What Do I Do When Entry-Level Jobs Seem Out of Reach?

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Matthew from Barry University asked:

“My internship fell through. I’m about to graduate with my 3rd degree and have zero real-world experience.  Every website claims they offer positions that are entry-level but their prerequisites are too demanding.  I don’t even get callbacks for volunteer positions.  Any suggestions?”

Thanks for your question, Matthew.  It can be frustrating when you think you’ve landed a great internship, but it falls through in the end.  This can happen to anyone so use this experience as a learning tool for the future.

Listed below are several things you can do to move towards landing the start in your field you desire.

Get the Offer in Writing

When you receive a verbal offer, ask the prospective employer to put together a job offer letter for you in writing.  If the offer isn’t in writing, then you really don’t have an offer as you experienced with the ATD internship.  Unfortunately, I’ve heard several similar stories from clients who have received a verbal offer, however the offer fell through leaving the individual with no job since the offer was never put in writing.  Confirm all key details including salary, benefits, vacation time, start date, and more.

Meet with Your Career Center

Most colleges and universities offer services to recent graduates for at least a year after graduation at no cost.  Simply put, every student should leverage their career center as it is a student resource.  College career centers are staffed with knowledgeable, skilled, and credentialed professionals who can provide assistance in a variety of areas including resume review, interview skills training, job search strategy, and more.  Furthermore, they likely have a job site exclusively for current students and recent alums featuring jobs posted with the institution.  Set up an appointment at your earliest convenience.

Talk with Your Professors

Make sure to get to know your professors, especially those in training and development and human resources.  Take advantage of their office hours by visiting occasionally as needed to ask for their advice and guidance.  If they get to know you, they might be willing to serve as a mentor, or at the very least, offer valuable insight and advice along with introductions to contacts in your desired field (training and/or human resources) that can be a springboard to landing your first job in your field.  Lastly, these individuals may be willing to also serve as a professional reference by receiving calls and / or emails from prospective employers as a part of a background check during the hiring process.

Engage Your Personal Network

Make sure to start your search by letting your personal network (friends, family, existing connections) know exactly the type of job you are targeting and how they can offer assistance to you.  Be sure to ask for assistance with kindness and humility, while allowing them an easy “out” if they don’t have any leads for you.  If people like you and can help, then they’ll help.  Always offer help back to anyone from whom you are asking for help.  Reciprocate as often as you can as relationships are two-way streets.

Networking (or connecting with people) is, was, and will always be the best job search method.  People hire people, not computers.  Also, utilize social media, especially LinkedIn to build your network, especially with those in your field.

Join Professional Associations

Another way to build your network, reputation, and circle of influence is to join a professional association in your industry, especially the Association of Talent Development.  This is a great way to connect with leaders in your industry and learn of employment opportunity.  Most professional organizations post their available positions through the association’s website or possibly through word of mouth at meetings.  Don’t just become a member and do nothing either.  Get involved and volunteer for a board or steering committee.  This will provide you with the opportunity to showcase your skills and ability to produce results.

Improve Your Professional Skills Toolbox

Invest time to improve your professional skills, especially those relevant to your employment target.  If you are finding that some entry-level jobs seem out of reach, inventory these job postings to identify the skill and experience areas that you are currently lacking.  Take classes (online or on campus) to gain these new skills.  If you need to improve your computer skills for example, then take a course through GCF Learn Free.  Continue to keep informed about news and developments in your field.  Go to sleep each night with improved skills so you are better and more marketable than before.

Target Employers, Don’t Wait for Jobs to Be Posted

Most job seekers mistakenly assume employers post all jobs online.  Employers are competing for talent similar to the way you are competing for jobs with other candidates.  Current data show that many employers find employee referrals as a great way to fill job openings.  Recruitment by referrals are utilized for over 25 percent of openings according to recent research.

Jobs won’t always be posted online.  So, I suggest that you reverse this thinking by targeting employers.  Don’t wait for employers to post available jobs.  Develop a list of 25-50 prospective employers in your area that may have opportunity in line with your skills, experience, education, and interests.  Do some additional research and determine a decision maker to whom you’ll address your letter and resume.  This is a great way to get your value proposition into the hands of the person with the power to start a dialogue and ultimately hire you.  Companies are always hiring.  The downside is that they may not always be hiring on your timeline.  Get to the employer before everyone else.

Utilizing this strategy allows you to be proactive, rather than passively waiting for jobs to be posted.  It can make all the difference in the world to landing an interview.  Remember, you only need one job.

Have a Plan B

Today’s job market is better than it has been in years.  If you follow the US unemployment rate, you likely saw the recent news that this statistic is at the lowest rate it has been in 16 years.  This is great news, but it doesn’t mean your search will be easy.

If you are finding that even entry-level jobs are out of reach due to a skills and experience mismatch, then you’ll also need to have a back-up plan (Plan B).  I worked recently with a student who was targeting a full-time classroom teaching position.  Unfortunately, this student was struggling to find openings congruent with her skills and experience.  In her case, I advised her to consider signing up as a substitute teacher.  While substituting wasn’t her desired position, this suggestion would allow her to get in with schools she was interested in, build a strong reputation, and get relevant experience, which would position her well for future full-time opportunities.

Putting It All Together

Put a full-time effort into your quest to land a start in your field.  The good news is that there are lots of opportunities available in today’s job market.  Be proactive in moving your campaign forward by building stronger skills each day and engaging your network and campus resources.  You’ll land the job offer soon, Matthew.  I’m certain of it.  Good luck and best wishes!

Here’s to your success,

Bob Nealon

About the Author

Robert Nealon

For almost 10 years, Bob Nealon has been a South Florida-based career coach, focused on training and coaching college students and professional-level clients to achieve success in their employment search campaign and careers. He has trained over 5,000 clients with strategies on how to best compete in today’s ultra-competitive market to land the job and advance their career. Currently, he is a career coach at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Sports Management from Indiana University, a master’s degree in Sports Administration from Indiana State University and is a multi-credentialed career coach holding industry certifications as a Certified Professional Career Coach, Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Certified Employment Interview Professional, Certified Empowerment and Motivational Coach, Global Career Development Facilitator, and Florida Certified Workforce Professional. He is an active member of Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches, Center for Credentialing and Education, Florida Association of Colleges and Employers, National Association of Colleges and Employers, and National Career Development Association. Connect with Bob via LinkedIn and Twitter.

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