Do you keep finding jobs only to be told you need more experience? Or graduate from college only to realize that every help wanted ad asks for a years worth of experience, minimum? What do you do when all you have is that degree you spent %#*! for? And how are you supposed to get any experience if you have no experience!?!?
Believe me, I know how frustrating it is as a Young Kossack to navigate your way through the entry level job transition. You often feel you're barely qualified to apply for anything--including jobs you aren't even interested in.
Congratulations! It's time to compensate for the gap between your our educational system and the job market! I could go on and on about how ridiculously our eduicational and employment sectors intersect, but that could be a whole other diary. Instead, four years out of college, let me walk you through some tips to compensate for that lack of "experience."
We Don't Need No Stinking Experience: Understanding the Employer Mindset
First off, as unfair and catch-22 as it might seem, realize that an employer usually asks for a minimum amount of experience not to be arbitrarily difficult but because they want to make sure that:
- They don't waste time and money training you on basics
- That you are responsible enough that they can reasonably expect you to show up and complete tasks that assigned to you
- That you have a basic sense of how to behave appropriately in a business setting
They also realize that graduating from school and getting your first job can be a big transition—a transition that can be volatile, emotionally taxing and something they may not want to deal with. A year also means you some track record they can use to predict future performance. But that doesn't mean we feel any better about what seems like a silly situation--namely that you need experience to get experience.
My Resume is a Blank Sheet of Paper!
Before we get into how much experience you do or don't have, I'm going to break this down into a few steps for you.
- First, make a list of all the places you have worked, ever, no matter how trivial.
- Now list all the places you have volunteered.
- List all the clubs and organizations you have been involved in.
- Make a list of the areas of interest in your studies, even research projects or big papers you worked on in school.
- Make a list of any skills you have--work related or otherwise.
Now, step back and think about your goals and what type of job you are interested in, because your plan of action is going to depend on what type of job you are trying to get.
For the purposes of this diary, I am going to assume something entry level, with an office environment or customer service based environment.
Time to Dig
Most of the time, people already have a lot of skills and experience and they just don't realize it. It's very rare that you didn't do a single thing in high school, college or after graduation. At some point you had to be dragged into or interested in pursuing something. Did you help your sister's girl scout troop organize a cookie sale through a local grocery store? (If so you coordinated and took care of scheduling, secured permission, organized the event and helped sell $X for a good cause!) As you can see, experience can be a lot of things, but mainly it's what you already do in your everyday life distilled down into basic skills.
These things all look pretty remote when you see them listed:
Trained on Phones Systems
Proficiency with Math, English or other
Copying, Filing and Faxing
But I'm sure you've actually done many of them and if you haven't—don't worry, we'll get to that.
Where to Look for an Entry Level Job
First, you need to be looking for something appropriate to your level of experience. Lucky for you, entry level job searches are pretty straightforward. Obviously, Craigslist, Monster and even search boards through your university can be good sources. But if there is somewhere you really want to work, call them and ask if they are hiring or send them a packet directly. I have actually never gotten a job through a want ad, though I have had interviews and applied to many. One job I got by throwing my back out and striking up a conversation with someone in the waiting room who happened to need help at their business. The other time, I printed up a "business card" with my contact info and put it in a blue and gold folder from staples with a customized cover letter and resume. I called it the KK promotional packet and mailed it to places I really wanted to work. And it actually did get me a job.
So expand your search beyond the online job boards by calling friends and family, sending out emails to let people know you are looking, meeting with friends of friends who work somewhere that seems interesting to you. Many people are also willing to grant you an informational interview where as a courtesy they talk to you about what they do and what you would have to do to qualify for the type of job you're interested in. Your alumni network at your school can be a great resource for this. But sitting home and applying online is not going to cut it. No matter how many resumes you email or fax, you are going to have to do more than sit back and wait for someone to hire you. And those who are least afraid to seize the initiative and get out there are usually the ones who get hired.
Customize Your Experiences
Especially if you have limited experience, you are going to have to apply to jobs individually. You may even be uniquely qualified when it comes to some jobs. Maybe you have minimal office experience, but including that you wrote your senior thesis on epidemiology when you are applying for a job with a doctor's office might help.
Get creative and think about courses you took, your hobbies and interests and anything else you are knowledgeable about. Until you get a lot more experience, these things will help fill up your resume and flesh out who you are as an individual to prospective employers.
