It’s probably no big secret that the definition of “entry-level” has changed dramatically in recent years. Whereas it used to mean you had a degree and no experience—you would be trained on the job—this is certainly no longer the case. I would venture to say the new definition of “entry-level” is you have a degree and anywhere from one to three years experience, which can come from internships, volunteer experiences, leadership positions and other sources. So, what exactly does this mean?
1. If you’re not a graduating senior, intern early and often. This definitely will increase your chances of landing an entry-level job immediately after college. (Click here to read my previous articles about internships.)
2. More young professionals are accepting internships after graduating from college. Particularly in this market, I encourage graduating students to apply for internships—both paid and unpaid—and entry-level jobs simultaneously. While it’s not the ideal situation to intern—again—after receiving your degree, the internship likely will lead to either a job offer from the organization or, at a minimum, networking contacts who will provide you job leads. (Many internship programs only select entry-level candidates from their internship program. Definitely be on the lookout for these!) So, don’t rule out this option.
3. Unpaid internships are plentiful—some are even illegal—but there are paid opportunities available. No doubt, there are definitely some organizations out there taking advantage of the market. But, it absolutely riles me that “experts” are suggesting you don’t even consider taking an unpaid internship. Know and understand the legality of unpaid internships, and then create a plan to make an unpaid internship work for your situation.
First, if it is unpaid, arrange to work no more than 15 or 20 hours per week so you can have a paying gig on the side. Then, and frankly you should do this whether it is paid or unpaid, ensure you will be doing real work. Internships are supposed to give you on-the-job training. If an internship isn’t going to give you experience that will be valued by an employer seeking an entry-level employee, then you should pass up the opportunity and move on to the next one. I highly recommend consulting InternshipRatings.com prior to accepting an internship.
Again, there are paid opportunities available, you just might have to look and work a little bit harder, and definitely be more patient in your search.
4. You should seek professional help, or at least a consultation. It’s rare to encounter a student who openly admits needing help in the job search process—whether it’s his or her cover letter and résumé, the process itself, interviews, etc. But, I ask you this: how can you possibly know tips and techniques you’ve never been taught? It’s okay to ask for help! Your first stop should be your campus career center, but don’t overlook the idea of going to a career coach. (If you’re seeking a career in public relations, I offer some coaching packages myself.)
5. Networking, mentors and references/referrals are more important than ever. These are arguably going to be the most useful in your entry-level job search. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates 70 percent of jobs are secured through networking, and some experts suggest this number is even higher. Mentors will provide you networking contacts, keep you sane throughout your search and offer a number of other benefits. Finally, nothing tops a personal referral to the hiring manager or a reference or two who speak highly of you.
~ Heather Huhman, Job Search Expert, Campus Calm