Jumping from school to the perfect first job

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Picture this — you are nearing the end of your time at BYU, and begin searching for your first job out of college. You search for entry-level jobs in your field of study and scour the internet for the job that will kick start your career.

You are hopeful as you prepare your resume for entry-level positions, but one phrase in the job requirements stops you in your tracks: “two to five years of experience.”

You check the job description again. This is an entry-level job, right? Right. An entry-level job that requires two to five years of experience — an oxymoron if there ever was one.

Why employers ask for experience with entry-level jobs

According to Coursera, entry-level jobs are meant to help people gain experience and skills in their field. 

But there is a catch in these so-called “entry-level” jobs, according to George Anders, a senior editor at LinkedIn. 

“On many corporate ladders, even the lowest rung isn’t accessible to people who don’t yet have a multi-year work history … Across (a) 45-month span, employers asked for at least three years of relevant work experience on 35% of their postings. That rate dipped briefly to 30% in June 2020, when labor markets were in free fall. It’s higher now, though, at 38.4%.”

With over one-third of entry-level jobs posted on LinkedIn alone asking for prior work experience, it is no wonder that students and recent graduates struggle to find jobs after graduation.

This current issue in the job market is explained by Justin Jones, director of The Career Studio, located in the Wilkinson Student Center at BYU.

Jones said, “Most employers are looking for somebody who can get the job done and hit the ground running. In other words, if I need to invest in training someone, that is an investment of my time and my money, and I’m really concerned about what the return on my investment is going to be.”

What is the solution?

What are students to do with these contradictory job labels? How can students overcome these opposing forces and bridge the gap to land that perfect first job?

Students may feel overwhelmed at the prospect of applying for jobs in an environment like this. They may worry that they have no time to get experience in the workforce while also going to school, working part-time or full-time to support themselves through school, and other important activities.

Though companies may ask for certain requirements of their applicants, there are many things that students and graduates can do to put their best foot forward and wow potential employers despite a lack of traditional work experience.

This trend in the job market should not make students lose all hope in finding a job, according to Career Studio student mentor Erika Henderson, who recently completed a recruiter internship for a Provo startup company. She believes that having limited experience or limited time working in a field should not stop students from applying to jobs that ask for it.

Henderson said, “The thing that (recruiters are) looking at is if you can do your job. Whether you’ve learned how to do that really quickly in three months, or a year, as a recruiter, I don’t care as much. It’s more of (if) you can do it.”

You have more experience than you realize

Students may feel that they have nothing to put on a resume, but Career Studio student mentor Naomi Campbell disagrees. 

“The first thing a lot of times that I have to clear up with students is that they actually have way more skills than they think they do,” Campbell said. “After a 30-minute appointment, we find out that they actually were in all these clubs and organizations. They did all this service (or) they had three jobs that maybe didn’t seem relevant, but actually have a ton of really great skills.”

Jones agreed with Campbell’s statement, and it is not just students and recent graduates who have trouble with this.

“Many people are not giving themselves enough credit for what they’ve done,” Jones said.

One example of experience applicable to many BYU students is missionary service. Students may want to include serving a mission on their resume, but may not realize just how many desirable skills they developed during their missionary service, that are worth adding to their resume. 

In an effort to help students best portray their missions to potential employers, BYU Careers and Experiential Learning created a video that succinctly explains missionary experiences in terms employers want to see.

How to present your best self

So, how should students present those skills and experiences to a potential employer? It is all about confidence and putting your best foot forward. 

“Your resume becomes an advertisement,” Jones said. “That’s what advertising is: you want to give enough information to get your audience to act and purchase what you’re selling. So yes, put on your sales hat because that’s exactly what the job search is.”

“Finding a job is 100% like dating,” said Jodi Chowen, managing director of BYU Careers and Experiential Learning. “When you’re getting into the interview, that’s like a first date and you’re just kind of feeling it out. It really is a two-way thing. It’s as much about you as the job candidate feeling comfortable as it is about the company feeling comfortable with you.”

