Jumping into the job hunt after graduation is terrifying, especially when all of the job listings begin with “three to five years’ experience necessary.”
And while these requirements makes sense — naturally, employers want to hire somebody who has some prior training — not many students can tout years of experience immediately after picking up their diploma.
But that doesn’t mean they’re out of luck. There are plenty of ways to navigate this tricky situation and secure a job.
We spoke with Adrian Granzella Larssen, editor-at-large at career-coaching platform the Muse to find out how.
Applicants tend to panic when they read job listings asking for years of experience, says Larssen, but they shouldn’t. After all, “experience” isn’t limited to full-time employment. Many students actually build up a resume of marketable skills in college through internships, part-time jobs, volunteer work and even leadership positions.
So how can they use these start-off gigs to boost their credibility? By “highlighting the experiences that are most relevant to the job they’re applying to,” says Larssen. Say you were a campus-tour coordinator and now you’re applying to a sales job. Rather than just talking about your day-to-day duties leading students around your school, she says “highlight stories that show your abilities related to communication and relationship-building.” In other words, strut what you’ve got — strategically.
Don’t be afraid to intern
If you’re finding it hard to get your foot in the door, an internship can be a great starting point, says Larssen. Just make sure you’re not signing up for a coffee-fetching gig. “The ideal internships are the ones that give you some hands-on experience in the field you hope to go into,” she explains.
During the interview stage, be sure to ask what types of projects you’ll be working on to make sure you’ll finish with an array of skills under your belt. Another good question to ask: “What have former interns gone on to do?, says Larssen. “This can tell you a lot about whether the internship will set you up for a good next step.”
Once you’ve secured an internship, build strong relationships with the staff. Not only will that increase your chances of being offered a full-time job with the company, but it’ll also set you up for future opportunities. “Even if they can’t hire you, they’ll be more likely to help you find a job elsewhere or recommend you for other positions,” says Larssen.
Be bold with your application
A job application is your chance to put your best foot forward — so don’t be shy. Say you’re applying to a marketing job, don’t just submit your resume and cover letter and shamelessly proclaim that you can do the job. Show them that you’re qualified by putting together a mock marketing plan, perhaps even a slideshow that details a clever social media strategy, says the expert.
It might sound crazy, but it’s worked before, explains Larssen. She uses the example of a writer who applied for a copywriting job and was rejected because of her lack of experience, but decided to make a case for herself. “She wrote back to the hiring manager and said, thanks so much for the opportunity, and also, here are 10 taglines I came up with for your company, free of charge — enjoy.” The stunt landed her the job.
“Take a chance,” says Larssen. You might not have years of experience, but if you can showcase your skills in a way that make a hiring manager want to give you a shot, go for it.