If you’re a college student or recent grad, you no doubt met someone who, during your undergrad experience, tried to impress the importance of an internship upon you. Once you completed it, it felt important. You now had actual “real world experience,” more so than a lot of your peers, and you felt ahead of the pack.
Until you graduated from college and found yourself in the job market. Not only are you competing with other recent grads for your dream job, but you’re in applicant pools with individuals who have one, five, nine or more years of experience under their belts! Suddenly, that three-month internship from junior year seems miniscule in comparison.
When you have less than two or three years of work experience under your belt, how do you make yourself seem like a strong candidate? Even entry-level positions designed for college graduates require previous job experience nowadays which, we know, doesn’t make any sense.
Still — you’re more than just your years of experience; it’s how you’ve learned from your experiences that matters most. Here’s what you should do (and how you should portray yourself) so you aren’t held back by pesky outdated requirements.
1. Use all of your experience.
Once you’re out of college for a year, you should stop listing most collegiate activities on your resume. I say “most” because many experiences, like winning a college baking competition, are no longer relevant — but jobs, paraprofessions, and other activities relevant to your current career path are. Did you design logos for friends in college and are you now an aspiring graphic designer? Did you run your sorority’s Twitter account and are you now looking to go into social media marketing? Think back through all of your experiences and take note of the ones that are necessary.
Just because you weren’t paid to do something, doesn’t mean it can’t go on your resume. Relevant experience is relevant experience. Just don’t go too far back into your past (a.k.a. absolutely no high school events) to keep your work timeline tight.
2. Branch out at work.
An easy way to get more experience? Add to your job description. It means you’ll be increasing your workload without getting additional pay, but at this point in your career it’s more important to add to your skill set. That’s not to say you shouldn’t want a raise, but you need to be smart in planning how to get one. Ensuring that you have a valuable skill set gives you leverage in a negotiation; you’ll eventually be able to bring those skills (and proof of their effectiveness) to your employer with your asks.
If your employer says no, make sure you get feedback. You can incorporate that feedback into your next ask — and your next job application.
It’s a common piece of advice, but it really, really works. You’re more than your resume, and the easiest way to show people that is to get to know them on a more personal level. Ask people you respect and want to learn from for their time, and use that time to ask questions about what you can do to get ahead. If it comes up naturally in conversation, you can mention projects you’re currently working on and skills you’re developing. Making sure that other people know what you’re working on and what you’re interested in is important; they will keep you in mind as new opportunities come up and potentially guide you to new opportunities.
4. Dress for the job you want.
You know that saying, “dress for the job you want, not the job you have”? That definitely applies here. Matching the style of people who have your dream job is an easy and subtle way you can put yourself in that category. You should still aim to dress meticulously (no hoodie and jeans for you, Zuckerberg fans!) to make sure that you are taken seriously by your coworkers.
5. Apply for the jobs you want, regardless of how much experience they ask for.
If you find a job you love, apply for it. You might not have three years of administrative experience, but if you were an administrative assistant for one year and have volunteered running the front desk at a local animal shelter, that gives you a unique skill set you can bring to employers. It’s all about how you present yourself.
Practice talking about your experiences in relation to each point of the job description. Your relevant experience doesn’t need to come from the same one or two jobs; take the best from all of your work history and use that to sell yourself.
The number of years you’ve been in the workforce doesn’t define you. You define you, so take advantage of that and use it to get to where you want to be!
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