Many people, particularly those new to the work force or those reentering
after a hiatus, claim that they have "no experience". But, of course,
everyone has some experience at something, except for perhaps a day-old
infant. People who discount their own experience tend to neglect to tell
prospective employers about it, and the prospective employers discount
them, too. It's a vicious cycle. The prospective employee may represent
him/herself as having "no experience" but a
willingness perhaps to work hard and learn. And the prospective employer,
sensing their lack of certainty, gets "cold feet" and goes on to the next
candidate. The prospective employee, in turn, "never hears anything," or at
least anything useful. Frustrated and self-doubting, the prospective
employee goes to the next interview a bit more frustrated and a bit less
confident. And the cycle repeats itself, with the prospective employee
becoming just a little more bitter and a little less confident each time.
So, how does a college student who is preparing for a future in the work force avoid this vicious cycle? Consider six possible steps.
1. Define your ideal job
First, it is important to define, in explicit detail, your ideal job. What would you be doing? Where would you be doing it?
2. Be well aware of your professional talents and skills
A second step is to define the experience that you can bring to any work setting. Starting tomorrow, catalogue exactly how you spend your time for
the next two or three days, from morning to night. List each activity in
which you engage. How are you spending your time? Next to your list draw
three columns; place a check in one of the three categories: (1) I love
doing this, (2) I don't mind doing this, (3) I'd rather not do this. Now,
you have a list of things with which you have experience.
If you are a student, your list may include: organizing tasks, reading,
memorizing, researching, Web-based research, writing and interacting with
others. Don't forget to consider your hobbies or other interests. For
example, if you are active in your fraternity or sorority, you may have
developed excellent leadership and administrative skills. It's hard to
imagine that you might acquire skills from your active social life - the fact that a lot of people want to date you, for example. But, these "soft"
skills, knowing how to relate to others and getting them to like you, are very
valuable to some employers such as those in marketing, sales, conference
planning, higher education, etc.
3. Incorporate all of your skills into your resume in a way that enhances
them - not diminishes them
people differentiate between their volunteer and paid experience, this is a
mistake. Employers care most about what you can do for them - not where
you acquired the skill or whether you were paid to learn it. Describing
experience as a volunteer is a way of minimizing it,
especially in a society where some measure self-worth by the size of their
paychecks. Instead, create a heading such as: "professional experience" or
"professional and academic experience" and place your relevant experience
below it. For example, a student who has written numerous research papers
could use the heading, "research and writing experience". And, then,
describe the experience: "conducted extensive literature reviews in the
social sciences, summarized literature".
4. Acquire experience through internships and volunteer activities
What if you want a job that requires experience that you do not have?
What if you want to be a Web designer or a public relations
writer but do not have related experience? Here's where volunteering or
interning is an excellent idea. Do your best to seek out an experience in
which you can develop useful skills and hopefully, useful contacts.
Ideally, volunteer or intern in a place where you would like to be hired.
Then, do a great job.
If you are uncertain about how to obtain internship experience, check with
your advisor or with a favorite faculty member. Chances are that your
school has an internship program and that you may be able to receive
academic credit for your internship.
5. Create work samples
What if you are self-taught? If you want to do something in
which you have no formal training, create some work samples. Let your
portfolio speak for itself.
6. Network informally with those in a position to hire you
In this day and age, it is easy to network informally with those in a
position to hire you. Start with your faculty. Talk with them about your
interests and goals. Seek their advice.
Beyond the ivory tower, join their listservs. Just be sure to lurk before
you post. Learn about the community. Give yourself a few weeks to learn
from other people's successes and failures. After learning the "lay of the
land," post something that displays your skills. For example, offer the
solution to someone's problem. Bosses love people who can solve their
problems! Maintain a presence by posting helpful information, periodically.
Initially, don't be overt about asking for a job. Just use your skills to
be helpful. After you have established a positive presence, you can network
with fellow subscribers online and off.