This is a great question, and it's probably one of the preeminent issues facing new college graduates who are entering a very competitive job market. I think in many ways the generation before us did the current generation a great disservice in leading us all to believe that obtaining a four year or graduate degree was the key to gaining traction in the job market. While at one point this was true, the market has moved far more toward favoring experienced hires over the last 10-15 years, even for positions that were commonly reserved as "entry level positions."
I think the key thing to remember when you are trying to gain job experience is that internships are actual work experience. The more internships a person can have, the better success they'll have landing an interview based on resume alone. In this era, having internships that pertain to the field you're hoping to work in full time after you graduate are pretty non-negotiable. If anyone is reading this and you're still in college, take heed. That unpaid internship in the marketing department at the Smithsonian is probably a better long term investment than the well paying camp counselor gig you're considering.
For those who've already graduated college and are facing the woes of feeling like you just need someone to give you a chance so you can gain valuable experience, I can offer a few suggestions:
- Volunteer somewhere. You're not working right? So you should have the time. In conjuction with job hunting, find a way and a place to serve in a meaningful way. You'd be surprised how many organizations would go gung ho about a freshly minted college graduate contacting them to offer up themselves in any way the organization sees fit. Most people I know who are Social Media Managers for example, first gained their experience by working pro bono and getting their feet wet in running online marketing campaigns and such. It's also a fantastic way to network. There are people with great connections in organizations who are sure to put a good word in for you with the employer of your choice if they saw you demonstrate great work ethic even when you weren't getting paid. This is how I got my first corporate job. Volunteering also gives you the chance to take on responsibilities you may not have the opportunity to touch until 3-4 years into your career. And all of this is work experience!! It counts and it can go on your resume!
- Get more creative. You don't have any work experience and you have a college degree. You're in the same boat of many other candidates if not slightly behind the boat of others who may be more qualified. So if you have those things working against you, it's probably best not to try to find jobs in the traditional ways others are because you're not separating yourself from the pack. You're going to need to find an in. Figure out who you know and ask them to submit you as an employee referral to positions you're interested in. Find the hiring manager of the position in which you're interested and reach out in a professional, concise way. Make them want to hire you. Do you own your name a a web domain? "e.g. MarySharkey.com?" You should. You don't have to have a fancy website or anything, but you should point it to your LinkedIn profile or something that tells more about you. There are also a lot of really cool, free services like about.me and such that allow you to easily establish an online footprint.
- Assess Yourself. Extract experience from what you've already done. A lot of people sell themselves short because they discount their experience. Sometimes you have to grasp a bit, but if you were the president of your sorority or you led a student trip to Guatemala, or you organized a large event or maintained the school newspaper's website, these are all worthwhile things to count toward your experience
Get out there and hustle!
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