Getting an entry-level job when most employers require experience is incredibly difficult. I know, I’ve been there. When I was 19, I received my BA in Business. I didn’t have a lot of time to acquire much work experience. I was too busy going to college. However, I was able to land an entry-level job when I graduated and so can you.
Landing An Entry-Level Job
Entry-level jobs used to be the perfect way for recent graduates to enter the workforce and begin their careers. However, over the years the definition of “entry-level” has changed significantly. Having a college degree is no longer enough. I addressed this in a recent article, Why College Graduates Can’t Find A Job With A Degree.
Today, most employers want 2-5 years of relevant work experience for entry-level positions. How is a new graduate expected to land an entry-level job if they are expected to have that much experience right out of college?
How I Landed An Entry-Level Job Right Out Of College
At 19, I graduated with my BS in Business and I began applying to every position I could. I used my network and let them know I had graduated and was looking for a job. A professional, in my network and in the industry, told me about a position at a Fortune 500 company. I promptly applied. When I landed an interview for the entry-level position, I was ready for it. I knew I only had one shot. I studied the company and learned their motto and the meaning behind it. Additionally, I studied the position and what it entailed, and I dressed professionally. I was ready. My interview was conducted by a panel of three: two executives and one manager. I had done so many speeches, presentations, and mock interviews in college. I had no fear of speaking and being interviewed by them.
Know Your Strengths and Weaknesses Before Your Interview
All three had my cover letter, resume, and letters of recommendation in their hands. As they leafed through them, I knew I had three strikes against me. I was a recent graduate, I didn’t have a lot of work history, and I was young. They knew I was a recent graduate, they could see that from my degree. They knew I didn’t have a lot of work experience, they could see that from my resume. However, they didn’t know my age because I didn’t include my high school graduation on my resume. Therefore, being young wasn’t as much of a disadvantage because I was mature and by the end of the interview I knew they assumed I was older.
It’s important to note, that your high school diploma should not be listed on your resume (or LinkedIn) once you have a degree. It’s not relevant unless an application asks for it and it’s the easiest way for them to determine your age, which they don’t need to know during the interview.
What I had going for me was, that I had two degrees, AS in Business and a BS in Business, and strong letters of recommendation, one from a Ph.D. professor (written on my university’s Business College’s Letterhead) and the other from a personal reference. I learned about the company’s culture. I had studied and researched the job position. And I knew I was a good interviewee and I knew I was perfect for the position. Those were the things I was relying on.
I landed the entry-level job and started two weeks later. I worked 50 to 60 hours a week for the next year and a half and got my Master’s degree. By 21, with an MBA, a few years of work experience under my belt, and two more strong letters of recommendation, I was promoted to a manager position. This was a huge jump in pay as well as responsibility.
Getting Your Foot In The Door
So how exactly did I get my foot in the door? My degrees for sure. They could see I had an AS in Business and a year and a half later I had a BS in Business. It was obvious I was an accomplished student. On my resume, I listed my previous jobs, which were small local jobs, but it showed I was able to work and go to school. I had done some volunteering and a few community projects.
However, I think my letters of recommendation were the kicker. The letter of recommendation my professor wrote was off the charts. He essentially wrote that their company would be better off having me on staff and if they didn’t hire me, they would be foolish. He listed many of my accomplishments in school and outside projects I did for him. This is why it’s so important to connect with your professors.
Internships Are The New Entry-Level Jobs
Internships are what replaced entry-level jobs. Companies can save a lot of money by using interns. So, they use interns to do all the entry-level work. Many times, companies don’t even need to pay interns. Good for them, bad for recent college graduates. This leaves college graduates at a huge disadvantage. Why hire a new college graduate with a degree when you can get a student to fill the position for free or for a fraction of the cost?
What’s The Solution
A lack of experience doesn’t mean you can’t get a job. As you can see, I was able to work around it and you can too. Don’t presume that work experience via a paid position is the only experience that counts. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
You will need to start building your resume while you are still in college. Here are 4 things you can do to showcase your abilities to a potential employer.
A great way to gain experience and marketability is to have an internship. Internships are designed to give students a “real world” experience and prepare them for the job search process after college. When looking for an internship focus on the career field you want to pursue. Internships put you in the industry, working with professionals. You will learn how the workplace operates, different departments, and positions. And many internships lead to full-time paid positions. You will be exposed to tasks and skills that you can include on your resume.
2. Build A Network
Never underestimate the power of networking. Your network, whether it’s professional, personal, or academic can help you build skills, gain experience, and get a job. While you’re in school take the time to build your network. Create a LinkedIn account and connect with individuals in the industry.
