No matter how good your education is, it can be difficult to land your first position in a competitive job market. Moreover, you may fear the experiences you do have do not translate to relevant experience in your desired field or position.
Coming out of high school, college or having completed an advanced degree, you are up against others who often have similar or additional experience. It is easy to get caught in a frustrating cycle in the entry-level job market. You need a job to build up your experience, but many employers want to hire someone who already has previous experience.
So how do you get the experience if you cannot get hired without it? The most important approach is to re-define how you understand “work experience,” and act accordingly. Taking charge of how you apply for entry level opportunities can take you a long way, even without the work experience required.
Apply Even if You Do Not Have the Required Experience
Any hiring manager can tell you that even the required items on a job description are more like a wish list. Therefore, if you can check off most of the requirements, missing a few does not necessarily put you out of the running.
Consider it an opportunity to relate the skills and experience you already have to your desired position. For example, if they are looking for a year’s experience in a particular area, mention your internship during college or any work you did to pay your way through school. You still learned valuable skills such as teamwork and time management, so focus on what you learned that can help you on the job.
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When a job requires experience, it is not necessarily limited to traditional, paid working experience in the exact same field. If you are applying for an accounting job and you volunteered to do the books for your local nonprofit or church, mention this experience. If you worked as a coordinator at a day camp for the elderly during the summer, talk about your interpersonal skills, experience coordinating activities and ability to communicate across age and social divides.
Highlight Your Skills
You have plenty of skills to make you an asset, so take the time to list them and explain how they translate to the job you are applying for. Problem-solving skills, computer expertise, knowledge of various software packages and research experience can all be included in your resume or CV. You can also mention them in your cover letter.
Consider activities where you were not employed, but gained valuable skills that can equate to practical work experience. Did you raise money on campus to help a student with a serious illness? Outline the milestones you accomplished appropriately, and with quantitative values.
For example, you could say you organized a campus-wide dance marathon with 300 participating couples, solicited prize donations from local businesses and raised $11,000 at one-evening event. This demonstrates skills and experience in organization, sales, event planning and marketing.
Do not forget about soft skills as well, such as your friendly demeanor, follow-through and enthusiasm. When outlining these skills, give concrete examples of how you went above and beyond on a project, whether it was at school, when volunteering or simply working at your summer job.
Take Advantage of Job Fairs
Some students do not like job fairs because they believe they are resume mills. They think employers simply collect a stack of resumes they may never look at, then move on to the next college or university. In some instances, this is unfortunately true. However, it misses the real point of the job fair, which is to meet potential employers face-to-face.
Even if you chat for a just a few minutes with company representatives, it is often beneficial to put a face to the name on your resume. You can also take this time to ask specific questions about the position you are interested in, and show you know something about the company. It is easy to research the companies at a job fair a few days in advance by visiting their websites.
Be sure to request a business card from everyone you meet, then follow up a few days later with a thank-you email after the event. Keep the email brief and reiterate your interest in the position, attaching your resume and a portfolio if appropriate.
Prepare for the Interview
If you are granted an interview for a job despite your lack of traditional experience, you are half-way home. The interview is the most critical – and trickiest – step. You need to show you are confident in your ability to perform the work required, without coming across as arrogant or overconfident. Be honest about what you know and what you are willing to learn.
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An awareness of your strengths and weaknesses, as well as the self-assurance to let an employer know you learn quickly and are excited about the experience goes a long way. It is always beneficial to follow up the next day with a short thank-you note expressing your continued interest in the position. Courtesy is often overlooked in today’s business world, but hiring managers always appreciate thoughtful gestures.
Be Negotiable on Salary
No one wants to undersell their worth. However, if you are extremely interested in a particular entry level job, let them know you are willing to work for less in exchange for the experience. The key to making this work is making it clear that a salary review at six months or a year is necessary.
If this does not happen, you can at least develop the experience you need to apply for a job elsewhere after the year is up. If you do get the salary review, it shows that you are a seasoned employee that the company does not want to lose.
Many people get their jobs not through applications, but by having the right job connections. Developing a strong personal and professional network of people in your field can serve you well throughout your career. You can easily grow your network when you:
- Join professional organizations and attending their events.
- Develop a presence online through business-oriented social media groups.
- Volunteer to work fundraisers or events sponsored by companies you are interested in.
Chamber of Commerce meet-and-greets are another way to increase your professional circle. The people you meet can introduce you to others in turn, and most are willing to pass your name and resume along to the appropriate people once you establish a rapport.
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