Friday, July 30, 2010

When They Require Experience and You Have None by Tara Weiss

by: Tara Weiss

Lack of experience is often the biggest obstacle college graduates must overcome when entering the job market. Prospective employers can sound like a broken record, saying over and over, "You don't have enough experience"--followed by the devastating "We'll call you" (especially last year, when only 19.7 percent of graduates had a job lined up after graduating). So how do you get your foot in the door--how do you gain experience if you don't have any already?

Many new grads already have what recruiters are looking for. They just need to recognize it and package it properly in their resumes and cover letters. To begin with, think of experience you gained before you entered "the real world" that could apply. Consider including all the things you did during college, even those you wouldn't have considered job experience at the time.

"Off-the-job" training
Bill Warner, director of sales and recruiting at the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, oversees all the hiring of interns and recent graduates for sales and operations positions there. He says one of the best resume/cover letters he's seen recently came from a woman who described how her position as rush chair at her sorority had given her the leadership and project-management skills she needed to work at AstraZeneca. She told of the unique challenges of dealing with rush rules that were changed that year, as well as how she managed the process, calculated how many new members to bring in, and got all the other parts of the job done as well.

Warner, impressed, offered her a job even though she had never worked in pharmaceutical sales. "They do have experience, but they struggle with the bridge from what they've done in college, how to link it to the position they're interested in," he says.

Build bridges
To identify that bridge, look at the skills you displayed and tasks you pulled off in your college exploits. One applicant hurt his chances by failing to emphasize being editor in chief of his university's newspaper, Warner says. That activity involved numerous duties employers consider valuable experience, such as managing a staff, working with outside vendors, and balancing the newspaper and schoolwork.

When you interview with potential employers and the issue of experience comes up, be prepared with an answer that doesn't dwell on past jobs (or lack thereof)."Don't stress your work experience as much as your skill set," says Tarek Pertew, cofounder and director of marketing at the career website MyWorkster.

Educate yourself
When college experiences and your skill set aren't enough, try brushing up on a job's specific requirements, Pertew says. If you repeatedly hear that you lack a specific technical skill for the jobs you want, take classes to gain that competency. Add those classes to your resume as you continue your job search. "It shows that you have ambition," she says.

Volunteering pays
Another way to gain technical competence is by volunteering your professional skills in the service of a nonprofit. The monetary perks might not be there, but the equally important networking perks will be. For instance, if you're looking for a position in public relations or marketing, volunteer to help an organization in those areas. You'll expand your circle of networking contacts, gain valuable experience, and learn the trade. Ask the professionals you work with if they know of any opportunities in your field or anyone you should meet, and try to add to your skill set while you're at it.

Volunteering anywhere improves your resume, but if you can work with a nonprofit that has connections to a company you want to work for, that's even better. It shows you've done your homework about the firm, and it's a way to network your way to employees already there.

Consider temp work
Also, apply for temp work at staffing agencies that place people in your intended field. That way, you can gain experience and meet professionals to further add to your networking circle, and a temp job can sometimes lead to full-time work.

"Temp agencies are still hiring, because companies are still waiting to see how things will unfold in the third and fourth quarters," says Joanie Ruge, senior vice president of Adecco Group North America, a human resources services firm. "They may have openings for which they can't bring someone on full time. Temp workers give companies flexibility as they wait to see supply and demand. As the market turns, they'll look at the temps first when they're ready to hire permanently."

Always be networking
Meanwhile, join your industry's professional association, and attend its monthly meetings and conferences. Also, join a committee in the association, and take a leadership position, since that way you can meet some of your field's most active professionals. That's another good way to network with people who know of job openings. Don't be intimidated because you're younger than them all. They'll be impressed with your eagerness to break in to the field. "It shows you've got initiative and leadership abilities," says Joe Ruffolo, a career coach at

In short, networking is the most effective way to find a job in this economy, particularly if you don't have much professional experience. Whether you're volunteering, temping, or attending a summer barbecue, have a 30-second elevator pitch ready to share with people who ask what you'd like to be doing professionally. That's a brief explanation of what you'd like your next job to look like and what you've done in the past, whether it's school, internships, or full-time work.

