How do people new to the job market land that first job with little or no real-world work experience? What can you do to jump-start your career if all you have is a brand new diploma and a couple of unrelated summer jobs?
Understand this: What you have to sell is job performance potential, and that's what you need to highlight. Here are some useful tips on how to do just that:
"A positive, upbeat, eager, self-confident attitude is the best place to start," says Ed Stoner, regional human resource manager for REXAM Beverage Can Americas. However, self-confidence should never be confused with arrogance or smugness. "A can-do attitude is fine; that's what you want to radiate during the entire search process, especially during face-to-face interviews," he says.
Willingness to Take an Entry-Level Position
Even with a degree, a lack of job experience normally indicates an entry-level position is all you should expect. In fact, an entry-level position is the ideal place to demonstrate your ability to learn quickly, pay your dues and exceed your employer's expectations. "Occasionally, job seekers will ask if they can negotiate a higher starting salary for an entry-level job," says Stoner. "The chances of doing that are usually pretty slim, because until you learn the job, which is what entry-level positions are for, you really aren't worth much to a new employer. So the quicker you can help the employer do what he or she is in business to do, the quicker you can expect to move up within the organization."
Desire to Learn
This may seem like a slight variation on the last tip, but it's not. Far too many people fail to make the clear distinction between classroom theory and real-world practice. Realize there is still much you don't know, not just about the job but also the corporate culture, company politics and the day-to-day reality of how things work.
Reasonable Salary Expectations
Too many new job seekers think there's a correlation between industry-average salaries and their own salary expectations. Every company is different, and each has different compensation philosophies and policies. For that matter, every job seeker brings a different set of skills, training, experience and ability to the job. "It's one thing to know the ballpark salary range for a position, but it's quite another to make it to first base with a particular company," says Stoner.
Highlight Soft Skills
When employers are asked to rank the three most important skills they look for in new hires, they consistently identify the following: problem-solving skills, interpersonal skills and the ability to work effectively with others in a team setting.
"None of [these skills] has anything to do with the technical or hard skills required to do whatever the job happens to be," Stoner says. So make a point to highlight those soft skills, including others such as leadership, team-building or communication -- all of which are transferable from one job to another.
Don't Rely on Your Degree
A degree is often used to screen job candidates in or out of the prospect pool. "The degree, advanced or not, merely signifies the completion of the coursework required to get it," says Stoner. "In and of itself, a degree isn't a free pass on the road to career success."
"Some job seekers see their degree as an entitlement, not as an opportunity generator," adds Stoner. "The degree just opens the door."
With limited work experience, all you really should expect is the chance to prove what you can do. Your job performance potential is the product you have to sell. In return, you can expect the chance to fulfill that potential. To expect more is to invite frustration and failure. Once your career is underway, your past job performance will speak for itself.