New graduates often find themselves stymied in their job searches by that ubiquitous job board phrase: "experience required." Frustrated by the inability to get experience without having experience, they tend to prematurely throw in the towel.
Rookie mistake! Just because you did not get paid for something does not mean you did not gain any valuable experience. The trick is to showcase how your academic training, extracurricular activities and volunteer positions have enabled you to develop the value-added skills you can offer to a future employer. Finding your first job is all in how you tell your story.
According to NACE research, employers have identified eight critical factors that indicate job readiness. They are:
- Critical Thinking/Problem Solving
- Professionalism/Work Ethic
- Oral/Written Communication
- Digital Technology
- Career Management
- Global/Intercultural Fluency
Your task is to identify a compelling example of your success in each area. Consider these examples:
- As a biology major, I spent five hours in the lab each week reviewing data to support my thesis. (Provide two or three more sentences about your thesis). It was an intensive class, and I am so proud to have received an A on my analysis. (Demonstrates critical thinking/problem solving and/or written communication skills.)
- As a history major, I was challenged to examine, why the Rebel Army lost the Civil War, despite their military victories. It required the ability to examine at each battle from both perspectives and draft an analysis defending my thesis. I received my highest grade in college on this paper. I would bring that same level of analysis to the workplace. (Demonstrates critical thinking/problem solving and/or written communication skills.)
- In addition to graduating with a 3.9 GPA, I worked two part-time jobs throughout college and was Senior Class president and captain of the Women's Basketball team. These experiences have taught me to manage my time effectively. I take pride in showing my teammates and co-workers that they can always rely on me. (Demonstrates professionalism/work ethic and leadership).
- For my senior class project, I worked with four of my classmates to design a marketing campaign for a local non-profit organization, resulting in a 25 percent increase in volunteers and a 20 percent increase in donations. (Demonstrates teamwork/collaboration.)
- I had the opportunity to spend my junior year abroad. I lived with a German family and travelled throughout Europe in my free time. It was my first time out of New Jersey! (Demonstrates global/intercultural fluency.)
You get the general idea. "Experience" comes in many shapes and sizes, and it is up to you, the job seeker, to translate how your background will benefit the employer. As you launch your search for your first professional job, consider these suggestions:
Read job descriptions carefully
Consider what skills, talents and areas of expertise each employer is seeking, then provide evidence based on the experience you do have to compel them to want to interview you. Remember, employers write job descriptions for the ideal candidate; the ideal candidate rarely exists. If you satisfy 60 percent or greater of their stated criteria, you should apply. Be sure to tell your story well in your cover letter.
Own your gifts, talents and successes
Promote your strengths during the job search process. Display them proudly; do not minimize them. Find the sweet spot between humility and confidence as you share your successes with potential employers. A healthy dose of humility will enable you to confidently discuss your strengths without suggesting that you are arrogant enough to believe that you are superior to others. Take the time to figure out what your gifts and talents are, and then share them unabashedly with the world.
Identify your comfort zone, then step outside of it
Embracing your new role as a member of the adult workforce can be scary. You have been a student for most of your life and are about to enter unfamiliar territory. Convert your fear into curiosity to allow yourself to explore all the possibilities available to you. Instead of approaching new situations with "I can't because…", try asking "What if I….?" instead.
Accept the unlimited opportunities you have
People offer a million excuses for why they have been unsuccessful in a job search. They tell themselves, "I am too young;" "I am too old;" "I went to the wrong school;" " I didn't pick the right major;" "My grades aren't good enough," "I don't have any experience." Even if all of those things are true, the question is, what do you have to offer an employer?
Every job seeker must be able to complete the sentence, "You should hire me because…" and provide data to influence the employer to believe that they are the best candidate for the job. You may not convince everybody; but remember, you only need to convince one person to get your career on the right track.