Sometimes you just have to take any job. If there's a position you can get as a manager at the Gap or as an executive assistant, go for it. The trick will be to successfully market the skills you learned on that job when you meet a hiring manager for the job you really want.

5 Strategies for Staying Upbeat (And improving Your Chanes of Success)

by: Randall S. Hansen, Ph. D.

For many job-seekers, searching for a new job is a stressful experience. The end result, though, is usually a positive one in which the job-seeker is rewarded for his or her past accomplishments with a better job — a job that has more prestige, higher pay, and perhaps with a better organization.

But when you have to conduct a job-search in a weak job market, the stress level increases dramatically — especially if you are currently unemployed, expect to be let go from your current employer, or work in an industry or profession that has seen widespread job cuts.

To make matters worse, it’s hard not to get anxious and depressed from the daily economic and job news we receive. Just about every day we hear about another company announcing layoffs or some economist predicting more months of job losses and a sharp increase in the unemployment rate… leading many into the Job Market Blues.

So, when all this bad news abounds and adds to the stress you already feel in trying to find a new job, how do you keep your focus and stay upbeat? What’s the remedy? Granted, it can be difficult, but if you follow the five strategies in this article, you should be well on your way to overcoming the stress and anxiety and landing that next great job — or at least a job that will help you pay your bills.

1. Keep a positive focus. In a weak job market, employers that are actually hiring workers have a much greater selection of prospective candidates and will quickly eliminate any job-seekers who appear desperate or too negative.

Your goal, even if you are scrambling to pay your mortgage and put food on the table, is to appear outwardly positive. Employers seek job candidates who are confident and specific about the jobs they seek and the impact they can make in those positions.

You may need to consider temping or a survival job if you are currently unemployed while you seek a new job in your profession, and while that is not the ideal scenario, doing so will allow you to pay your bills, gain some renewed confidence, and give you an emotional boost that will help in your job interviews.

If you were downsized or fired, you face some additional challenges of convincing yourself that you are still a good job prospect. You should visit our Rebounding After a Layoff Tutorial.

One final tip. When the bad news is overwhelming or you are feeling angry and frustrated, try and find a way to step outside the bubble. Take a few hours to get away from all the bad news — do something enjoyable like going to the park or beach or down to the river to fish. Doing so will not make all the bad news disappear but will give you a mental break you need to face the next challenges.

2. Surround yourself with support. Do not suffer through a bad time alone. Seek out the emotional support of family and friends. Sometimes just talking out about our fears and the stress we are experiencing makes us feel better.

Whatever you do, don’t hide your problems from the people closest to you. There is no shame in being downsized or in struggling to find new employment. The comfort you can receive from a spouse, significant other, parent, or friend can be enough to give you the emotional boost you need to reinvigorate your job-search.

The other benefit from seeking the support of others is that the more people in your network of contacts that know you are seeking a job, the more likely you will uncover more job leads that you may never have found if people around you did not know you were seeking a new position.

One final tip. While using your existing network for support is a good start, consider taking additional steps to expanding your network. Join one or more community or professional organizations. An even better idea? Join together with other job-seekers in forming a job club, which has then dual benefits of offering support and potential job leads.

3. Don’t believe everything you hear or read. While much of the current employment news is certainly awful — and we sometimes feel badly reporting that news in the Quintessential Careers Blog— the reality is that many companies are hiring new employees every day.

Of course, it’s not just employment news that turns our stomachs, but all the other economic bad news — such as faltering banks, the weak dollar, rising inflation, and a president who wishes he had a magic wand to fix all the problems.

But there are also programs and professionals that can assist you in improving your job-hunting techniques or offering retraining opportunities. And the Congress is working on extending unemployment benefits and other economic packages to assist people struggling with bad mortgages.

One final tip. If you watch your local television news, turn it off — at least until you have a new job. Several organizations have proven that most local news programs sensationalize bad news for ratings, and the more you watch these programs, the more you feel that the world is collapsing around you — and you simply do not need that kind of atmosphere when you are struggling to keep your confidence.

