Creative Solutions for Non-Traditional Students to Gain Hands On Experience

College students are more diverse than ever these days. One common denominator is the fact that bulk of these students, 89% according to one study (, are defined as being non-traditional students. According to the study, non-traditional students share certain traits, including:

  • Delaying post-secondary education
  • Attending part-time college
  • Being financially independent from parents
  • Having dependents
  • Employed full-time while enrolled
  • Being a single parent
  • Having a GED or high school equivalent certificate

While not all of these traits may apply to each individual non-traditional student, the underlying them is that these college students have already been exposed to the “real world.” These students are typically older than their traditional student counterparts.  Bearing this in mind, it would seem that these students would have a competitive edge over their traditional college student peers. However, that is not always the case. While these students possess transferable skill sets, employers still demand the staple “three to five years of hands on working experience” within their respective field of study.

The most common solution to gaining hands on experience is by doing internships. While it’s a pretty even mix of paid vs. unpaid internships, the paid are typically reserved for larger universities with prestigious reputations. The unpaid internships seem to be more prevalent because they seem to be easier to find.

One main question that has been asked is, “are unpaid internships legal?” There’s a great post (–How-to-Tell-386.html) that questions this.  Bottom line is yes, however can it really be a level playing ground for non-traditional students? While the traditional students can afford to not get paid and have their parents foot the bills for their education, the non-traditional students cannot afford to simply give up working a full time job in order to gain experience within their field. It’s one thing to expect college students to provide free labor, but when the demands of the internship interfere with their full time employment it makes it a lot harder for them and typically results in financial hardships or dropping out of college all together.

Non-profit organizations typically have openings or gaps to fill and are eager to have students onboard. If an unpaid internship is nowhere to be found, reach out to a non-profit organization that aligns with something that you believe in. As an example, if you are passionate about getting people back to work, consider doing some research into economic/workforce development agencies within your region. Here in the Lansing, Michigan area, the Pink Slip Mid-Michigan ( happens to be such an organization. This great event occurs every quarter and provides workshops to job seekers and also gives them an opportunity to network with local businesses.  An accounting student may consider providing free tax preparation through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) programs during the tax season (,,id=107626,00.html). Perhaps an English major or law student may offer to write a grant for their local charity. There are several ways of getting involved, but the first step is reaching out to offer your talents and determining how you can gain valuable hands on experience by volunteering.

Networking is a great way of learning more about opportunities and build professional relationships as well. Professional societies such as the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), and Case Management Society of America (CMSA) offer networking events, mentoring opportunities and seminars to help their members excel in their respective fields. Often times, students are allowed to join these organizations at a discounted rate and sometimes even free. When a student joins, there are several opportunities to network, job shadow or be paired up with a mentor in their field.

Workshops, conferences, conventions and seminars can also offer new perspectives for non-traditional college students. The Michigan HR Day ( proved to be a great learning opportunity with several workshops and allowed professional Human Resources personnel the opportunity to network with one another. Some of the workshops even provided these professionals with Continuing Education Credits (CEU’s). It was an amazing opportunity for an HR student to network and build professional relationships as well.

Reverse Mentoring programs  and Virtual Internships are somewhat new concepts that are radically changing the way that college students can gain experience. Reverse mentoring basically takes college students and allows them to teach mature employees the value of technology ( Virtual internships are becoming more and more desired and seem to be the way to go for non-traditional students in particular. Jumpstart HR ( offers such an internship opportunity.

While gaining three to five years of hands on experience within your field may seem a bit daunting, it can be accomplished. The fact of the matter is that you need to be creative, resourceful and motivated to find the opportunities that will help you gain experience. Chances are, if you are a non-traditional student, you already possess these characteristics and will persevere.

The reality of online recruiting in 2012

I came across a great article from Talent HQ’s Jason Buss thanks to @williamtincup.


Here’s an excerpt from an article entitled “The reality of online recruiting in 2012.”


