Being a Proactive vs. Reactive Student

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How a student chooses to spend their time in college can dictate their success after graduation. Those who take advantage of the many resources and experiences offered to students such as on-campus clubs and organizations, networking events, professors, and internships will come out ahead.

A common misconception among students and parents alike is the belief that a diploma from a top tier college or university will ensure quality employment upon graduation. Instead, approximately 50% of 2019 graduates were jobless 7 months after they received their diplomas... and many of these unemployed grads graduated from top 20 schools.

Companies these days have a lot of students/graduates to choose from.  With 2 million students graduating with a Bachelor's degree each year, there’s no shortage of entry-level talent.  What companies don’t have these days is time to train.  Companies need indicators that students have the ability to come in and hit the ground running with minimal guidance and instruction.  Most hiring managers don’t have the bandwidth to spend 6 months or more training someone to get them up-to-speed.

Hiring Managers no longer emphasize where a candidate went to school or even their GPA. Instead, companies look for candidates who can immediately create value.  Have they worked with the systems/software their team uses?  Do they understand corporate processes? Have they shown mastery of required hard skills?  Have they demonstrated a willingness to learn, the ability to efficiently solve complex problems, and can communicate clearly both verbally and in writing? The best way to showcase these skills is through internships

Let’s take a look at 2 students, Student A and Student B.

Student A goes to a prestigious Ivy League school, but doesn't know what he wants to do. He takes all the classes he needs to graduate, joins a few organizations on campus, and graduates with a 3.8 GPA.  But, he doesn't have any summer internships that help him build relevant skills to the jobs he’s applying to.

Student B goes to a state school. She knows she wants to go into digital marketing, so she is very specific about the classes she takes. She joins a few organizations on campus, has 3 internships that help her develop skills in Google Analytics, Buffer, Mailchimp, Salesforce, and social media marketing. She graduates with a 3.6 GPA.

Both are now looking for an entry-level job. Which student do you think was proactive and which student was reactive? And who will most likely get a job first? Student B.

Internships give students the experience of the professional world that cannot be grasped in the classroom.

For example, employers hold their workers to different sets of standards that many students struggle to adjust to once they enter the workforce.

A simple example is email etiquette. Many students check their emails only once or twice a day as their university email is filled with notifications from the school or teachers sending them information about upcoming assignments. None of this warrants a response and thus, many college students fall into the habit of simply not checking emails. However, in the corporate world, many employers expect a response within 24 hours, and some expect one as quickly as within the hour. This is a drastic adjustment.

Although email response time may seem like a simple task, this adjustment takes time to get used to. Similarly, this may cause a rift in your relationships with coworkers and your boss early on in your career if you aren’t aware of this unspoken standard when you start your first professional job.

To best prepare yourself for the working world students need to do more than simply go to class and get good grades. Instead, students must be proactive about their careers and work to gain skills and experiences both on-campus and through internship programs. Here are a few ways to be more proactive during your 4 years of college to better prepare you for the real world:


Whether an internship is paid or unpaid, it is the experience students need to set themselves apart. So it’s never too early to look for an internship. Students should start looking for a summer internship as early as their freshman year. Internships give students the unique opportunity to apply the skills they learned in the classroom to a real-world setting, as well as shows future employers that you know the skills your career path needs.  For example, it is one thing to learn how to write a press release in a marketing class and quite another to be asked to write one for an actual company where you will see if your press release worked in getting the media to cover your news.

Similarly, these experiences help students gain industry knowledge and increase their marketability. Students who take part in an internship program will have a leg up among other competitive applicants as they have acquired a specific skill set through the hands-on experience offered in an internship.

In addition, many colleges and universities offer course credit to students who take part in internship programs (check your school’s policy for internship requirements). This incentive aims to motivate students to go out into the workforce and gain the tools and experiences that cannot be taught in the classroom while also allowing students to work towards their degree. This is truly a win-win situation as an internship will enhance your resume and make you even more desirable to future employers.

ASK YOUR TEACHERS IF THEY Know of any internship opportunities

Professors don’t just teach, many of them are working on their own personal jobs and projects and have connections to the working world.

Don’t be afraid to ask your professor if you can help.


Clubs and organizations serve as an excellent way to gain skills and experience, especially if you hold a leadership position. Specific roles like president, vice president, or event coordinator can take a lot of time, energy, and planning. Showcase these skills in your resume to help employers understand your role in the organization and the skills you learned that may be transferable to a professional career.


Volunteer work can help provide additional support for resumes and LinkedIn profiles that lack work experience, as well as show future employers that you value giving back to the community just as much as your potential employers do. According to a Deloitte study, 82% of hiring managers said that they prefer applicants with volunteer experience and 92 % say volunteer activities build leadership skills.

Especially as a freshman or sophomore, it’s unlikely that a student has held more than a job or two. Students can learn valuable lessons through volunteering and should emphasize the transferable skills gained through these experiences. For example, a student who works at the food bank may be responsible for coordinating volunteers or organizing fundraisers. These experiences hold value and show employers what you are capable of.

Additionally, students can reach out to volunteer programs and ask if they need help with anything relating to your major. A student hoping to go into public relations may want to ask their local food bank if they need help creating a newsletter or running the company's social media accounts. This allows you to help out your community while also building critical skills.

What else?

In order to be proactive, you need a plan. This is easier to do when you know what career path you want to pursue. Knowing what you want to do will allow you to map out and plan your 4 years at college. PathMatch clients go through intensive career discovery, matching, and interview prep. Find out how it works.

Want more help?

Our flexible plans offer varying degrees of support and guidance to help you every step of the way, from an in-depth career and personality assessment, to skill building, resume optimization, and interview prep, we can help every step of the way.

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