Five Years of Experience? But I just Got Out of College.

get your first job out of college

Read on to discover how to get your first job out of college!

We all know that dreaded feeling when we see an entry level job we love that we feel qualified for, only to come across “required: five years of experience.” There are so many knowledgeable and talented people just taking off their cap and gown ready to work, so why do hiring managers only want people with five years of experience? 

“Five Years of Experience” is Subjective

Hiring managers may not necessarily mean you must have that experience in the professional workforce, but want to see the components of working for that amount of time. 

Kari Harsel Gray, a Digital Literacy Program Director, gave some helpful input on just what those five years of experience may mean and how it can impact getting your first job out of college. “Are they looking for someone who is reliable, trustworthy and has integrity when situations are stressful? Are they looking for a self-starter who won’t need much supervision? Are they looking for someone with confidence who can suggest solutions when projects are struggling?”

“Are they looking for someone who is constantly learning and updating their skills and has worked with a specific software or tool? Are they looking for someone who can bring their own professional network to the organization? Experience includes summer and school year jobs, volunteer work, college projects, and helping friends and family. You may have more experience than you think.”

Talking about volunteer work and college projects leads us into our next catagory: ANYTHING can be considered experience. 

Get your first job out of college – Work Experience Could be Anything

Navigating your way through the labyrinth of job hunting can seem never ending, and it can be especially hard when the majority of your experience is part time in fast food or retail. That is experience! There are so many desired qualities that you probably picked up from those jobs, so make sure to include those in your resume. Skills such as responsibility, leadership, attention to detail, handling conflict, and customer service can all be learned through these “stepping stone” jobs.

“As a college student, did you do any internships, volunteer for a student club, or have a part-time job?” Says Sa’adi Nasim, “As a college drop-out from the University of Arizona, I had no professional experience. But Almost all hiring managers were receptive to my experience working as an RA in a dorm, and I listed all of my student club funding activities.” One tip to get your first job out of college is to lean on previous non-traditional experience that is relevant.

“Almost every job interview I had involved discussions about how I was able to gather funds for my clubs and how I ran for student elections. Review the job opening you are applying for and see how your college experience (college projects, student clubs, senior projects) relate to that job. Some jobs, especially in nonprofits, require writing samples. Your senior year term papers (while not ideal) are still better than nothing.”

“My recommendation to all college grads (and any fellow dropouts) is to consider temping or consulting their first year before working full-time. Temping will not only help you get more experience on your resume faster, but also help build your professional network.”

Makayla Owens, a Success Coach and Community Liaison, shared her input. “I’m a firm believer in lifelong learning and using what you already know to advance your career. It’s truly not about the years of ‘professional’ experience – although companies will stress this. It’s more about how you outline your transferable skills to meet the expectations of an entry level job right after college. Do not get discouraged. Looking for your first position after college can 100% be intimidating, but keep a positive mindset.”

“If you’ve done any internships, speak on that experience. If you’ve volunteered with friends, family, churches, student organizations, community organizations, speak on that experience. If you’ve worked in retail, in a restaurant, on-campus, speak on that experience. Discuss your overall personal and professional goals. Write down and review every skill you’ve gained and how each directly relates to the position you’re seeking.”

Skills can also include the applications you have experience with, Liza DeMartini reminds us.

“Add any technical/software/apps skills or experience to your resume. If you used a Mac in college, put it on there. Used Google sheets or Google calendar? Add Google Suite. Recruiters and hiring managers use keyword searches for systems. Used Salesforce but don’t think it’s applicable? It is- put it on there!”

Jacqui Allen, a rising star in our community, reminds us that everyone starts somewhere, including the person hiring you. Don’t forget this when get your first job out of college!

“First off, if you’ve been living, you’ve been learning. We tend to disregard our life experience as potential work experience. So many of our life experiences can be seen through a lens of skills, and add value to the jobs or internships we apply for. What might you have participated in at college that had characteristics of a leadership role? What travels or life moves may exemplify your ability to adapt? Where might you have examples of working together with a group or team in workshops, summer camps, or sports? Did you actually have a job you may be discounting like babysitting, yard work, helping someone move?”

“These are all things that could be communicated in a professional way to show that you have some great experience, skills, and value to offer,” says Jacqui. We agree! Anything can translate into useful skills, professional or not, that could make you stand out. 


Continue Learning

Graduating from college does not mean you have to stop taking in new information to help build onto your experience. Continuing your learning not only helps build your knowledge on certain subjects, but it also shows that you are passionate about wanting to grow and better yourself

Jacqui continues to share her thoughts on expanding your knowledge post college.

“We live in a world FULL of resources to learn. If you feel like there’s a skill required that may simply be a stretch for the role, take a Skillshare or Coursera course. There are a ton of free online courses from accredited colleges in specific job skills as well. You can also reach out for an informational interview with someone who has done that type of work, and get an idea of what the job entails. Many times those people help us confirm that we are actually very qualified for the work. These learnings can all be done pretty quickly and may get you prepared and confident for applying. Good luck! Everyone starts somewhere, and so did the person hiring you, don’t forget that.”

Start Small

Starting at the top is not something most people are able to do, and in order to climb up there, they have to start smaller. 

Clare Richardson talks about the stepping stones she took to build her career, “Take a job that can be used as a stepping stone to the job you really want. I worked at a startup in a garage for a year to get the recruiting experience I needed to get a recruiting job at a more established company with benefits. Within a few years I doubled my salary. Be strategic, show intention, provide value and don’t forget to write all your accomplishments down! Part of any job search is knowing how to sell yourself.”

Heather Romanoff, a Business Manager, also talks about why starting small can be so important to your career. “As someone that will be graduating in January with 20 years of leadership experience, I understand that I may not be the person you expected. My advice would be to start small. Small businesses and freelance work can help you build both a professional and community network.

“Don’t be afraid to reevaluate your goals during this period! As you launch your career, you may be targeting the top Fortune 500 companies that don’t align with your personal ethics or life. While starting small you may find a passion for community involvement through local business improvements.”

get your first job after college

Experience can be anything, and you may have a lot more professional experience than you think. Another great way to gain professional experience while in college is through internships, which can be a great opportunity to learn, and figure out what career path is right for you. What makes you extraordinary is more than what you know from your 9-5 office job, so make sure to highlight your shining qualities over on Rise to show who you really are.

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