So, you’ve graduated college and now you’re excited to enter the world of work. Keen to step onto the career ladder you’ve eagerly started to apply for jobs but, bewilderingly, you just keep hearing no and now your enthusiasm is starting to ebb. Feedback tells you that they “chose someone more qualified” but this just leaves you feeling puzzled: how someone can be more qualified for an entry-level role? You have all the requirements, a degree in your pocket and a history of good grades - so what’s the problem? The issue lies in the evolution of the entry-level job. Due to an increasingly competitive job market, entry-level roles have become much sparser and so, naturally, more difficult to obtain. In order to filter through the high numbers of applications employers are now adding a list of hidden requirements which, unbelievably, make some graduates under-qualified for these entry-level positions. So what makes a graduate ‘qualified’? Previous experience.
When employers are presented with a queue of enthusiastic graduates, all looking to prove themselves in their first role, they have to narrow down the selection process. Previous experience shines on a resume and singles out impressive individuals. In order to be that stand-out candidate you need to invest time in boosting the previous experience section on your own resume, otherwise you will be lost in the crowd. Unfortunately, this creates another problem. Graduates are now realising that previous experience is a trait that puts them above the rest, so off they go in their masses to find it. Due to this increased demand, work experience is becoming a limited commodity and now in some cases you actually need experience to secure experience! It’s a catch-22: a competitive job market means you can’t get the job without experience and you can’t get the experience because of competition. You are now presented with two options:
- Option 1: admit defeat – you’re not the working type anyway and early mornings are way too gloomy. Time to get comfy on the couch because you are there for the long-term.
- Option 2: get proactive – yes, you may have been perfect for that role but someone else was better and this is something you need to get used to if you want to succeed in the job market. Dust yourself off and get clever – there may have been someone better but there are plenty of people worse, you just need to work out the best way to highlight this.
For those of you who chose option 2, you’ve already demonstrated your commitment to the cause - now you just need to show the employers. First off, you need to understand what work experience actually means. Many graduates believe that experience needs to be a physical industrial placement but this isn’t completely true. Although often valuable, previous experience isn’t limited to the workplace. When confronted with a resume, an employer is usually looking for one of two things: hard skills or soft skills. Hard skills are those easily measurable: languages, for example, or a competency with a specific computer programme. These are the skills that graduates seem to worry most about as they seem most intimidating when going up against. However, numerous occupations do not require such concrete skillsets; in fact, several employers are more interested in soft skills. These are the abilities that cannot be as easily assessed because, more often than not, they cannot be taught. Graduates often overlook soft skills, regarding them as weak or less valuable when, actually, the very fact that these skills cannot be taught makes them more desirable. The truth of the matter is that no matter how ‘hands-on’ a job may be, if you can’t work in a team, or get along with superiors, or voice yourself effectively, then, realistically, you just aren’t going to make a good impression – no matter how good your German may be! At the end of the day, an organization can teach an employee how to work a machine or use a program, but they cannot teach them how to get along with their colleagues. This fundamental understanding hides the answer to getting around the catch-22 of graduate employment. You may find it difficult to land a placement that will develop your hard skills but the nature of soft skills means that you can create your own work experience that will highlight your talents - and that will go a long way to impressing employers.
In today’s world there are plenty of opportunities to take your career into your own hands. For the current generation’s tech-savvy graduates there have never been so many outlets that can be utilised to develop and showcase skills. Social networks, blogging sites and consumer- to-consumer selling online platforms have opened doors to this millennium’s inventive youth. Keen to learn and be apart of the advancing world of technology, it is often these graduates who make the strongest impressions as they know how to take advantage of the opportunities that surround them. A blog, for example, shows passion, commitment and insightfulness; bloggers also tend to have strong communication skills and an aptitude for research based projects. These are the kind of transferable skills that employers will look for when CV-searching, and they require no workplace experience to demonstrate.
The first step when building your own work experience is understanding what you hope to get out of it, that way you can choose a project that relates to the industry you wish to work in. Different industries require different soft skills and you need to arm yourself with the ones most relevant to the job you aim to secure: the marketing industry may need strong communication skills while the world of design demands creativity, sales needs motivation whereas IT looks for adept problem solvers. Putting together a list of industry requirements will give you a clear goal and will therefore make you more focused in your search for the perfect graduate job.
Now you have your list of skills, you need to plan a project that will showcase them best. In order to get the most out of your DIY work experience, you need to make sure you commit to it too. Starting a blog on a whim and uploading the odd angry rant about Justin Beiber just isn’t going to cut it. If popular culture interests you that’s great, you just need to make sure you are consistent with your updates – otherwise it shows employers more negative traits about your character than it does positive. Perhaps writing just isn’t your forte? There are plenty of other avenues to explore. The world of YouTube, for example, provides a fantastic platform for those wishing to share their word in a more technological way. Building your own YouTube channel is a brilliant way to present yourself to employers; it shows creativity, an engaging personality and tech abilities that many companies would find extremely attractive. In fact, there are many YouTubers out there who have turned their channel into successful careers due to on-going commitment and hard work. Extra curricular activities don’t have to be limited to the web; doing something as simple as committing to a sports team can exhibit a lot more about your personality than you may realize. Sports people are motivated, energetic, passionate and, above all, a team player.
Putting your efforts into projects such as these can really make your resume shine. Not only does it highlight your most valuable skills, it gives employers an idea about who you are as a person – and bringing personality to a resume is always a good thing. Yes, the graduate job market is a congested one but don’t fall into the trap of allowing opportunities to pass you by using competition as an excuse. By getting proactive and investing time into DIY work experience you can effectivel