Here are 6 of the key online recruiting topics / trends discussed:

  • Candidates really don’t care that much about all of the shiny objects talked about by the experts.  They just want to quickly be able to find a job, a streamlined application process, communication, and to be treated with basic courtesy and respect throughout the process.  Sorry, they don’t care about following you on twitter or liking your page on facebook.
  • Job boards, social channels, and aggregator sites have the highest number of visit to hire ratios, and the lowest “qualified” ratios, and the lowest “interview” ratios.  The reality is these are part of most recruiting strategies – and they have a place.  How big of a place and how they are deployed depends on your organization.
  • More Resume’s come from the large job boards compared to other online sources.
  • The interview to hire ratio is better for niche job boards compared to the big ones.
  • Candidates coming from search engines have a higher likelihood to complete the application process once they click apply compared to the other online channels.
  • The average of corporate career site visitor to apply ratios was between 10%-20%.  This had the largest variance compared to the other trends – by industry.

Three words for you: Treat Yo’ Self

TGIF… A great reminder courtesy of the folks at NBC’s Parks and Recreation:

What do you do to treat yo’ self?

Is the company always right?

If you’ve heard this piece of job seeking advice once, you’ve heard it a million times:

“Don’t bad-mouth a previous employer, it’s the quickest way to turn off an interviewer.”

I used to be a big fan of that advice but not anymore. I’ll just jump to my reasons why:

Odds are that the company really did suck… Let’s face it. With employee engagement rates hoovering around an abysmal 33% and this resulting in a whopping $350 Billion dollars lost in productivity, there’s a strong chance that the company that the applicant worked for sucked really bad. People don’t lose motivation to work at places they really love – nor do they seek employment elsewhere if they are happy, motivated and have needs being met. This isn’t a situation where you’re asking someone “why did you break up with your ex,” where feelings might be involved.  No, you’re asking “why did you make the legitimate personal/life/business decision to find gainful employment else where?” That question is teeming with too much potentially good information on how to motivate and inspire that employee…

…But we ask them to lie to cover up and protect their previous employer…  Imagine it’s October 2001 and you’re an HR Manager interviewing a former employee at Enron. Are you going to expect the candidate to say nice things like “looking for better opportunities” or “it just wasn’t a good fit” or my personal favorite “I hit a glass ceiling.” No, you’re going to expect them to say that the company had a tremendous meltdown, filed for bankruptcy and everyone had to scramble to find jobs because the company did not have it’s employee’s best interest at heart in it’s practices. Surely there could be more Enron’s out there. Why do we  pretend like every company is a great one to work for?

…Ultimately companies don’t get better – we don’t learn and grow.  The two most important opportunities for employee feeedback are when they join your organization and when they leave. But we don’t spend enough time asking the right questions or listening for the right answers in job interviews and exit interviews. Are we as employers so prideful that we believe that our company is doing everything right? If that were the case then why do we have low levels of engagement and top talent fleeing organizations left and right and 84% of employees planning to do so later this year? What could we learn from our employees to help stop this musical chair shuffle? A lot, if we only asked.


How can companies truly know if they are doing it right?:

  • Employers should really ask the tough questions in exit interviews to get a better feel for the pulse of their employees.
  • Ask jobs seekers to be totally honest in interviews when you ask why did you leave your last job. You may find that you have similar negative practices that should be changed and even if you don’t hire the person you can at least learn to assess your culture.
  • Hire a consultant who can teach you how to assess your company culture and make recommendations to boost morale and retention.


Leadership Takeaway: Pride is costing you productivity. If you have disgruntled workers, odds are they are not performing to their highest capacity. It’s possible for them to do so but it takes a commitment to understand them.

Human Resources Takeaway: The cost to replace a worker has been estimated to be as high as one and a half times his or her salary. It’s cheaper to keep a good employee and train low performing ones. Understand the importance of an exit interview and why it must be done so that you get great feedback from terminating employees on how to make your organization better. In the recruitment process, learn to ask candidates why they left their previous employer and compare those honest answers against your company culture.

Professional Development Takeaway: Learn to be truthful and insightful when dishing out criticism. No one wants to hear bad news about their organization but it is needed for growth. If you can master the art of effectively dishing out constructive criticism you become a trusted source of honest and fair feedback within you organization. Ask me how to learn that skill.


Here is a Jumpstart:HR presentation on Employee Engagement:


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