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How to Use part-time work to gain valuable job skills?

If you’re a recent college graduate who’s working a part-time job to earn money while looking for your first post-college full-time job, you can take advantage of that part-time position to develop marketable career skills and build your resume.

“College graduates don’t realize the benefits of working part-time while they are looking for a job,” says Pam Caplin, former vice president of human resources at Fidelity Investments. “I prefer candidates who are working, because it shows initiative and a work ethic.”

new graduates

Suppose you’re a recent graduate who wants to pursue a career in advertising. You haven’t found an advertising job yet, so you take a job waiting tables to make ends meet. While you didn’t go to college to be a restaurant server, you can still develop skills employers value while in that role that, including:

  • Dealing with customers.
  • Managing multiple priorities.
  • Solving problems.
  • Thinking on your feet.

Properly phrased on your resume, those job skills can give you an edge when applying for an entry-level account management position in advertising. Those same skills could also translate into a sales position — tips equate to commissions, after all. What server isn’t motivated by tips?

“If an applicant arrives with work experience — full- or part-time — they have shown that they can market themselves, learn on the job, interact with others and keep a schedule,” says Tom McGowan, a human resources generalist most recently with DHL Express. “Those are skills that are valuable in most jobs.”

Part-Time Payoff

To maximize the payoff from a part-time job, define the job you’re ultimately seeking. Next, review job postings, Monster’s Career Snapshots and the Occupational Outlook Handbook to identify the skills you’ll need to land that job.

Now you’re ready to look for part-time jobs that would help you build skills. For instance, if your goal is an entry-level sports marketing job, pursue a part-time position at a local gym. Although you may start with checking in members, you could offer to help coordinate the facility’s member events. Doing so would let you demonstrate strong work communication skills, as well as multitasking and event-planning skills.

Other possibilities include:

Part-Time Job

Skills You Can Acquire

Potential Careers

Retail sales

  • Communication
  • Customer service
  • Sales
  • Problem solving
  • Accounting
  • Finance


  • Attention to detail
  • Organizational skills
  • Quantitative skills
  • Sales
  • Sales management
  • Account management/client services


  • Attention to detail
  • Teamwork (if part of a crew)
  • Initiative (if self-employed)
  • Customer service
  • Advertising
  • Sales

Bringing Your Skills to the Job Search

Once you’ve developed these skills, you need to convey them effectively in your job search. Here are some pointers:

  • On Your Resume: Feature your newly acquired skills in your Qualifications Summary. In addition, a bulleted work skills list helps recruiters see if you have the skills they’re looking for. Mary Gibbs, an HR recruiter for 12 years, says she reviewed so many resumes that she could spend only a few minutes on each one. “Being able to easily see the skills I [was] looking for [made] my job easier,” she says.
  • In the Interview: Prepare behavioral-based stories that articulate how you developed and used those skills. “Once I see that a candidate has solid work experience, I want to know how they optimized that experience,” McGowan says. “What did they do to set themselves apart while benefiting the employer?”

    For instance, an interviewer may ask, “Tell me when you had to solve a customer’s problem.” If you worked at a sporting goods store, you could describe a situation involving a dissatisfied customer. For example: “A customer came in looking for a particular brand of kayak that we didn’t carry in our store. I really wanted this customer to go away happy, so I used our online marketing and inventory system to see where he could find the kayak. The only place he could get it was at a store in Denver, so I gave him the contact information and he ordered it over the phone. That customer now comes to the store regularly because of the service I provided. It made me realize the importance of personalized customer service, and I look forward to using that skill in this position.”

“They may be applying for an entry-level position, but employers want to see more, including past proof of their ability to perform and advance,” McGowan says.

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