Overcoming the Catch-22 of Entry-Level Work Experience

What is the employment outlook for college graduates? Though it’s better than the worst days of the Recession, there are still a few hiccups to overcome. The job market is competitive and entry-level positions are in short supply. The unfortunate truth is that businesses are reluctant to spend their capital on untested workers, opting instead for experienced professionals. That leaves new graduates in a Catch-22 situation:

They need entry-level work experience to get a job, but they can’t get a job to earn that entry-level work experience.

What is a new grad to do? Flip burgers and assemble sandwiches? Better options are available. Though it takes hard work (a lot, in fact) and plenty of time outside of your comfort zone, entry-level work experience can be obtained by using the right tactics and right mindset to break the cycle and get a good first job.

Think About the Employer

An open entry-level position is a magnet for candidates with every caliber of resume: good, bad, and downright hard to look at. The worst are templates and generic resumes spammed out everywhere. Since entry-level candidates tend to have limited experience writing resumes, both will be in abundance. Anyone who stands above those uninspired, mass produced form letters will look like a rockstar.

What would employers ideally see in a resume? Check the annual CareerBuilder Employer Survey. In addition to pointing out comically bad resume blunders (saying you speak Pig Latin or that you got fired “on accident”), it cuts through the fluff and identifies what employers really want from a resume. Of 2,532 participants, 61 percent say they want a resume customized to their open job.

Though there are essential resume writing practices that can make you a contender, those alone rarely beat the better competitors. It comes down to one message underscored throughout the interview: that even without a previous full-time job, you have experience.

The experience to highlight is found in a company’s job advertisement, its LinkedIn page, and the About Us section of its website. That’s where you will find their desired soft skills. Are you flexible? Do you have a strong work ethic? Are you an excellent communicator? If a company wants those attributes on their team, you need to demonstrate you can put them into action. Do so in your resume and LinkedIn page and your lack of work world experience will seem like far less of a shortcoming.

Be Unafraid to Ask

We tend to put a large emphasis on a person’s ability to achieve things independently, but there’s no shame in asking for help in your job search. In fact, it’s immensely advantageous for entry-level professionals.

Employee and peer referrals are preferred hiring methods. When employers hire referrals, that candidate’s performance on average is better than those from other sources. That predisposition means that job seekers who get referred have a greater advantage. Moreover, asking for help by networking with connections is one of the best ways to get entry-level work experience.

Networking in its best form is professional connection. You reach out to new or old contacts and provide value through information, interaction, or help with their own goals. That isn’t just limited to online interaction. In-person and over-the-phone communication are equally effective (if not more so) when trying to make lasting connections.

Fostering a relationship that pays off takes time. Once a level of trust exists between you and your contacts, you can ask those connections if they know of any opportunities that fit your career. Even if they don’t, you can find out about positions that might fit for someone else and expand your network further. Sooner or later, you make that perfect connection and land your first big job.

Want to speed up the networking process even further? Connect with your alumni network. Often, something as simple as a shared alma mater is enough to get assistance or at the very least suggestions about what to do next.

Seek Out Stepping Stones

Still having trouble trying to find an entry-level job without experience? Then maybe you need to skip the traditional route. More job seekers are distinguishing themselves before their first official job with experience that’s just as marketable. You just might need to willingly volunteer your time.

Volunteering your skills at a non-profit, community, or religious organization achieves double duty. It gives back to the community and demonstrates some of your most desirable traits: that you’re driven and hard working. And all of that’s happening without the motivation of a pay check.

Internships (paid or unpaid) can achieve the same end. Even if you didn’t accept an internship during college, there are still plenty of internship opportunities for recent college graduates. If there’s no pay, pick one close to home or one with flexible hours. That way, you don’t go bankrupt in the process.

Find Companies That Want You

One other way to get entry-level work experience in a tough market is to seek out companies that are interested in hiring raw talent. IDR is one of them. We constantly are looking for driven, hard-working candidates to fill our entry-level recruiting and sales positions. If you want to start your career with an award-winning satisfying company, contact us today.