Home > Gen Y, job search > Catch 22 of The Entry-Level Job Search

Catch 22 of The Entry-Level Job Search

When I was fresh out of college and in the throes of my first real job search, I quickly learned of the catch 22 of the entry-level job hunt: most employers won’t hire you unless you have “relevant experience” but in order to get said experience, you need someone to hire you. Now I had several internships throughout college, but none of them were especially relevant to the type of job I was looking for.

I suppose I was lucky when I got hired after graduation. My boss ultimately hired me for my sense of humor (true story) and my experiences as a leader in my sorority. But I can’t help but wonder: what if she didn’t take a chance on me? Do all employers feel like they are “taking a chance” on a recent college grad? And if that’s true, what can college students or graduates do to make sure they are getting the experience employers are looking for?

I came up with a list of things that I wish I had done to make myself a more viable job candidate right out of college:

1. Apply For Relevant Internships

The best internships will really challenge you and allow you to gain experience that will be applicable to your job search once you graduate. I know it sounds like a no-brainer, but the internships I chose were the ones that paid more or seemed more fun than ones that may have given me more learning opportunities. I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up when I was in college (still don’t) so it was more difficult for me to do this, but if you know what you want to do, I recommend you get all the experience you can in that industry.

2. Volunteer

There are so many non-profits looking for people to help in an administrative capacity. Do you want to gain writing skills? Volunteer to write copy for a non-profit’s website or promotional materials. Interested business administration or finance? Help with the book-keeping. Interested in event planning or PR? Help them plan events and/or gain publicity for the events.

This kind of skills-based volunteering is mutually beneficial for obvious reasons, but what’s in it for you is relevant experience, a resume builder, expanding your personal/professional network and maybe even a professional recommendation. For more information on skills-based volunteering, check out SmartVolunteer.org.

3. Join a Networking Group

By networking with professionals in your community, you greatly increase your chances of connecting with someone who might be interested in hiring you. But even if the CEO of the company you want to work for isn’t involved in your group, the chances that someone you meet could help you secure a job or at least give you a recommendation is very high. Having a personal connection with a company is terribly important anymore. Just think of how many resumes a company will see for any given position and ask yourself, “How will I stand out?” By connecting with someone who can help you out, you are already at an advantage over other applicants.

4. Start a blog

Blogging is a great way to showcase what you know about a certain subject. It gives you an opportunity to comment on current events and do some research about trends in the industry you are interested in. Employers will be impressed to see your passion and knowledge.

If nothing else, each of these is a wonderful resume builder and will provide you with additional hands-on skills that can put you ahead of the competition when it comes to the job search.

I should also mention that you don’t have to be a young employee to do any of these things. They are also great tips for someone who is looking to transition their career or just spruce up their resume a bit!

What have you done to stand out as an entry-level employee? Have any of these things helped you gain a competitive edge as you venture into the terrifying world of the gainfully employed?

  1. Andrew
    February 15, 2010 at 12:27 pm

    Great post, Ashley! I would add two more items to that list though: freelance and become an entrepreneur.

    Freelancers can join a number of free online groups to showcase their talents and see what others are doing. Many employers are hiring freelancers over full-time or even part-time employees because the costs are lower. However, many freelancing sites cater more towards creative positions (marketing, writing, etc) than analytic ones (financial, medical, etc). The nice thing about freelancing is that one can still get healthcare without stable employment through the freelancer’s union (http://www.freelancersunion.org/).

    Entrepreneurship is a great option for those who need both resume content and additional experience. I was able to bolster my resume significantly by going out and starting businesses in the fields I was interested in. During college, I wanted to get a job in advertising, so I started my own firm and did ad projects for friends’ websites and social organizations on campus. I was able to get a well-rounded “real-world” experience, learn more about the job I wanted to do, and showed initiative, something that’s always attractive to prospective employers. And unlike freelancing, anyone, from a financial analyst to an accountant to a graphic designer, can start their own business easily.

    • February 15, 2010 at 1:31 pm

      That’s such a great addition, Andrew, thanks! I think that the idea of starting a business for an undergrad can seem very scary, but it is a wonderful way for people to gain the experience they need post-graduation.

  2. February 15, 2010 at 1:21 pm

    I couldn’t agree more with you Ashley. There is definitely a catch 22 when it comes to finding a job with many companies when you graduate from college. I think the key to obtaining a job is to identify and develop relationships with organizations that are dedicated to hiring college graduates and have a college graduate recruiting program. Those are the types of companies that college students should try to align themselves with so that in hopes their first job is not just a job but the start of a career with a company that has long-term potential.

    1stGig.com is a new website that has been developed to help college graduates establish relationships with companies that have college graduate recruiting programs. It is a matching system that links a students’ interests, qualifications and career requirements with those of employers. They can find career opportunities, not just jobs. To learn more, check out http://www.1stGig.com

  3. February 15, 2010 at 3:19 pm

    Great blog and congrats on getting it picked up at Brazen Careerist! I can vouch for the applying for relevant internships item. I interned in television in my former career. It definitely helped me get a job when I graduated. The great thing was that it was at the same station where I interned, so I had a leg up.
    I didn’t get paid for the internship (except in experience), but it was so valuable. The more you are willing to do in an internship, the better experience you will have. Offer to write, stay late, go out on a client project. You will not regret it.

