July 23, 2018
“How am I supposed to get experience if every job I consider requires at least one year of experience?"
This is a common question that student job-seekers often ask me when reading the requirements of job postings. This does seem like a catch-22, but keep in mind that job descriptions often reflect the ideal candidate employers seek. You do not need to meet all the requirements in order to apply for a position.
That said, you do want to highlight the essential skills you bring that will help employers meet their needs. As Katy Montgomery, global director for the Career Development Centre at INSEAD, emphasizes, “even if you don't have a previous job or internship experience, you have both hard (technical, measurable, teachable skills) and soft (self-developed and harder to measure) skills and an interest in a particular industry." All you need are opportunities to help you show these to employers.
Below, I have listed five ideas you may consider to show transferrable skills on your resume. Notice that the theme of all five is initiative. You cannot wait for a job to come your way -- you want to create your own opportunities and show an important skill: The ability to take initiative, something all employers value, regardless of industry.
An easy way students can show skills is through involvement with student organizations and clubs. “This shows an interest in a particular area or cause and engagement in the university community beyond academics," Montgomery says. “Employers are looking for well-rounded individuals who show a natural curiosity and ability to multitask." Although academic success is important, what you do outside the classroom shows employers you have the skills they value.
Carefully select the clubs or organizations you want to join and focus on quality over quantity. Often, students think that the more organizations they list on their resumes, the more impressed employers will be. Not quite. A robust experience with one organization will highlight a variety of skills and result in a more effective story to share during an interview than a list of ten organizations you joined as a member.
Once you identify a club or an organization, be active in your approach. Avoid being a passive member who reaps the benefits and contributes nothing. Have an idea for an event? Pitch and execute. Want to flex your marketing skills? Propose a strategy to promote a club or an event. Active engagement is what makes student club experience work for you on your resume.
Another activity Montgomery recommends is volunteering, and she highlights the importance of being intentional. As you volunteer, reflect on what you are learning and point out those skills both in your resume and in a story you can share in an interview. Volunteering can teach you “how to work with others .... and practice empathy," Montgomery points out. And a story about teamwork or leadership is much more powerful than a broad statement like I am a team player or I have strong leadership skills.
You can use websites such as Idealist to look for volunteer opportunities, but even better, you can create your own opportunities. You love radio and would like to gain experience in the field but there are no volunteer or internship options available? Reach out to your local radio station with a proposal of how you can contribute as a volunteer.
The key is not to volunteer for the sake of volunteering. Be intentional as you create or identify opportunities so you can show the skills employers want. Taking care of animals at a local shelter shows you care about a specific issue, but organizing an Adopt a Pet Open House takes your experience to the next level.
Competitions allow you to apply what you have learned in your classes to a real case and thus show content knowledge as well as analytical and critical thinking skills. Depending on your area of interest, you have a choice of competitions: Science, writing, art, coding, programming, business and public speaking. Ask your academic adviser, professors or career counselor about available competitions in your area. You may also want to check out the student competitions website.
An opportunity I often recommend to my students is joining Toastmasters International. Grace Li, a student I worked with two years ago, not only joined a local Toastmasters club, but also succeeded in placing second in a regional competition in Washington, D.C. “The Toastmasters competition gave me the confidence to step out of my comfort zone," Li reflects. “It was a good opportunity to show confidence, ability to work under pressure and willingness to embrace challenges in a fast-paced work environment." Li relies on all those skills in her current role as a material control specialist at BMW.
Presenting at conferences lets you establish yourself as a content expert and practice your public speaking skills. Many honor societies or professional affiliations have regional or national conferences, and students are invited to present their work. Depending on your field of study, research relevant events in the field and consider joining as a presenter to show employers you are genuinely interested in a specific topic.
As a student, I was accepted in the Alpha Chi Honor Society and had the opportunity to present twice, at regional and national conventions. Knowing that in my chosen career I will often have to lead small and large workshops, I saw the Alpha Chi conventions as opportunities to practice public speaking. Furthermore, presenting allowed me to connect with influencers in the field and led me on a path of establishing myself as a professional.
In 2018, you do not have to wait for a job or an internship to help you polish your skills. Creating your website or blog, for example, allows you to showcase content knowledge as well as writing and web-design skills. In your work, you may want to focus on content relevant to a target employer or industry. If you are not ready to start your own product, consider contributing to an existing one on your campus. At the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School, for example, students are encouraged to contribute as writers for Carey the Torch, the official career development blog.
You can also initiate your own research project and use the technical skills employers in your field value. An independent research project could be a great opportunity to work closely with a professor you admire, which may lead to a stronger network and a recommendation when you start interviewing.
Bonus Tip: Build A Strong Network
Regardless of how much experience you have, it is hard to move forward unless you build a strong network. Your resume and cover letter can only take you so far. Employers look for people they can trust, and past experiences often show them whether you are trustworthy. When your experience is limited, meeting influencers becomes vital. If you are not sure where to start, look no further than the five ideas mentioned above. Each one is perfect for expanding your network.
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