Additionally, your network may be able to connect you to a possible employer, they may know when a job opening will happen, or they can give you insight into the industry. Studies show that 70-80% of jobs are never advertised. How are these positions filled? Through networking. If you build a good enough network when you graduate all you have to do is reach out to them and someone may be able to recommend a job position—and you’re in!
3. Volunteer Opportunities
Volunteering is a great way to gain experience and necessary skills. Try and volunteer for an organization that is in your field of study. Volunteer work on your resume not only shows experience and skill but that you are passionate, motivated, and willing to help others. Volunteering is a great way to expand your network and meet people in the industry. Even though volunteer work is unpaid, that does not mean it is less valuable. What you learn and experience should be on your resume. Volunteer work provides free training and allows you to develop or refine skills.
4. How To Be A Great Interviewee
Going into my interview, I knew I was a good interviewee, but what does being a “good interviewee” mean? These are some characteristics that comprise a good interviewee:
- Verbal communication skills
- Nonverbal communication skills
- Good listeners
- They ASK QUESTIONS
Verbal Communication Skills
Start working on your verbal communication skills as soon as possible, preferably while you’re still in college. Many people don’t feel confident in public speaking, but if you get comfortable speaking in front of large groups you interview better. You will learn to control the tone, volume, and speed of your voice as you speak. In an interview, those who get stressed or experience anxiety will struggle with verbal communication.
For example, their tone may get shaky, they may speak too low, speak too slow because can’t find the words they want to say, or speak too fast if they are trying to get the question over with. Be sure to work on your verbal communication skills by practicing common interview questions, recording yourself, and listening to how you speak. Do mock interviews to prepare.
Nonverbal Communication Skills
With nonverbal communication skills, you can show your interviewer that you are confident and professional. Standing and sitting up straight displays confidence, an unconfident interviewee may allow their shoulders to droop which may make them look sloppy or unprofessional. Holding eye contact throughout the interview shows you’re interested in the interview and is very important to show that you’re paying attention and listening to the interviewer when they are speaking.
Additionally, monitor your facial expressions, throughout your interview. This will give you the opportunity to convey your understanding, your interest, and your friendliness via your facial expressions. You want to monitor your facial expressions because stress and anxiety can lead to looks of fear and concern.
Professionalism is important. You must dress for success, use appropriate language, be respectful, don’t talk too much, and don’t be too familiar or “friendly”. Over-dressing is far more forgivable than under-dressing. Avoid jeans and anything too revealing, and wear clean and unwrinkled clothes. Show up well-groomed by showering, smelling pleasant, and doing your hair. Do not use profanity, avoid using slang words, and be considerate if any discussion includes topics such as age, race, religion, politics, or sexual orientation.
Talking too much could result in telling the interviewer more than they need to know. You can talk yourself right out the door with too much rambling. As you answer questions, be concise. An interview is a professional environment. Therefore, you’re not aiming to make a new friend. The environment should be friendly, but don’t overstep, your familiarity should be similar to that of your interviewer.
Research the company to get to know its culture, values, and mottos. Read and reread the job posting so that you are familiar with all the responsibilities. Practice answering basic and industry-specific interview questions. In most interviews, you will be asked 3 standard questions: 1. Tell me about yourself. 2. Do you work better in a team or alone? And, why? 3. What’s your biggest weakness? Start with these questions and then put yourself in the role of the interviewer and think about what you would like to hear. Your answers throughout the interview will reflect your preparedness.
Your attitude during the interview will reflect on the type of employee and team member you would be. Balance confidence and professionalism by being modest. Overconfidence can be off-putting. You want to show that you would be a valuable and pleasant team member.
Be considerate of the interviewer’s time. Your interviewer is not required to interview you. They are conducting the interview to determine if you would be a good fit. Show your appreciation for this opportunity. They will see that you care about not only your success but being a good person, a good employee, and a member of a team.
Being a good listener is very valuable during an interview. While the interviewer is speaking it’s important to hear the words and let them know that you heard them. Sometimes stress and anxiety can make us tune out other people while they are speaking. This is something you want to avoid to ensure you hear anything important.
They Ask Questions
Most interviewers will ask the interviewee if they have any questions. The majority of interviewees are going to answer “No” because they simply don’t have any. You will be asked this question. Therefore, be prepared to ask questions. Do not be the interviewee that says, “No.” Asking questions shows you are interested in what the interviewer has to say and you want to know more about the company or your job responsibilities. Asking questions should be natural and give you insight into the work environment.
Be humble and be willing to pay your dues. It will pay off tenfold. There isn’t a single person that is “too good” for a job. Think about the long-term payoff. An entry-level position is a stepping stone to something bigger.