    Keep up the great blog!

    • February 15, 2010 at 4:21 pm

      Thanks so much, Jason! I wish I had done something more relevant in college, but in my defense, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life! I suppose my theory was “try a bunch of different stuff and find out what you’re good at!” Turns out I mostly found out what I was bad at…
      I appreciate the input!

  4. GB
    February 17, 2010 at 9:02 am

    I seriously feel that via freelancing someone can show that he/she is not amateur while looking for the first job. I built my profile on limeexchange.com and it helped me lot in my professional career.

  5. February 23, 2010 at 10:48 am

    You have hit the nail on the head. Getting that first job is circuitous not linear. It’s about being connected to the business world to learn how it works, so you can figure out where you want to be and where you don’t. When we start out, we rarely know what we really want or where we’ll end up. It’s an adventure…just like you wanting to take your talents to New York. No risk…no reward. No courage…no progress. You message is about exploring…trying your hand at things…showcasing who you are, what you care about, and how you work. This post is both practical and inspiring. What you offer here is a generous and genuine hand that I hope many will take.

    ~Dawn (@businessfit on Twitter)

  6. Dave Gill
    February 25, 2010 at 1:45 pm

    Hey your blog has some great ideas on how to break into your field! Another thing you may consider adding is getting certified in a specific technology (this also goes along with your previous post about generation Y being tech savvy). Although I am a software engineer, anyone can get certified in a variety of technical skills from a programming language to the Microsoft Suite. I recently helped recruit for my company at the KU career fair and the only resume I starred (stood out) was Java certified. Certification is definitely a way to stand out in the crowd.

    I agree that you hit it on the head with the catch-22 idea. The first internship I had was difficult to obtain but it gave me great experience in my field. Also co-ops are a great way to get your foot in the door.

    One thing to note about the internships though is that a lot of companies only want college students (not graduates). My current software company will not accept college grads for its internship program.

  7. February 25, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    I agree, I wish I did more of the above when I was in college. The most important internship I had was the summer after I graduated and it only reinforced what I didn’t want to do. If only I had found that out earlier…

    I’m working on the last right now (blogging), and while I am definitely not an expert in what I’m writing about…I feel that blogging is a good way to help me hone my writing skills and a great outlet to express myself.

  8. February 28, 2010 at 10:10 pm

    Nice post. In a conventional sense, these ideas are all logical. And they probably have their share of success stories. Yet I am 32. I do freelance writing. I started to do so on my own, because I have never had a single full time job that didn’t involve a mop or a broom. (I had one part time one that did not.) And I went to college, got a degree and everything. I have yet to be truly gainfully employed. Or to make use of that degree.

    It may be geography, but I myself have never had any luck with volunteering. I have tried to volunteer in various places in my area for about as long as I have tried to get a job. No success. Not just because few people need or want a volunteer writer, but because positions of ANY kind are scarce. With unemployment at huge levels, volunteer positions are being flooded, and given to people with more experience. The volunteer market is becoming as picky as the job market these days, because everyone has the same idea you have mentioned here. Which creates the same problem for those with thin resumes as they have trying to find jobs. “Not enough experience.” There are many fine volunteer organizations, but I would advise caution when assuming that non-profits would love to have anyone help them, because they are so much in need of labor. It may not be as true as one might assume.

    Or the opposite may be true. As sad as it is, volunteers tend to get burned more often than they do not. Overworked and under appreciated. (At least I was the few times I found a position. They wanted me to suddenly take on 12 positions, not simply the one I volunteered for.)

    Internships can be helpful either right before you leave college, or not long after wards. But try to convince anyone that you should have an internship once you reach, say, 25 years old. The assumption tends to be that at that age you should be totally set, marketable, and making a decent salary. That if you are not, there must be something wrong with you. And if there is something wrong with you, nobody will want to take the risk of giving you an internship. If willing and able people could be apprenticed at any age, more people would be gaining marketable skills, and in my view, there would be less unemployment. But that doesn’t happen.

    Finally the blogging thing…I do recommend this. I have been approached more than once to be offered a writing gig by people who found one of my two blogs and read what I could write. One doesn’t have to be a writer to blog of course, but in my case it directly showcased what I can do.

  9. Lisa
    March 3, 2010 at 7:54 am

    Good post Ashley, you point out some great ways to reach out in a job search. I also recommend setting up some informational interviews. They’re a great way to hone your interview skills, learn about an industry and connect with people who might help you in the future. Make it clear that you’re only looking for information, that you promise to take only 20 minutes and have a list of questions in front of you to make good use of that time. And it doesn’t have to be with only senior people. Meet with more junior employees and ask them for any job hunting tips. Good luck to all job seekers!

    • March 3, 2010 at 8:51 am

      Thanks for the tip, Lisa! That’s a really great suggestion because it gives you some insight into the industry and puts you on the companies radar as an enthusiastic and well informed job seeker.

  10. April 14, 2010 at 3:10 pm

    Thanks this is great info I will benefit from

  1. February 15, 2010 at 3:48 pm
  2. March 11, 2010 at 12:44 am

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