The job market and employment outlook for recent college graduates has changed significantly since the peak of the Great Recession in 2009. However, in the ten years since, there’s one major job search challenge that remains the same: a lack of real-world experience prevents recent graduates from getting an entry-level job.
It’s a classic Catch-22 situation. A job seeker needs work experience to get a job, but they can’t get an entry-level job to develop the work experience they need. So, what’s a new grad to do?
Let’s look at a few well-tested strategies for gaining relevant experience, improving your resume, and building up a network to help you break the cycle and land a great entry-level job.
1. All Experience is Good Experience
You are mere months away from walking across the stage at graduation, and you’ve just realized how little job experience you’ve had over the last few years. Maybe you were focused on acing your classes or you joined a bunch of on-campus groups and didn’t have time to pick up a paid job. The experience section on your resume is blank and you’re running out of time. What should you do?
First, don’t panic. It’s never too late to take on a job, internship or volunteer project that could look great on your resume. Start by checking with your local career center. This is a great way to find on-campus or work-study jobs that won’t get in the way of your classes. These jobs might not seem like much, but they’ll allow you the opportunity to gain workplace experience and soft skills that are crucial in any work environment. The more willing you are to go outside your comfort zone, the more you will grow and ultimately be prepared to nail that interview or get off to a fast start in your first “real” job.
If you’ve got a little more time left before graduation, consider going a step further and finding an internship in your area of study. Internships can be a great way to apply ideas or concepts you’ve studied in the classroom to the real world. In fact, in many ways, internships have become the new entry-level job, and a semester-long or summer internship can help set you apart from other job applicants. Internships can also be vital to determining what you may NOT want to do full time!
Last, don’t forget to consider volunteer opportunities in your experience building efforts. For example, maybe you volunteer for a local non-profit and use your IT skills to help update their website. Or you could volunteer your time teaching basic computer programs to adults. Volunteer projects like these provide highly relevant experience for you while also helping others, a win-win for everyone.
2. Reconsider Your Resume
Entry-level work is a magnet for candidates of every caliber and along with this variety of candidates comes a variety of resumes. From good to bad to downright awful, resumes come in all shapes and sizes. If done right, a resume can help you stand out from a crowded field of applicants. On the other hand, a poorly organized resume is likely going straight into the trash. As competition for entry level jobs continues to increase, it’s more important than ever to make sure your resume is in great shape and conveys the right information to a hiring manager.
While resume advice and best practices have varied over the years, there are a few rules that always apply. First, start by thinking about the specific job you are applying for. What would the employer ideally want to see in a resume? Review the job description and note required skills and key job responsibilities, then make sure your resume speaks to these. Also, when talking about your job, internship or volunteer experience try highlighting your accomplishments instead of explaining what you did. For example, instead of talking about how you updated an organization’s website, explain how that update improved page load speed and the experience of site visitors.
Another way to save your resume from the trash bin is to ensure that it’s error and typo free. A resume with grammatical errors or mistakes, no matter how small, tells an employer you didn’t take the time to review your materials. For a hiring manager, the message is clear: this applicant must not care that much about our job. Along with a grammatically perfect resume, make sure your contact information is accurate and easy to find. Don’t make it hard for an employer to contact you.
Finally, consider visiting your campus career center to meet with a career advisor. An advisor can help you review your application materials and conduct a practice interview so that you’re ready to go when your perfectly tailored resume lands you a meeting with the hiring manager.
3. Create Connections
We tend to put a lot of emphasis on a person’s ability to achieve things independently. But when it comes to your job search, there’s no shame in asking for help. In fact, networking is an essential part of the job search process for candidates at all levels of experience.
If you already have professional contacts from a previous job or internship, great! Reach out to them. If not, get out and create some new connections. Career fairs, professional meetups and networking events are a good place to start. When attending an event, it’s helpful to go with a goal in mind. Maybe you want to connect with a professional at a certain company, or you’re hoping to meet some experienced web developers to learn more about their work. Having a goal and a plan for achieving it can make your networking more successful. It’s also a good idea to go prepared with some conversation starters and questions to ask others. Remember, networking isn’t just about what others can do for you, it’s a two-way street, so be prepared to listen and engage in return.
Does the thought of introducing yourself to strangers make you break out in a sweat? Then take your networking online. Use LinkedIn to find people whose work you admire and reach out to them with a simple message or note of appreciation. Build out your network using groups and try to connect with people in relevant companies or positions. Interact with members of these online communities whenever possible, acknowledging their contributions, and keeping up to date with what’s going on. Later, when you’re searching for entry-level work, you’ll be able to reach out to these connections because you’ve spent time engaging with them. Who knows, one of these online contacts could be your key to breaking the Catch 22 cycle and landing the perfect entry-level job.
4. Find Companies That Want You
One other way to get entry-level work experience in a tight job market is to seek out companies that hire raw talent. IDR is one of them. We are always looking for driven, hard-working candidates to fill our entry-level recruiting and sales roles.
Ready to start your career with an award-winning company? Contact us today to learn more.