Students may feel apprehensive talking about themselves and taking credit for the things that they have done. Chowen believes that this is a stumbling block for many students in a job interview or in talking to recruiters.

“We regularly get feedback from employers who come to campus, and it’s mostly great. They love (BYU) students. But there’s two things they’ll say. One: ‘Gosh, I wish they’d known more about my company (before the interview).’ And two: ‘they don’t know how to talk about themselves.’”

Jones has seen this issue throughout his career with many of the clients he has worked with. He believes that it is possible to strike a balance between humility and owning up to your achievements. 

“If you can formulate the challenges that you’ve had, the action that you took, and the results that you achieved because of those actions, those are the types of information that you put on your resume and your cover letter, and speak about in your interview that make all the difference,” Jones said.

Preparing for job applications and interviews

As students curate their experiences and create the perfect resumes, it is important to be prepared when they land the interview. 

“We’re prone as humans to just wing it,” Chowen said. “We’re just like, ‘I’m just gonna go in and I’m gonna be me.’ (It makes a big difference) if you just take a minute to refine and polish so that you don’t ramble. Nobody wants a rambler. It makes all the difference (because) you’re being thoughtful and intentional.”

Chowen believes that employers are looking for the life skills and emotional intelligence in their job candidates, that comes with experience.

“(Employers) want to see evidence that you know how to do life and that you’ve been successful in navigating between (work and real life),” Chowen said. “It is as important as your major, your minor, your GPA. (They want to see) who you are and the experiences that you’ve had that reflect and backup who you are.”

Resources at BYU

Knowing that students are short on time, BYU has created many resources to assist students in their quest to gain experience, find jobs, and succeed after graduation.

One resource for BYU students is The Career Studio. Jones said, “The Career Studio is a creative space for you to craft your future career and life experience.”

According to The Career Studio website, the studio helps students “explore your career options, develop your career path, create or improve your resumes and cover letters, practice your interview skills, build your Handshake and LinkedIn profiles, and expand your career network.”

“It’s a casual atmosphere where you can come in, do all the questioning, do all the messy parts, and create something beautiful to present to an employer,” Jones said. “Our trained career mentors are waiting to work with you one-on-one to answer (your questions).”

The Career Studio has about a dozen student mentors who are there to help students in whatever way they can.

“We’re just there to support the students. We are undergrads ourselves,” Campbell said. “We’re not dressed in professional clothing because (we) want the students who come in to feel comfortable and feel like ‘okay, I can do this.’ It’s not adults talking down to them or talking with all this experience. It’s students who are at (your) same level.”

Another resource specifically for BYU students is Handshake. Handshake “acts as BYU’s own job board,” according to the Careers and Experiential Learning website. Handshake allows students to view entry-level job and internship listings only available to BYU students. 

“Handshake is basically LinkedIn, but it’s completely tailored to you as a BYU student. You’re not going to have competition from people who have been in the market for four to five years,” Campbell said.

Connect with people who want to help

BYU’s extensive network of alumni, employers, recruiters, and on-campus specialists are ready and waiting to help students land that perfect first job. 

One resource for students is BYU Connect, a platform designed to help students find and connect with BYU alumni in their field. Students are also encouraged to reach out to the career advisors and internship coordinators for their major. Alumni and on-campus specialists are an underutilized tool, who are waiting for students to come to them, according to Jones.

Another underutilized tool, according to Career Studio student mentors, is talking to recruiters.

Campbell said, “(Students) are often really scared to talk to recruiters and I think they don’t have enough experience to apply to jobs. But the more we talk to recruiters, the more we learn that they really like to know where you’re at in school. They know that you don’t have a lot of experience and they want to talk to you.”

Campbell hopes that students will be more proactive in speaking with campus recruiters.

Campbell said, “Recruiters are your advocate with the company … Recruiters are not a barrier to the dream job. They are the gateway (to your dream job).”

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