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Hey Grads! No Experience? No Problem! (Sort of)

I graduated from a 4-year college two years ago, even though it feels like about 10. With a pretty solid balance in my bank account from my part-time job at school and "good luck" graduation gifts, I spent the summer relaxing, sleeping in, and job hunting. I graduated with this notion that having a college degree would serve in place of experience (read: a lack thereof) and pretty much guarantee a decent starting salary in a first job. And finding that first job was going to be a piece of cake with a degree to boast. Knowing what I know now, I couldn't have been more foolish.

What I Learned about Experience, from Experience

1. You have it, but it's not the right kind. The "Experience" section of my pre-graduation resume looked a little something like this: Grappelli's Pizza, 3 years; Brooks Pharmacy, 2 years; Riverside Athletic Club, 5 months. In my mind, this kind of work record could show a prospective employer that I'm a good, loyal worker. But none of that matters in the "real world." If the jobs and the skills are irrelevant to the field of work you're looking to enter, then putting them on your professional resume won't help you much.

2. Your free time in college counts for more than you think. College meant the freedom to schedule my own day. To be done with classes by noon or to not even start until 4 p.m. Oh, and the parties? Yeah, those were really something. But what about the student activities and clubs? Or the internships advertised around campus? Not only did my contributions to the campus newspaper and my summer internship at a publishing house give me valuable experience for the workforce, they also gave me a stronger resume that secured interview after interview.

3. Moneywise, your degree will only take you so far. Nowadays, practically any office position requires a bachelor's degree. Way back when having a college degree was less common, you could use it as a negotiating tool for more money. No degree? You'd start at $20,000. Bachelor's degree? OK, how about $35,000? But this system doesn't apply in today's workforce. Having a degree to put on your resume might get you in the door, but only experience will influence the kind of money you want to make – unless you're in an industry where each degree level means higher pay, such as teaching or engineering.

4. Figuring out what you really want to do will only get easier. Landing that first job is something worth celebrating. After the countless hours of searching and interviewing, you've made the leap from student to professional and your career can only go up from here. In my first year, I learned how to adjust to regular office hours, figured out what my superiors expected from me, and most importantly, I learned that that particular business and industry was not quite right for me. In your first job, you'll figure out what makes you happy about your career choice, and what doesn't. And that's how you'll know it's time to build on your experience and start looking for a second job.

If you're just making the transition from student to professional (or will be soon), don't let the "2-4 years of experience" stop you from applying for positions that interest you. Your coursework and contributions to clubs or internships count toward that number; just be sure to describe them with skill and professionalism on your resume, highlighting the most important, job-relevant contributions. And as always, keep in mind that if your goal is a better, higher-paying position, you have to gain experience somewhere.

Was your first post-grad job hunt anything like you expected it to be?

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