Examining the Importance of Work Experience for Students

May 30, 2024
Work experience

Newly graduated students often bemoan a Catch-22 situation when they are searching for their first job. It’s very rare for a potential employer not to require a certain amount of experience for a position, but how are students supposed to gather that experience if they have been in school?

The answer, of course, is work experience in the form of internships and externships.

The importance of such opportunities has filtered down to the high school level for both college-bound students and those who will be directly entering the workforce after graduation—especially those participating in a career and technical education (CTE) program. Understanding work experience can be the difference in success for a student.

Internships vs. externships

Internships and externships provide two different experiences for the student.

An internship tends to be a long-term position lasting months at a time. Interns will have responsibilities and expectations in the workplace at the discretion of the employer, ranging from menial tasks to opportunities to add real value to a project. Because of this, some internships come with a small wage, reimbursement for travel, or another form of compensation. With outstanding performance, it is not uncommon for interns to be offered employment at the end of their term.

Externships are shorter, usually measured in weeks. Some are even designed to take place during spring or winter break. Externships are primarily a job-shadowing experience, and very little, if any, performance is expected. Because of this, externships tend to be unpaid. For students unsure of what they want to do after graduation, externships provide a great way to really see what a job is like.

How to find an opportunity

For both internships and externships, a good first step is to generate a resume. With enough information, a student can even create a profile on the professional network site, LinkedIn. On both resumes and online professional network profiles, focus on listing skills that are transferable to the workplace.

The best route to gain work experience is through personal connections. Talk about career aspirations and the search for opportunities with anyone who will listen. You never know who might have a hot tip to explore and the means to get you an interview.

Also, the major job-search sites like LinkedIn and Indeed have sections for high school internships. is a great place to search as well, especially by major/category, location, and other measures that are important to students.

How to land an opportunity

No work experience position will have as much reward as a full-time opportunity, but there are some experiences that engage, reward, and really stand out on a future resume.

As your students search for apply for these opportunities, they’ll want to put their best foot forward. Having a polished and professional-looking resume, and coming ready to answer common questions during a job interview is a great place to start. Developing a solid set of soft-skills can also equip young people with the tools and techniques that make for a less stressful, organized, and productive life, and shine in a professional setting.

Looking for more resources to help your students succeed beyond the classroom? Our CTE Planning Workbook includes a range of topics that span introductory to advanced. We will take a deep dive into the components of an evolving and improving CTE program to help hone in on a map for improvement and professional development.

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