Advice for Recent Grads and Career-Changers
In the world of job-searching and recruiting, when you hear the words “Age Discrimination” or “Ageism,” most people think of the all-too-common practice of discriminating against older people in the job market. However, there’s another side to that practice. “Overqualified” is only one end of the spectrum, while “Underqualified” is at the other end. Recent college graduates are now facing a job market that has radically changed over the last few years of economic downturn. Finding a decent job if you’ve had little or no actual real-world experience – other than academic – is harder now than it ever was before.
Two of my kids (twins, actually) are both seniors in college right now. Both are making plans for continuing post-graduate education. Expensive as that will be, I shudder to think what their chances of finding an actual job would be if they stopped where they are and entered the market in June – one with a degree in Biology, and the other with a degree in English. Both will graduate at the top of their class, have done several practical summer internships specific to their fields, and have glowing letters of recommendation. So what types of jobs would you think they’d be qualified for? (Can you say: “Would you like fries with that?”) How much earning power would you expect those expensive Bachelor’s Degrees to give them? What advice would I give to others who are in a similar position … young people with college degrees, but almost no practical job experience?
It’s a tough question – and one that I’ve been asked many times over my years as a recruiter. It is similar to the situation faced by job-seekers who might actually be older, but for one reason or another have decided to change careers in mid-stream and start down a new path. They might have gone back to school for a new degree, or simply made the decision to begin pursuing a new vocation … one in which they have no prior experience. I see that all the time. People who want to try sales (but have never done it before) … or people who get technical training or certifications in some IT niche that they’ve never had actual job experience with … or people who want to switch industries, thinking that their “transferable skills” will qualify them for jobs they’ve never done before. In all those cases, they face an extreme uphill battle finding a job in today’s employment market. Right now the competition for every job opening is fierce, and the market is overloaded with masses of unemployed or underemployed candidates – many of whom have years of practical and very specific job experience under their belts.
So what’s my advice? It’s not really too different from the advice I’ve given to other job-seekers who already have the experience that those younger or career-changing people do not. Present yourself – in both your résumé and online profiles – in such a way that you feature any and all experiences you have actually had in your target career – even if they are not actual jobs. And if you don’t have any experience to speak of … go get it! The most obvious starting points are Internships & Co-ops, and Volunteer Opportunities. Both can often get your “foot in the door” with a company that might potentially hire you in the future. Showing people what you can do, how well you can do it, and demonstrating your exceptional work ethic – even if it’s not in a paid position – can bring you to the attention of professionals who notice such things, and reward them when opportunities open up.
Internships & Co-ops
Internships & Co-ops in a new field are a great way to gain practical experience in a new career. When describing an internship or co-op on a résumé or online profile, don’t just list the place and your title. Expand on your responsibilities. Feature the relevant industry-specific skills you used. Describe specific projects you worked on. List any and all accomplishments you achieved while there. Use industry buzzwords and keywords in your descriptions so that you’ll be picked up on searches done by recruiters and HR people looking for candidates … and so that you’ll match job descriptions in your target industry.
Many job-seekers use volunteer work as a way of gaining experience in a new industry or job path. If you have volunteered somewhere, then list that volunteer position on your résumé. However, do NOT use the term “volunteer!” Simply list the organization and your title or role, describe your function, relevant skills used, and any accomplishments there just as you would with any of your other jobs. Let the fact that you are not being paid wait for an actual interview, where you should then disclose it. And as I said with internships & co-ops, use industry buzzwords and keywords in your descriptions of your volunteer work so that you’ll be picked up on searches done by recruiters and HR people looking for candidates … and so that you’ll match job descriptions in your target industry.
Finally – concentrate on Networking activities as your main method of job-seeking. [Read “How to Network: A Step-by-Step Guide for Job Searching” for details on how to network your way to a job.] Sending out a ton of résumés, answering online job postings or contacting recruiters would mostly be a waste of time for inexperienced job-seekers. The fact is that recruiters and HR people who screen the responses to online job postings will almost never consider an applicant with little or no experience. The only exception to that might be for a true “Entry-Level” job that clearly says “No Experience Necessary.” However, I would question the quality of that type of job situation. Yes, there are opportunities like that out there – but be careful, and do your homework on those companies and positions. As the saying goes … “buyer beware!”