Dealing with Your Lack of Experience

Congratulations on your graduation! After approximately four years of burying your nose in books and endless hours of sitting in front of a computer screen writing paper after paper in order to earn your much-coveted college degree, now what? It's time to get a job, but you wonder who will hire you. You feel like you have nothing going for you! You have few skills and little experience. You have nothing!

Wait a minute. Stop being so hard on yourself. That's not true. You may not have as much experience as older job candidates, but you haven't been sitting around doing nothing for the last few years. There were summer jobs, part-time jobs during the school year, and extracurricular activities. And let's not forget that you have something many other people don't have — that piece of paper that tells the world you are ready to get your first real job.

If you are wondering if earning that college degree was worth it, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics assures you that it was. An article published in the Occupational Outlook Quarterly states, “data consistently show that workers who have a bachelor's or graduate degree have higher earnings and lower unemployment than workers who have less education.”

If someone would just give you a chance, you can prove yourself. Someone will give you a chance, but you must make potential employers look beyond the date on your final transcript. You must make them realize that you are much more than a twenty-one-year-old or twenty-two-year-old with a piece of paper emblazoned with the name of a college on it.

Talking about Your Experience

It seems that every job opening you come across requires that you have experience. Experience? What experience? You spent the last seventeen or so years of your life in school. How were you supposed to get work experience? It's truly frustrating.

Before you lose your mind or your motivation, let's take a step back and look at your situation. Yes, it's true that many employers won't hire you unless you have experience. It's also true that you may not have any full-time work experience in your field. Remember, though, it only takes one employer to give you your first full-time job and the opportunity to get that much-needed experience. You only have to impress one employer. Don't forget that there are some employers out there who don't care if you have experience. As long as you're willing to learn, they will hire you. Also keep in mind that not having worked full-time in your field doesn't mean you don't have any experience.

Beware of employers who have businesses that are primarily staffed by younger workers. Many consider this a cost-cutting measure since they don't have to pay inexperienced employees as much as seasoned ones. While you may get experience, you may find yourself out of work in a few years.

First of all, did you do any internships? If you did, you have hands-on experience in your field. That puts you at an advantage over your competitors who may have not done internships. Internships, in addition to providing work experience, also give you the opportunity to make connections in your field. You should contact your internship mentors or supervisors to find out if they can offer you any help with your job search.

Have you had any part-time jobs? If you worked part-time, even in jobs unrelated to the field you are now trying to enter, you do have some experience. Even if you consider the work you did uninspiring or simple, it is likely you had some responsibilities. After all, your employers weren't paying you to sit around and look pretty. They were actually paying you because they needed you to do something. Think about what you did at work. Make a list of all your duties at each job you had. Did you help customers, answer phones, supervise children, or even clear dishes from tables? All of this counts as work experience.

Your participation in extracurricular activities while you were in school can help you score points with potential employers, too. The experience you gained from being involved in campus clubs and organizations can set you apart from your competitors. Everyone who has a college degree attended classes. Not everyone went beyond that and really got involved in campus life. Potential employers look favorably upon new graduates who took on an active role in college activities by, for example, writing for a school newspaper, coordinating fundraisers, or organizing blood drives. If you held leadership positions, this puts you at an even greater advantage. Add this information to your list.

It's not too late to do an internship, even if you already have your degree. If you don't have any work experience in your field, an internship can be a great way to get some. Your college's career center should be able to help you find internships in your field. There are also Web sites on which internships are posted.

Also include any volunteer work on your list. Just because you weren't paid for your time, that doesn't mean the experience had no value. There's a good chance you got a lot out of what you did and picked up some useful skills in the process.

Talking about Your Skills

Take a look at your list of part-time work, extracurricular activities, and volunteer work. Consider each item on your list. Now try to figure out what skills you used in each one. You will be amazed to discover that you actually do have more skills than you first thought you did. If at this point you are thinking, “When will I ever use the skill of flipping burgers?” think about this: Were you simply flipping burgers or were you managing the grill? Were you trying to get the product (the burgers) to your customers in a timely fashion? Did you have to pay attention to what customers were ordering? There's more to every job than the actual job title might imply. You need to examine your job duties closely in order to discover what skills you used to carry them out. Next, you have to figure out how these skills are relevant to the career you are now pursuing. Skills gained in one job or activity can often be used in another. These are called transferable skills.

While you should look beyond your job titles to find out what skills you actually used, you must be careful not to exaggerate. If you say you have a particular skill, make sure you do. Be honest with yourself and with prospective employers about what you can bring to a job.

There are two types of skills: hard skills and soft skills. Hard skills are technical skills usually attained through your education and training, but sometimes acquired on the job. They may include your ability to use certain software or equipment or your proficiency in a foreign language. Soft skills aren't specific to any type of work, but instead can help you do your job well. Examples of soft skills are problem-solving and multi-tasking.

Here's how to figure out what your transferable skills are. Take a piece of paper and fold it in half to make two columns. Label the first column “Tasks” and the second column “Skills.” In the Tasks column, list the different tasks you do or did at your jobs and activities. Next to each task, in the Skills column, list the skills you used to complete that task. Circle those skills you think potential employers will value. Here are some examples of transferable skills:

  • Motivating others

  • Knowledge of a specific software program

  • Ability to use a certain piece of equipment

  • Delegating responsibility to others

  • Training others

  • Problem-solving

  • Multitasking

  • Time management

  • Resource management

  • Budgeting money

  • Evaluating the work of others

  • Proficiency in a specific foreign language

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