want to take advantage of it.

I see it at the college level every day, as companies approach our instructors about collaborating on projects that benefit their business -- and our students. For example, this semester, Academy of Art University Industrial Design students are currently designing a user interface for NASA astronauts that will allow the astronauts in space to control a robot on Earth. Our Graphic Design students are designing "social change" campaigns in partnership with Pantone, the global authority on color.

In our conversations with businesses and organizations like Pantone and NASA, we hear a consistent theme: students tend to think outside the box and executives seek that level of creative thinking to constantly innovate and stay ahead of their competition. As a result, our students get to work alongside professionals in their field of study and work on projects that will likely have real impact.

High school students have the same opportunity. There is nothing more important they can do for their future than to gain real world experience today. That is one of our guiding principles at Academy of Art University, where we require students to build a portfolio of work before they can graduate. If you were looking to hire a new graduate, wouldn't you feel more confident reviewing a resume and portfolio with real-world experience?

High school students should have that mentality as they think about Summer 2012. What can they do to start building their resume now -- both for their college application and their career aspirations? What special skills do they have that a business could use this summer?

There are endless possibilities. Our communities need volunteers now more than ever given today's difficult budget times. Volunteering provides young people with valuable life experiences while helping to improve their community. An unpaid internship might sound unappealing, but in reality, it is one of the best ways to gain hands-on experience and begin to meet people in an industry. I know many people who started out as interns at a company who either went on to work there post-college or who met a life-long mentor at the company who helped them find work down the line.

There are also summer programs, such as art schools and engineering "camps" that provide students with an opportunity to develop skills in a specific field they are interested in. At the Academy of Art University, we provide thousands of low income students with summer scholarships so that they can see what kinds of careers are possible in the arts. Even if it is just a one or two week program, a learning experience in the summer sends the message on one's resume that from a very young age, there was a passion in this person for learning more in their field.

I often think back to when I was in high school and some of the choices I made -- and what I would have done differently. I now realize how exciting that time of my life was, with so much opportunity and possibility ahead. What I didn't realize it at the time was that those were the days that began to shape my future.

As parents and kids start making summer plans, a child's resume should always be a factor. Today's marketplace is competitive and every bit of experience is going to help when it comes time to enter the workforce. When it comes to building that resume, it is never too soon to start.