“Prior experience preferred.” “The other candidate had more experience.” “We are looking for someone a bit older.”
Rejection. We’ve all been there. I remember job hunting early in my career and feeling like there was no hope for me. Entry-level jobs required 3-4 years of experience. Isn’t that what entry-level jobs are for?!
It’s defeating searching for a job and only encountering people who want you to have experience — but won’t help you gain that experience. It can be frustrating and disheartening, and leaves young professionals feeling lost.
It often feels like success in the professional world is solely based on what internship you had during college or what your first job was, and sometimes, that’s true. (But you don’t want to work for those people anyway.) Success can also be found in the places you least expect it. It can be found at a social gathering, at a university event, in the classroom; it can be found in connection.
The best way to learn about this is to actually talk with someone who has boots on the ground. By learning from people actually in the role, you may learn that that’s not actually the job for you, or you may realize it is exactly what you want. Talking to professionals gives you an opportunity to discover careers you never knew existed.
Where to start?
It’s easy! Start with people in your life. If you’re interested in marketing, find someone who actually works in marketing. Don’t know anyone? That’s okay, most businesses and organizations regardless of their nature have some sort of marketing or communications department, so someone you know could connect you to someone in the field.
If you don’t know anyone personally who will be able to connect you, most schools have alumni associations or career centers who are passionate about connecting students to individuals who may be able to help them.
When I was a senior Journalism major, I connected with an alumni of my university who worked in TV. Not only did I get to pick her brain about working in broadcast, but she had a friend who was the Editor-in-Chief of GOLF Magazine, and she connected us for a call. I got to ask him what skills were most valuable in his field, how he got his job, and tips for job hunting after graduation. It was one of the most valuable experiences of my whole college career!
If you don’t have access to university resources, hop on LinkedIn and start messaging. Look into different job titles related to your interests and find those people on LinkedIn or other networking services. While it may seem weird to send a message, asking for an interview, most people are eager to share their experience and help a young professional. When connecting, look for people who work for companies with job openings that excite you.
PRO TIP: Don’t be pushy! Explain who you are, what you’re interested in doing, and be respectful of their time. Here’s an example of a great LinkedIn message that impressed me:
My name is [Jane Doe] and I am a student at the University of Central Florida. I stumbled across your profile and found it inspiring as a Communications major and wanted to seek your insight. Is it okay I ask you a few questions for professional guidance?
Once you have secured the connection make sure you are prepared to put your best foot forward.
Do your research
Understanding the role is imperative, but understanding the culture of the company is also crucial. You want to be able to show that you fit within their existing world. Taking a look at the company’s values (you can usually find them on a website) is a great starting point. This will also determine if the company will fit with your personal values.
My biggest tip is this: never sacrifice who you are and what you care about for a job; there is always somewhere that will appreciate who you are — not who they want you to be.
In terms of the interview, understanding the job posting is the best place to start. You can tailor your answers based off of what the company is looking for, while still being honest. When answering questions, you want to be confident, not cocky. Advocate for yourself while still being someone you, too, would want to work with.
Close the Loop
Two words: Follow. Up. Make sure to thank them for their time and support. It is okay to touch base following the interview, in fact you should. This step further shows interest and dedication.
Landing a job is not going to be an overnight process (if it is for you, tell me your secret). It is something that takes time and determination. Finding the perfect work environment though is so rewarding, making it well worth the effort.