These are great, if you did them. But a lot of us spent our summers traveling or working at Starbuck's. But what you might not now is that many internships are open to college graduates up to a year after graduation. I found this out when I saw a great NPR internship 14 months after I graduated. : ( But you know! Because I just told you!
If you did do an internship and you still have a connection at the organization, call them. Maybe they have a position open or know of other organizations that do. Sometimes just calling to tell them you are looking for a job and asking if you can list them as a reference can open a door. A lot of these people get emails about positions at other organizations they work with.
While many of us can't afford to do an unpaid internship after graduating (the whole point was to get a paying job, remember?) if moving home is an option you can sometimes find short term internships through museums or non-profits back home. Heck, a volunteer organization might even be willing to create an unpaid one for you if you are willing to commit to volunteering there for several months. And several months is plenty of time to gain meaningful experience if you are serious, enthusiastic, and upfront about what you want to get out of the experience and why you want to help them.
Get the to a Temp Agency
Temp agencies can be a great place to start, since they often require little to no experience, offer short term job, and thus are a quick way to gain job experience. They can be a place you temp while looking for a better job, or sometimes they can even lead to full time positions. And the commitment is usually one to several weeks, though I know some who have landed month long jobs.
Most temp agencies require that you bring a resume and come down for an appointment. They'll administer a battery of tests so they can determine your typing speed and proficiency with computer programs such as MS WORD and EXCEL. They'll want to know whether you have used multiple extension phone systems before, if you have any special skills and what you are looking for in terms of work. The whole process usually takes a few hours and you should show up dressed as you would for a regular interview. In fact, treat the entire process that way because they will be using this time to access how you do in a professional setting and which jobs they should send you to.
Temp agencies usually offer fairly good pay for recent college grads, though the majority of positions are entry level so pay can be low for those reentering the job market with lots of experience. Think reception work or general office assist. But they are a great starting point. Even a few weeks of experience in an office environment can make a big difference to a potential employer and add some definite benefit to your resume.
The other way to gain experience is by volunteering. Many organizations are desperate for unpaid help, and you generally get to do a lot of what the paid help does: answer phones, do some faxing and photocopying and assisting with sending out mailers or coordinating events. That's all something that can go on your resume.
And if you have already done volunteer work, make sure you list it on your resume. First, many employers are impressed to see that not only do you have outside hobbies and interests, but that you give back through public service. Plus, volunteer duties often include training in what are legitimate job skills. I make sure to list them in a separate section of my resume to make it clear that it was a volunteer position and I wasn't paid, but I do list them.
The nice thing about volunteering is you can help a cause you feel strongly about and gain experience that would otherwise be closed to you at the same time. Volunteer organizations are often a great place to pick up skills and they very rarely care if you have any experience at all. They are willing to train you and place you and if you take it seriously and show an interest you can often move into more specialized positions as well. And a lot of non-profit organizations are often more likely to hire their interns and volunteers because they have already shown a commitment to the organization and are familiar with its goals and how it operates.
Taking a Class
Have the basic office skills but want to move into Public Relations or Marketing, or really dying for Finance? Consider taking a course through a university extension program. These are often geared toward professionals and you can list them on your resume since they prepare you in many ways for the type of work you are looking for.
Join a Professional Industry Association
Or better yet, get active in one. They often offer training in the industry, contacts and networking opportunities and a chance to show employers you are really committed to working in the field.
This is also a great way to transition across industries as well. You get to know the companies and the skills while connecting with others and absorbing through osmosis.
Putting it All Together: It's Resume Time!
Consider organizing your resume according to your skills and listing all your jobs in one section. Then you can focus your resume on what you've accomplished and can do. The one downfall to this is it is not standard and that may cause some to toss it in the reject pile. But the benefit is it still contains all the relevant information and should still be picked up by key word searches if the company uses a filter and it focuses on your accomplishments in general rather than which company or organization each took place at.
There are a ton of great resources online with resume templates and formatting.
You're Looking for a Job
Realize too that most people don't land their dream job right out of college and many find employment in a field they didn't study. So don't limit yourself too much in your search. Even a fairly dull job can transition into something great, and at the very least it will get you the experience you need to move forward. But since you should aim to stay in your first job for at least one year, make sure it is something you do want.
10 Minutes With Kossacks Under 35 Founder kath25
I'm also very excited to announce that I had the opportunity to interview kath25 on our new show, 10 Minutes With. The series offers short, ten minute interviews with some of the more interesting voices in politics. You can download the podcast at BlogTalkRadio, or stream the show at our blog,