4. Have long-term focus, but short-term goals. The most successful job-seekers have a long-term career strategy developed with smaller short-term goals to assist them in achieving that long-term goal.

Your most basic goal may be to simply find a new job in your field, but even in this job market, that could be more long-term. Instead of dwelling too much on getting the job, put more emphasis on the process of finding the job.

In other words, create daily job-hunting goals for yourself. Make it a goal to accomplish several things each day, such as tracking down job leads, applying for jobs, making new network contacts, following up job leads, going on job interviews.

One final tip. It’s a bit of a cliche, but the best way to really focus on finding a new job is to treat the job-search like a job in itself. Invest as much time, energy, and commitment to finding a new job as you do at your job. The more things you can do today to find a new job will result in more job opportunities — maybe not tomorrow or even next month, but the rewards will come to you.

5. Remember that everything counts. Of course, everything counts — but let’s use a marketing example to demonstrate that when you are seeking a new job you are basically marketing yourself to prospective employers.

Marketing is not just about having a great product, but also having the right packaging, distribution, price, and promotion to attract consumers. There are many stories of great products that have failed miserably because of some flaw in the other elements of marketing.

If you are struggling with your job-search, review your entire marketing package:

Your product. All products need some freshening at times, but they also need to have obvious features that are in demand. Review your accomplishments, education and training, and other elements that make you — or can make you — a strong candidate. Just as consumers love new and shiny products, so too do employers seek job candidates who have the best mix of education, training, and accomplishments — all packaged in a friendly, positive, and professional style.

Your promotion. The three most important elements in promoting yourself to employers are coverletters, resumes, and interviewing technique. If you are not getting any interviews, the problem could very well be with your resume or cover letter; seek advice from experts about the quality of your resume and cover letters (from local career one-stop centers, former bosses, your college career center, or a resume service). If you are going on interviews but not obtaining any offers, the problem may be with your interviewing style; consider asking a hiring manager who did not hire you to critique your interviewing style, or consider conducting a mock interview with someone in your network or a local career professional.

Your distribution channels. The vast majority of job-seekers who struggle in any economy to find a job typically are only utilizing a small part of their job-search distribution channels. When job-hunting, your most important channel for uncovering job lead is your network of contacts — the vast majority of new hires result from a personal recommendation of a network contact. And with the expansion of Web 2.0 tools, networking has exploded online. Besides networking, other channels for uncovering jobleads includes: Web job boards (national, local, and industry/profession), company job postings, trade publications, local newspapers, cold calling, recruiters, career fairs, and career centers (local, university).

Your pricing. In any job market, it’s important to have a realistic idea of your value to prospective employers, but it is even more important in a weak market to not price yourself out of the chance to obtain the interview or receive the job offer. Use industry salary information as well as salary Website information to determine the salary you seek — especially if employers ask for that information from the beginning with a salary request. You should also have a strong understanding of the salary negotiation process so you’re ready when the time arises. Finally, you typically should not undervalue yourself when job-hunting, but in bad times, you may be forced to take a big cut in salary just to pay the bills; if so, stay determined that it is just a temporary setback until the market gets better or until you can find a better job.

One final tip. Whether you believe the power that marketing has in job-hunting, the most important thing to remember is that you should always put your best foot forward in all aspects of job-hunting. You cannot be defeatist. You cannot appear demanding. You cannot appear or act overqualified. If you are not getting any interviews or if you are obtaining interviews only to be told you are underqualified oroverqualified, the problem is indeed in the marketing of yourself — and you’ll need to fix it before you’ll be successful.

Final Thoughts
In a struggling economy, the Job Market Blues affect us all. Staying upbeat in these weak economic times is tough even when you are happily employed and not seeking new employment. Job-hunting in such a job market can place a great strain on your self-confidence and outlook for the future. By following the advice in this article, you’ll not only regain some of your confidence but ideally uncover ways you can enhance and improve your job-search, leading to both short-term and long-term job goal successes — and beating the blues.