5 Smart Career Moves For Spring Break

Fun and sun may be tempting, but spring break can also be a unique opportunity to beef up your job marketability while your classmates are busy partying. Campus resources are plentiful, there are lots of opportunities to network, and you can even cram a mini-internship or a do-it-yourself career experiment into your time off. Intrigued? Here's how to use spring break to advance your career prospects.

1. Make the most of campus resources

One benefit of everyone else leaving campus is that you'll have all the development resources available for growing your career, says Ryan Stalgaitis, assistant director of career development at Fairleigh Dickinson University's Florham campus.

spring break"The folks at career offices are still working during spring break," he says. "… If you're not too far away from campus, come in and make an appointment during spring break because that's when my calendar and other career professionals' calendars will open up a bit."

In addition to providing résumé critiques and job-hunting resources, many college career offices also offer mock interview sessions, cover letter and salary negotiation workshops, and alumni networking events.

Elizabeth Venturini, president and founder of CollegeCareerResults, a private college consulting firm in Southern California, says that students can also use the break to prepare for spring career fairs. Since companies only have a few minutes to chat with each individual student, it can pay to know each company's products, target demographic, philosophy, mission statement and what positions they're currently filling.

"[Students] should be looking at the starting salaries … so if a recruiter starts speaking about salaries, they won't be walking into a trap not knowing what those dollar amounts should be," Venturini says.

2. Build your network

With your days free, spring break is the perfect time to make contacts within your industry. An easy way to do that is to connect through LinkedIn and make some coffee dates, says Mark Frietch, a hiring and recruitment consultant in Charlotte, North Carolina. Forming those meetings early — months or even years before you graduate — allows time for the relationship to develop.

"Take the coffee or the lunch just to get to know the person," Frietch says. "Become more aware of what they do from a personal perspective. Find some commonality because that will help you build the relationship that much quicker. … When you start building a closer relationship with somebody, then the opportunity will come to say, 'Hey, can you help me out with something here?'"

In addition to reaching out to industry professionals, your school's alumni network is also a gold mine of career contacts. Setting up informational interviews over your break could pay off down the road.

"When you start building a closer relationship with somebody, then the opportunity will come to say, 'Hey, can you help me out with something here?'"

  - Mark Frietch

3. Conduct a career experiment

One week isn't long enough to do a full internship, but it's the perfect amount of time to do a mini-internship, externship or intensive job shadowing experience, says James Jeffries, director of career development at Bard College at Simon's Rock in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Spending your week embedded in your future field not only gives you an insider's look into how the industry works, it can also provide you with work samples to sweeten your résumé, he says.

Unlike traditional internships, which oftentimes have a strict structure, these programs are informal arrangements between the student and someone they know, usually an industry contact, alumni or the parent of a friend. If you don't already have a personal contact in your industry, Jeffries suggests contacting your school's career development office for help or reaching out to those in the field through LinkedIn.

"Send them a message asking for their advice, saying that you are really interested in the field and you are looking to learn a lot more," Jeffries says. "Ask them if they have a chance in the next few days to talk with you on the phone. That's where, if possible, you want to transition into a mini-internship or career experiment discussion."

Come prepared, too. That means reading up on the person you're connecting with and their company, he says.

4. Get your hands dirty

Marcia Runnberg is spending her spring break farming with a food-sustainability nonprofit, discussing immigration policy impact with members from the Tohono O'odham Nation Native American tribe and working with community support organizations aimed at helping unaccompanied minors and deported migrants. Her students will do the same.

Runnberg, the undergraduate social work program director for the College of Saint Scholastica, is leading a week-long trip to southwest Arizona and Mexico that's designed to give students a first-hand look at the immigration issues they learn about in class. Runnberg says that immersion experiences like these are invaluable in helping students understand the complexities of the fields they'll soon be working in.

Immersion experiences are invaluable in helping students understand the complexities of the fields they'll soon be working in.

  - Marcia Runnberg

"It really builds knowledge and skills for our students as social workers to be able to understand the needs and to come up with plans and interventions that are culturally appropriate and effective," she says. Many institutions offer travel or volunteer programs over spring break that can provide opportunities for exploration and a chance to beef up your leadership skills. Find out what's offered on your campus by asking within your academic department, visiting your school's service learning office or contacting your institution's Alternative Spring Break group.

5. DIY it

If you can't find a formal program that will build the skills you need, make your own.With the Internet, you have many channels available that make it possible for you to launch a blog or set up a portfolio to showcase original work you've done, James Jeffries says. "Even if you're living out in the middle of nowhere and potentially have very little access to professional work environments, you should still be able to do something that helps you in your career development."

Jeffries recommends first identifying what skills are important in your future field, then creating projects to prove you have them. For example, students eyeing analytical fields may arrange an independent research project during spring break, while those entering more artistic industries may write a screenplay or launch a Kickstarter campaign to fund original work. Even if you're stuck working a job during spring break, there's still opportunity to create your own professional development project, Jeffries says.

"If you've fallen into a routine of going home and being a server for the duration of the break, it's time to ask your manager whether there's something you can work on, even if it's outside of your regular hours, that would help the business," he says. "… That is something that's going to stand out further on your résumé and teach you and develop you further."

1. Mark Frietch, Hiring and Recruitment Consultant in Charlotte, North Carolina, Interviewed by the author on Feb. 28, 2015
2. James Jeffries, Director of Career Development at Bard College at Simon's Rock, Interviewed by the author on Feb. 28, 2015
3. Marcia Runnberg, Undergraduate Social Work Program Director for College of Saint Scholastica, Interviewed by the author on Feb. 28, 2015
4. Ryan Stalgaitis, Assistant Director of the Career Development Center at Fairleigh Dickinson University's Florham Campus, Interviewed by the author on Feb. 28, 2015
5. Elizabeth Venturini, President and Founder of CollegeCareerResults, Interviewed by the author on Feb. 28, 2015