Focus on leveraging your skills and showing how you have used them to complete projects in order to show employers that whether or not you’ve earned a salary, you have work experience.
If you want to become more valuable to employers and increase your chance at graduating with a full-time, high-paying job, then you should either get an internship, volunteer or do project-based freelance work. Even though these options may not pay, or pay very little, each translates into new experience, new connections and the perception that you’re valuable. If you weren’t valuable, then you wouldn’t have been hired in the first place and that’s the perception it creates to other employers.
Internships are key to building work experience before you begin your job hunt. It’s easier now than ever before to stay employed thanks to the advent of new technologies that have enabled everyone, regardless of age, to find work — even on their mobile phone. If you’re still in college, apply for internships at college career fairs, ask for referrals from your college advisor and professors, and apply online through your school’s internship portal.
I also recommend using Freelanship.com to find and apply for freelance jobs related to your future career goals. This site offers freelance positions that can either be short or long term. These positions can help you pay for college, while many internships are unpaid.
Volunteering is another smart way to gain experience and make connections. Volunteer experience can be found through your college, online and through your friends who might already be doing it.
After you’ve completed an internship, volunteer project or freelance gig, you should incorporate the experience into your resume, your LinkedIn profile and your personal website. In addition, I highly recommend that you ask for either a video or written testimonial that you can use to prove that you did a great job. You can leverage this experience and these endorsements in order to get jobs now or in the future. You should also create a “case study” out of the project to show the projects you were working on and the results you achieved.
By always staying employed, you’re always staying valuable and will set yourself up for success long term.