If you’re graduating this spring, congratulations – you’ve made it to the finish line!
Your diploma is almost in your hand and the late nights cramming for exams and writing mile-long research papers are over. You might think that the hard part is behind you…until you realize how challenging it can be to find a job in your field when even “entry-level” jobs are asking for one to three years of related experience.
It’s a Catch-22 many new graduates face – organizations tend to want candidates with some related experience, but it’s difficult to gain valuable career experience when you’re just starting out. That being said, we do have some tips to help you overcome a lack of experience in your job search and get you into the career of your dreams.
1. Get credentials
One of the best ways to get your foot in the door of your intended industry is to gain the relevant credentials for that role. This could come in the form of a degree, a certificate, an apprenticeship or an accreditation.
Even if you don’t have the necessary qualifications at the moment, showing that you are working towards obtaining them can go far when you’re trying to stand out to a hiring manager or recruiter. Credentials show that you have learned the technical and theoretical knowledge necessary for a career in your field, and potential employers will be impressed that you’re working towards a greater understanding of your industry.
2. Keep learning
Outside of formal education, find ways to stay current on relevant industry trends and expand your knowledge and skills. To keep up-to-date and develop your skillset, try auditing a course or conducting informational interviews with people in the profession. You can also follow industry influencers on their social media platforms or subscribe to thought leaders’ blogs to gain a variety of diverse insights into your industry.
Pursuing these continuous learning opportunities keeps your formal training front and centre in your mind and helps you come up with new and innovative ideas. Additionally, it can help you demonstrate to prospective employers that you are committed to developing and expanding your skills.
3. Make use of your transferrable skills
Although you may not have any formal job experience in your field, it is likely you have work experience from a student or summer position. Scrutinize job descriptions and postings that apply to your industry and identify the skills you possess that are needed for the role.
Be prepared to discuss how you have demonstrated those skills in a previous position, even if it was a starter job or student role. Don’t underestimate the relevance of the transferable skills you have probably learned in this position; everyone has to start somewhere! For example, a job in retail may have helped you develop strong communication skills and a strong customer focus, both of which are necessary for a role in corporate sales.
4. Leverage volunteer experience and extracurriculars
Extracurricular activities and volunteer positions are another great avenue to build vital skills despite not being formal work experience. For example, if you were a member of a university sports team, your ability to juggle school with a busy training schedule shows your time management skills and demonstrates your willingness to work hard to achieve results. Were you elected to student government? A role as treasurer likely taught you money management, responsibility and diplomacy.
You can also look for opportunities to get involved with a cause you are passionate about, or working with at a charity. This is a great place to build your skills and knowledge and gain valuable experience while making a difference. In addition, the contacts you make in these roles can act as a reference for you when you’re applying for entry-level positions later on.
5. Highlight your personal side projects
Nothing says you love your field more than spending your spare time engaging with the same subject matter. Do you have a blog or articles that you’ve written about your work? Maybe your classes have inspired you to start creative pursuits or activities? Leverage your personal side projects as a chance to talk about your passion for the field and show off your skills.
For example, are you a web developer who create apps and mobile games in your free time? Show off your latest project to a prospective employer to demonstrate your coding skills and creativity. Want to be a mechanic? Do you have hobby cars that you fix up in your spare time? This can be a good starting point to spark an interesting conversation with a hiring manager.
You may also want to develop a professional portfolio to showcase your work – just because it wasn’t done in a professional context doesn’t mean that it’s not impressive. Your portfolio could include school assignments, samples from your personal projects, or work completed at a volunteer or internship position. You can also add reports, multimedia projects, your personal website, as well as letters of recommendation, awards and honours. A sampling of your best work can help validate your abilities to a potential employer.
6. Network, network, network!
Networking and building relationships is one of the most powerful ways to get ahead in your career. People like to do business with those they like and trust. Therefore, having a big network of contacts can serve as a great resource for identifying and even recommending you for new opportunities.
You can connect with professionals in your field on LinkedIn by engaging with their content or sharing a cool article that you think may be of interest to them. You should also make it a top priority to attend career fairs and networking events. Dress professionally and prepare an elevator pitch that introduces who you are and what you’re great at. Lastly, you may want to consider ordering business cards to hand out to contacts. If anyone gives you their card, follow up with a personalized invitation to connect on LinkedIn the next day.
7. Optimize your resume and cover letter
Use your resume as an opportunity to stand out. It should be positive, memorable and highlight your strengths. For instance, instead of emphasizing your objectives in your cover letter, identify your top abilities and what you can do for the company. What skills and services can you provide that will deliver results? Don’t simply regurgitate your experience from your resume; use your cover letter as an opportunity to expand on these points and discuss why you’d be a great fit for that organization.
Also, don’t tell hiring managers why they should hire you – show them! List tangible outcomes that you can deliver where possible. For example. instead of just telling them that you are an awesome leader, back it up by explaining where, why, and how you have applied those skills. Lastly, it’s always a good idea to edit, re-edit and get a second read from friends and family. Silly spelling and grammar mistakes look sloppy and are the easiest way to get your resume tossed to the bottom of a hiring manager’s stack.
It can undoubtedly be challenging for new graduates to enter the workforce, especially if you don’t have a lot of relevant work experience. However, you probably know more than you think you do! Don’t underestimate the value of your educational and volunteer experience, as you’ve likely developed transferable skills in these roles. If you can apply even a few of our tips to your job hunt, you’ll be at an advantage when looking for entry-level positions.