Hey gang, I’m very happy to today to share some expert career tips from Sarah Landrum. Sarah is a freelance writer and career blogger. She is also the founder of Punched Clocks, a blog for career happiness and success. I LOVE her advice that when employers talk about experience they actually mean something different.
How to overcome the experience gap
A recent story in the New York Times captures just how rough things are for young workers right now. College debt is up, median pay and net worth are down and an overwhelmingly disproportionate percentage of unemployed persons are millennials.
To cap things off, the entry-level job is slowly going extinct, with starting positions asking for 2-3 years of experience. As a result, many recent graduates have been caught in a frustrating catch-22: no one will hire them because they have no experience, but they can’t get experience because no one will hire them.
So, what can you do to break that cycle and bridge the experience gap between what your resume says, and what you’re actually capable of?
Education Is Not Experience
The current gap between graduates’ abilities and employer expectations can’t be stressed enough. A recent survey found that across the spectrum, the majority of employers don’t feel that new graduates have the skills required by the marketplace.
While commentators may endlessly debate the root cause — some say colleges aren’t performing their function, while others argue employers’ expectations are too high — the results speak for themselves: your degree, while certainly necessary, is not the shining accomplishment it once was.
For that reason, a resume that devotes the majority of space to academic accomplishments simply isn’t effective anymore.
In your job hunt, keep your academic accomplishments short, sweet and to the point: where you went, how you did and what you learned.
Find Your Own Experience
A survey by the Chronicle of Higher Education of more than 50,000 employers found that across the board, managers ranked things like internships, employment during college and volunteer experience above things like relevance of coursework, college GPA and college reputation.
However, just because experience is favored above academics doesn’t mean you have to take a string of no-paying jobs just to earn some street cred.
What it does mean is that it’s not enough just to earn a degree: you need to demonstrate your abilities in a tangible way, whether that’s a job, volunteer work, military experience or even something like a Kickstarter campaign.
In most cases, landing that dream job is a case of fake-it-to-make-it. If you want an employer to pay you to do something, go do that thing on your own first.
For example, if you’re trying to get a job as a social worker, you might volunteer at a homeless shelter or become a Big Brother or Sister.
If you want to work as a PR specialist, show that you can do so by building your own brand on Twitter. And if you’re trying to land a job as a writer, buddy, you better have your own blog cooking up fresh stories on a regular basis. Because at the end of the day…
Remember: Skills Pay the Bills
Here’s the thing — when employers say they want “experience” what they really mean is “skills.” They want to know whether you possess the abilities necessary to perform the job, and crucially, what you’ve accomplished that proves it.
If you don’t have direct workplace experience to list, your resume’s next immediate goal should be to describe what you can do. Start broad (“graphic design”) and then get specific (“Comfortable with Adobe Photoshop, Flash, AIR”).
While you’re doing that, make sure to emphasize crucial soft skills like leadership and critical thinking — studies show employers value them just as much as hard skills, and in some cases, even more.
Your goal here should be to highlight your greatest strengths, then demonstrate in a concrete way. Are you a “hard worker?” Prove it. Having made Employee of the Month at Wal-Mart may not net you a job in marketing, but as a passing mention in one bullet-point of a soft skills list, it’s more compelling than you might think.
Which leads me to my next point…
Practice Creative Contextualization
Lying on a resume is a terrible idea, and fudging isn’t much better. But while making up lies is a great way to find the exit, creatively presenting existing facts can be an excellent way to get a foot in the door.
Anywhere your resume feels thin, take a look at everything you’ve done — clubs you’ve belonged to, events you’ve attended, even weekend hobbies — and ask yourself, “How does this thing make me a better person, and what’s the best way to explain that to someone in the context of a job?”
For example, soccer has almost nothing to do with IT. But if you coach a soccer team or organize a local league, you can absolutely spin that as evidence of leadership abilities.
Don’t believe me? Level 70 paladin and guild-leader Stephen Gillett puts his World of Warcraft experience on his resume — and credits that fact for having landed the job of Chief Information Officer at Starbucks.
Ignore the Requirements
The best advice I can give you for overcoming the experience gap is this: ignore it. Remember at all times that job postings are written by human beings, and very seldom are they written by someone who does that job themselves.
As a result, a line like “1-2 years’ experience preferred” on an entry-level marketing position is not a hard requirement put there to chase away someone who only has 9 months under their belt. It’s a best guess, a broad gesture designed to describe a certain kind of candidate, and you don’t need to meet that description to a T in order to get an interview.
When all is said and done, there are only two questions that any employer really cares about:
Are you capable of doing the job, and can you prove it?
Sarah Landrum is a freelance writer and career blogger. She is also the founder of Punched Clocks, a blog for career happiness and success. For more great tips, subscribe to her newsletter and follow her on social media. You can find her Tweeting @SarahLandrum