Get a real job

Work on your skills, not just your major

Accounting major and UNR senior Jackie Laichter worked as an intern this summer at NV Energy. Internships are a good way to gain job experience and connections.

Accounting major and UNR senior Jackie Laichter worked as an intern this summer at NV Energy. Internships are a good way to gain job experience and connections.


You go to college for the experience, the self-discovery, the sincere desire to learn something. Oh, and for the sex. Can’t forget the sex. But for the most part, you go to college to get a job. Yet, as you likely know, the job market is tough. Some of yesterday’s hot jobs are now in decline, and even certain jobs once considered evergreen are harder to find.

“We used to say there’s always going to be a demand for teachers, but now because of the budget crises, they’re laying off teachers,” says Nancy Markee, University of Nevada, Reno’s Academic Advising Center director.

However, if you start taking steps now, as a freshman, toward building marketable skills, your days of looking through help wanted ads should be limited.

First, let’s look at the current job market. In 2009, the two largest occupations—retail sales and cashiers—aren’t exactly big money-makers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, of the 15 largest occupations, the only three—general and operations managers, registered nurses and elementary teachers—that earned mean wages above the U.S. average of $43,460 a year either requires a college degree or prefers a degree. Jobs in the information technology, nursing and medical fields tended to dominate a number of 2009 “best jobs” lists.

Major decisions

Markee says the majors most in demand at UNR have to do with engineering, systems analysis and accounting. You can’t get certain jobs, like a doctor or lawyer, without having the appropriate degree. But choosing a major wisely is only part of what could help you get a career you love.

“We try to get the point across to students that what their major is, isn’t going to define them for the rest of their life,” says Markee, who majored in home economics with a focus on textile science when she was in college. “And here I am primarily in an administrative role. Did I have any coursework or training in that as a student? No. Many students find they end up going in different directions.”

Aside from your major, employers also consider things like grades, elective courses, part-time jobs, study abroad experiences, letters of recommendation and internships. Being active in campus organizations and networking with advisors, faculty and other students can be as important as your major.

“You’ve got a blank slate here,” says Markee of college. “Start thinking your freshmen year about what you want your resume to look like so you have something impressive to show to potential employers.”

Get inside

Internships are one way to bulk up your resume while also finding out more about your career interests. The connections you make in an internship can sometimes lead to a job.

Jackie Laichter is an accounting major at UNR. She’s spent her summer interning in the accounting department at NV Energy.

“I’ve learned so much,” she says. “I’d never worked for a big corporation before. It’s interesting to see how all the departments work for them. … I graduate in May, so I’ve taken a lot of classes in a lot of different areas. But I know now which departments I like working with most, which is tax now. I like forensics accounting, where you make sure no one is doing fraud and stuff.”

She works 40 hours a week for her paid internship, which was extended until the fall, when she’ll work 20 hours a week.

“I think internships are worth it,” says Laichter. “You get experience in what you’re studying and putting it to use, but also as a networking tool and experiencing the different companies that are around. If you really enjoy it, it gives you an in for what you’re interested in later on, and you’re getting paid for something you’re studying, which is nice.”

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Basic instincts

Like most things in life, if you’re not interested in a particular career, you probably won’t be very good at it. Luckily, the reverse is also true: If you like it, you’ll probably do well.

So choose something you like, but be strategic about it. Seek help when you need it, but know no one will hold your hand as you do it, especially these days.

For example, the Career Development Center recently fell victim to budget cuts. That gap now is being filled by academic advisors, resources online and materials in the Career Resource Library. There are also career fairs each year. But for the most part, you’ll have to use these resources on your own.

“Their college education is going to be what they make it to be,” says Markee of students. “If they hole up in their dorm room or bedroom, they’re going to miss out on a lot, and a lot of it could potentially really benefit them.”