You know the job market is competitive when “entry-level” jobs require 2-3 years of experience. It makes me wonder if there are pre-beginner positions somewhere that I don’t know about.
I once sought advice from a recruiter who could help me land what I thought was my dream job. When he told me I didn’t measure up, I asked what I could do to improve my resume.
His response? He basically told me it was too late to do anything about it. Other applicants had taken 1-2 years off of school to travel overseas while volunteering, learning new languages, and accumulating leadership experience. He himself had founded a successful non-profit in Africa while he was in college.
I was 20 years old with a 3.7 GPA, a leadership role in a business school organization, and three internships on my resume. But according to my own personal dream crusher, it was too late to be good enough.
If you’re stuck in the dreadful “need experience to get experience” cycle, you’re definitely not alone. Fortunately, there is a way out. Ending the cycle is neither quick nor easy, so prepare to get creative, humbled, and brave.
Online learning is becoming increasingly prominent. If you don’t have a degree, or are finding that a degree alone isn’t cutting it, consider getting some additional education. While certifications don’t fill secondary educational requirements, they do help connect the dots between your qualifications and the jobs specs.
Imagine you’re hiring an accountant and you have a big stack of resumes from grads that all have accounting degrees. You don’t really know what their coursework covered, what programs they became familiar with, or if they’re really “proficient” at excel or just used it for one project.
Then you notice that one applicant has a credible Quickbooks certification. Your business uses Quickbooks to reconcile accounts and you’d love to be able to skip that training with a new accountant. The choice is obvious. While most of the applicants probably have a working knowledge of accountancy, this candidate is ready to jump right in.
The same goes for positions that don’t require degrees. Find out what specific programs, techniques, equipment, or technology are used in the positions you want, then get training in those areas.
How to get started
If the training you’re looking for isn’t offered by the brand, or isn’t associated with a brand, try a learning platform. LinkedIn has training videos that automatically post certifications to your LinkedIn profile upon completion. Udemy and Skillshare are among the other sites where you can deepen your skillset online.
Mentors are the live version of online training. It gives you the opportunity to ask questions and engage in conversation with an expert in your field. The interactive element elevates your experience from passive education to active training.
Mentorships appeal to companies because it reduces the amount of training you’ll need before you become a self-sufficient contributor. Not only does that decrease the amount they spend paying you for unproductive hours, but it also decreases the amount they spend paying someone else for unproductive hours while they train you.
How to get started
Cold-calling an expert to find a mentor should be your last resort. The best thing to do is openly talk about your search and boldly ask for what you need. Post an honest (but not desperate or overbearing) inquiry for help from your friends on social media. Reach out to anyone you know who might have a lead. Bring it up in conversation, then follow up with anyone who responds with interest.
It doesn’t have to be awkward. If you’re having trouble finding the words, try a variation of the following:
“I’m looking to expand my knowledge of _____. Do you know anyone in a related position that would be willing to offer me some advice?”
Internships are a level up from mentorship because they tend to be more hands on. Most of the time you’ll be trusted with real responsibilities, see real results, and interact with peers and bosses in a real way.
Companies love when you’ve already made your first mistakes on someone else’s dime. Plus, you’re more likely to stay in a full-time position long-term because you come on with a better picture of what you’re looking for.
Unfortunately, the internship market can be even more competitive than the job market as students try out different fields before choosing a career path. Unpaid internships often offer the same benefits to your resume, while being a bit less competitive and more appealing to employers.
Yes, ideally you would get paid for internships. You may even be overqualified for these kinds of positions. But a few months of humility might tip the scale for the experience requirements at the job you really want. At the very least, it provides additional networking opportunities. You may even get hired on full-time if you really blow them away. The point is to get in the door.
How to get started
Internships are typically found in the same places as job postings, i.e. LinkedIn, ZipRecruiter, Monster, Glassdoor, Indeed, company websites, job fairs, school job boards, etc. However, especially in industries where unpaid internships are the standard, you might need to invent your own internship.
Reach out to your network in the same manner as explained for mentorships. When you get in contact with the right person, ask if there are any internship opportunities. If they say no, ask if they would be open to taking you on as an unpaid intern. As long as you seem worth the effort, you’ll find that companies are pretty flexible if an employee requests to have you. Just don’t be afraid of being forward. Who’s going to be annoyed by free labor?
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