[This post originally aired on March 26, 2008. The message still holds true today, so here it is again in case you missed it the first time around.]
I graduated from college two years ago (four now!) with the notion that having a college degree would serve in place of experience 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
- You have it, but it's not the right kind. The "Experience" section of my pre-graduation resume looked a little something like this: Pizza Place, 3 years; Some Pharmacy, 2 years; This Gym, 5 months. In my mind, this kind of work record showed a prospective employer that I'm a good, loyal worker. But if the jobs and skills are irrelevant to the field of work you're looking to enter, your resume will appear weak and incomplete. And that's where point #2 comes in ...
- 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 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.
- Financially, your degree will only take you so far. Nowadays, practically any office position requires a bachelor's degree. 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 a year. 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.
- 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 there. 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 company 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 new 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 required" 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.
What do you expect from your first post-grad job hunt?
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