Your phone buzzes, and you can’t help but feel a little excitement. Maybe it’s an email from one of the roughly 5 bajillion companies you’ve applied to over the past few weeks.
For a moment, your heart races. Maybe this is it! You did have a good feeling about one of those 17,000 cover letters you sent out yesterday. It was the perfect blend of witty and amusing; you’re pretty sure you’ve earned a black belt in the humblebrag. This could really be it…
But no, all that comes crashing down in an instant. It’s just another template rejection. Le sigh.
Guest writer Mitch Lee has been there, stacking up rejection letters like it was going out of style. But he eventually realized that college had actually given him some marketable skills that he could use to get employers’ attention. Here’s his story—and how you can use the skills YOU learned in college to land yourself a job.
So you finally graduated, and now it’s time to start a new journey in life. It’s been a rough four years, but you made it through and you have the degree to prove it. Now you can finally put all of that hard work into action and apply your skills while you look for your dream job.
Things don’t go as planned, however. One after another, employers give this response: “We appreciate you taking the time to apply. However, we are currently seeking a candidate whose experience more closely fits our needs.” It’s heartbreaking, but it is a fact of life. Employers seek employees with experience.
I graduated in May 2013 from Oklahoma State with a degree in Health Education. I wanted to help lead my local community towards healthy habits and had the drive to make it happen. I just didn’t have the job.
I applied for several positions all over the continent and was turned down by all employers. I began noticing a trend in the field; every position I applied for had a minimum experience qualification of five years.
I finally asked myself, “How do I get experience if no one will hire me?” That was when things began to change. I used everything I learned in college to develop marketable skills that employers seek. It was easier than I thought, and it basically involved leveraging the knowledge from some of my non-degree related courses. This is how I made it happen.
1. Research and Data Analysis
The first skill that I leveraged on my résumé and in my professional work life was research and data analysis. Every college student has had to research and analyze data at some point in their college career. This skill is used in professional settings to evaluate a multitude of key performance indicators.
In my case, that included things like the success of a health education program. At first, I simply researched health education job postings and grouped common qualifications that employers were seeking. I knew exactly what they wanted: data analysis, public speaking, outreach, and leadership. With this in mind, I set aside my mornings to read reports on sedentary lifestyles and find commonalities in my local community. I came up with a plan to build my experience. I was going to create a long-term community walking program by myself and do all the research and data analysis—even if no one was paying me to do it.
2. Public Speaking
If you’ve ever taken a speech class or given a presentation to your classmates you’ve already gained a valuable skill: public speaking. Many careers involve speaking to stakeholders and board members in both one-on-one and group settings. If you had anywhere near the number of class projects that I endured, you should be in good shape to give presentations in a professional setting.
I had my plan to create the community walking program, and I finally completed the research and mocked up the program plan. I just needed to get the word out. I posted on multiple websites, contacted local magazine publishers, and I set a date to meet at the public library to talk about my plan.
On the meeting day, a whopping 14 people showed up. For a first-time meetup, 14 was great, but I needed to utilize my speech skills to deliver a message to the group. Most of them were interested in leading the walks in their neighborhood, and agreed to meet every other month to discuss progress. With this practice polishing my public speaking skills, I was on my way to building up a marketable résumé.
As mentioned before, I had contacted local magazine publishers for support. This seemed like a daunting task at first, but it was relatively easy due to my college experience. It’s pretty common in college to reach out and network with others to get an internship or to complete a class project, right?
Communication and relationship-building with clientele or partners is an important part of marketing—and lots of other fields. Conducting outreach is also a big component of job hunting. You’ll use it to find people to invite to informational interviews, to reach out to your network to find out about opportunities, and maybe even to pain-spot your way to a job.
Leadership is a skill that students develop throughout college from classes that require group effort. You can also build up your leadership skills by participating in college clubs and associations. Highlight your leadership skills to employers through examples of when you had to take initiative to complete an important school project.
Personally, I led my local community walking program until new leaders were trained to be self-sufficient. During my job search, I highlighted this to employers and received positive responses.
At the end of my community walk initiative, I had received an offer from a well-known online health brand, but I declined. I realized that the kind of community health I would like to do began with action.
I decided to take a different approach in which I would market my skills to employers. I used all of the above skills and skill sets from a lifetime of passion to begin a career in a completely different realm from health education.
From these four core skills that I learned in college, I was actually able to discover and land a job that’s even better suited to my skills and talents. It turns out that these four skills were so versatile that I did not have to attach myself to one career—and you shouldn’t have to, either.
Homework time! Do you have any of the skills Mitch mentions here? If so, you don’t need to wait for someone to pay you for them! Come up with a project that gives you the opportunity to showcase your marketable skills. Document each step and the outcome, and start to include this information in your résumé and cover letters. Also, be sure to check out the story of the classmates who started STEMbuds for another example of a side project that helped students figure out their marketable skills.
Mitch Lee is an advocate for higher education with the University Alliance on behalf of Villanova University. He recently graduated from Oklahoma State University with his Bachelor of Science in Health Education. His hobbies are writing resourceful information at http://mitchlee.org and taking long walks on the beach.