Your 5-Step Guide to Recognizing And Using Your Experience in Your Job Search


Yes! You’ve found a job description that speaks to you. Happily you hum to yourself as you scroll through the duties listed.

Then you stop. Whoa. It’s like hitting a brick wall.

THREE to FIVE years of experience? For an entry-level job? How the heck do they expect you to have three to five years of experience when you just graduated?! Are internships really today’s entry-level job?

There may be a bit of truth to that statement, but don’t freak out. You also have a lot more experience than you might think.

Here’s your five-step guide to recognizing and using experience you already have to boost your résumé and your chances of landing a job.

1. Realize that part-time job experience can come in handy

We know that those part-time jobs you held while in college or even in high school seem completely useless when it comes to applying to real careers, but the skills you gained from them can actually be applicable.

Elle was a recent graduate who found that part-time jobs were helpful in her post-grad job search. She shares on her blog all of the skills that she’s picked up from working part-time in retail as well as working as a part-time research assistant.

And don’t discount volunteering. There are so many skills and networks that you can develop while helping out your local non-profit. This article on Monster shows which aspects of your volunteer experience really impress employers.

When applying to her pharmaceutical internship, Brooke Matsanka was surprised by how interested employers were in her past retail experience. They wanted her to have the people and communication skills to be able to interact with customers at the pharmacy. Yes, she was studying to be a pharmacist, but it was this retail experience that set her apart and landed her the job.

Deirdre Quirk had a similar experience when applying to her job as a customer care representative with the online jeweler Chloe + Isabel. While in school she had worked for the Alumni and Parent Relations office, as an Orientation Assistant, and then an Admissions Intern. All of these part-time positions ended up providing her with the customer care skills that eventually landed her the job.

2. Don’t let yourself be limited by your major

Not only did Deirdre’s part-time job experience help her land the job, but her Theatre major did as well. Think about when you call a customer service line. Who would you rather talk to when you’re frustrated? Someone who’s calm and sweet or someone who gets defensive? I’m going to go with someone who remains in control of their own emotions, is empathetic, and willing to calmly help you out.

Well, being a Theatre major taught Deirdre to be very aware of her actions. This awareness helps her to deal with customers who might be upset or demanding. She is able to approach these interactions in a calm and helpful way.

Need another example? No problem. Lauren Scherr was an English major who found her studies extremely useful as she entered the public relations field. She realized that she had a lot (and I mean a lot) of experience analyzing stories and figuring out what made them meaningful.

When she later applied to jobs in the public relations field, she saw how much her education related to this field. In PR, you have to look at clients’ backstories, analyze them, and figure out what makes them unique and interesting enough to pitch to journalists. She ended up having a lot more experience in this profession than she thought.

3. Re-imagine your experience with a new perspective

This is something that James Citrin wrote about in a LinkedIn article titled “How to Get a Job When You Don’t Have the Experience.” He uses an example of a Geography major who was applying to a job that required project management skills. At first he didn’t think that he had them, but after taking another look at his time in college, he noticed that he had managed a trip across Eastern Europe with a group of friends (researching and organizing itineraries, booking reservations and flights, collecting money, etc.). He had project management skills but just hadn’t noticed.

We talked to our Vice President of Engineering here at AfterCollege about how recent graduates can talk about relevant work experience. Here’s what he had to say about students who are just about to enter into the workforce and aren’t sure if they have any “relevant” experience because they don’t have formal work experience.

“Maybe [with] some majors, it’s a little bit easier than others. I think in Computer Science, specifically, there’s a lot of class work that [students] might do in a solo setting or in a team setting that I think is really relevant. And they should treat that experience as relevant work experience because it takes a lot of work to prepare a team project—they have to decide how to break up the work, there are team leaders, team participants, and that’s not unlike what it’s like in the real world when we break up a project in our field. So I think there’s a lot of relevant experience that these students do on a daily basis that relates to the job that they’ll be doing.”

He also explained what he expects from entry-level engineering candidates when they come to an interview.

“One of the things I like to do in an interview is pull up a shared Google doc and start some programming problems of varying degrees—easy to difficult. The expectation is not that they’ll be able to complete any of them, really, but for them to be able to articulate and talk through their problem-solving process. In some cases these programming problems are very difficult and there’s probably no chance that they’ll get them right but I’m not really interested in whether they get them right or not. I’m interested in how well do they keep their composure, and not get flustered, lose their concentration.”

You are equipped with more than you think, but you should also understand that you’re not expected to understand everything right now. You’re just expected to work with what you do have and learn along the way.

4. Identify the “marketable” skills that college gave you

College has also given you skills that can be used to market yourself. We had the chance to talk with recent graduate Mitch Lee about using his college education to stand out to employers.

He was having a lot of trouble finding a job because (like everyone else) he didn’t have the “right” experience. After a while, Mitch became extremely frustrated and realized that he had to take a different approach to the job search.

That’s when he took matters into his own hands, searched for skills he already possessed (and most of these were things he had picked up in college) and set to work making himself marketable to employers.

Here is what he realized: College had taught him how to research and analyze data, speak in public, reach out to people, and how to be a leader. These skills—along with some intense determination—allowed him to create a personal project in his field. He gave himself “relevant” work experience by utilizing his college education (both academic and social education).

Want to know exactly how he did it? You can read his full account of his experience here.

5. Write it all out

Lea McLeod suggests writing everything down so that you can really see everything that you have to offer to employers. She guides you through this process in her post, “New Grad: Why should they hire you?

She suggests you create two columns on a piece of paper. On one side, write out everything that you’ve done. This includes part-time jobs, volunteering, helping out a neighbor with babysitting, clubs, and more. Write out everything.

Then in the other column write out what you needed to do to make that experience successful or to accomplish that task.

Once you have both sides filled out, she suggests that you look over the lists and attach a skill or quality to the actions. Taking a look at the examples she uses in her post is a great way to start with your own list.

This is a very helpful exercise to do so that you can begin to recognize your skills and how they can qualify you for those entry-level jobs.

So, the next time you’re looking at a job description and wondering if you have any relevant experience, reflect back on this post. Which of your experiences might help you land a job?

Homework time! Try it out. Explore jobs on AfterCollege and discover what it is you want to do. Then start looking through job descriptions to see what employers in that field are looking for. After that, take some time to look at your education and recognize the skills you possess that you might not have noticed before. Try out Lea McLeod’s technique of writing everything out.


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