I know it is so frustrating, we’ve all been there. No one really teaches you how to land that first entry-level job. You can’t get a job without experience and you can’t get experience without that first job.
Every semester you see thousands of college graduates enthusiastically entering the job market and competing with you for the same jobs. Everyone has a college degree, a solid GPA, an internship or two, extracurricular activities, volunteer work, and part-time job. What makes you different?
The good news is that it is possible to land that entry-level job if you are up to making the extra effort. Picture your email in the inbox of the hiring manager with hundreds of other emails. Imagine your resume printed out and in a pile with 200 other resumes.
Here are a few tips to help you get an entry-level job with no experience:
Find a Personal Connection
Even though many jobs are filled using online postings, it never hurts to make a personal connection. Hiring managers are going to check references before they make an offer anyway. Knowing someone at the company who can put in a good word for you can help you get noticed even with a lack of experience.
Connecting with people on LinkedIn is a great way to keep track of your personal connections like your classmates, professors, past coworkers and bosses, and even friends of your parents! These people may not get you the job, but they might open the door or they may help to shine a little light on your application.
As you go to apply for a job online, search your connections to see if anyone works at your target company. Ask your connection if they would consider forwarding your resume to the hiring manager. Always apply through the regular channels as well.
Tell Your Story in the Cover Letter
I understand many people will argue that the cover letter is dead and those people are entitled to their opinions. However, I disagree. I think the cover letter is especially important for candidates going after the entry-level jobs. It’s one more tool you can use to tell your story.
Know this: most people will not include a cover letter, so if you do, and it is a really good cover letter, your resume is going to stand out.
You don’t have a ton of experience and you are probably competing with people who have 1-3 years of experience! Show how motivated you are and that you are willing to make the extra effort and write a really compelling cover letter. Be proactive and give them more reasons to hire you that aren’t on your resume.
- Express your work ethic. If you are applying for an event coordinator position, explain that you understand that many events occur after-hours, on evenings, and weekends. Tell them you will be the first one on-site to set up and the last one to take down and clean up.
- Tell a personal story. Were you the treasurer in student council or with your Greek social organization? This shows you have a natural affinity for the accounting or finance fields.
- Connect the experience. Do you have years of experience in wait service in a restaurant? Tell stories of how you delivered a positive customer experience and dealing with upset customers and how this positions you to be a more successful account coordinator.
Explain the “Why” on Your Resume
A lot of entry-level resumes read like a boring “to do” list and there is no connection to the actual job being applied for. Don’t just list a bunch of tasks you accomplished.
- Suggest ideas for new marketing campaigns
- Handle customer mailings
- Post regularly to social media
Think about why your boss had you do them. What are the goals of the company you worked for and how did your efforts support them? Think of the hiring manager reading your resume and the “WIFM” or “What’s in it for me.” Expand on what you did and explain why you did it. What was the goal and result?
Here are revised resume bullet points that do a better job of explaining the “why” for each task.
- Collaborated in developing ideas for new marketing strategies to generate brand awareness
- Sent out customer appreciation packages to reinforce brand loyalty
- Showcase products and interact with customers and followers to support social media engagement
Don’t Undersell Your Experience
Anyone who has worked in retail, restaurants, or manual labor like landscaping or construction knows how difficult these jobs can be. The hiring manager probably had one of these jobs when they were in college. Don’t undersell or downplay this experience. Find a way to tie your work to the success of the business.
A few ideas for resume bullet points for restaurant experience:
- Provided friendly, efficient and prompt bar service while upselling customers on food items to see an average increase in revenue of $X,000 during my shifts.
- Delivered excellent service to customers via the phone and in the restaurant to support a positive customer experience and encourage repeat visits.
- Filled the role of “expo” in the kitchen to expedite the orders by table number priority to improve the speed of service.
Tailor Resume to the Job Description
It’s not the recruiter’s job to connect the dots on your resume to the job description. They are reviewing hundreds of resumes so don’t make them work harder trying to guess. As a hiring manager, if I know you just graduated and you are not employed, and I don’t get a good cover letter and tailored resume from you, I’m going to assume you’re not a motivated person. I don’t want to hire the person who does the bare minimum and sends the same resume and cover letter to everyone.
Customizing your resume for each job you apply for is tough when you don’t have a lot of experience. Look for small ways to make more of a connection between the job responsibilities and your background.
If you are interested in HR, expand the detail about your experiences as the Resident Advisor in your dorm. The average person may show this experience on their resume like this:
Resident advisor for two years
While that is true information, it is not really selling the skills required in this role that may benefit the hiring manager reading the resume. A better way to explain this role would be:
Served as a resident advisor (RA) for two years. Responsibilities included implementing campus policies, referring residents to appropriate resources, assisting residents during crises, and supporting emergency services.
A helpful tip for finding stronger language for your resume is to search for your own job description online for more compelling verbiage. That’s where I found the copy above for the RA position.
Compare Two Resumes for the Same Person
To illustrate the value of putting more effort into your resume, take a look at two versions of a resume for the same person going for an entry-level job right out of college:
Which resume has a better chance of getting the call for the first interview?
Research the Company and the People
The first question you may be asked in an interview might be “What do you know about our company?” We all know the power of the first impression. Blow the answer to this question and the interviewer may already be tuning out and moving you to the “No” pile in their mind. This may feel extreme, but remember, there are hundreds of entry-level applicants out there competing for the same jobs. If you want to land that entry-level job, you have to have a solid answer to this question and why you want to work there. You have to be better prepared.
When you schedule the interview, make sure you ask for the names and titles of everyone you will be meeting. Research everyone on LinkedIn and Google. Maybe you have common connections or volunteer with the same charity. If you view the interviewers’ profiles on LinkedIn, they will be able to see that you viewed their profile and know you are doing your research. This is a good thing. You will look motivated and proactive.
Prepare for the Interview
Think of the interview as an oral final exam in college with your dean. It is pass/fail and if you don’t pass, you don’t graduate. How much would you study for an exam like that? Think of the job description as having many of the test questions in advance. The interviewer is going to ask you about most of the line items in the job description, so you need to plan your responses.
What are you going to say when they ask you about an area where you lack experience? You have to prepare some sort of answer. “While I don’t have direct experience in X, I believe my experience in Y is related…” or “I have not yet had the opportunity to do X, but I have been researching it and here is what I have learned…”
Go online and search for “most difficult interview questions.” Spend some time thinking about your answers to these as well. Compose your best responses and write them down. Yes, I said write them down. If you want to differentiate yourself from the other candidates to land the entry-level job, you have to be more prepared than everyone else. Your answers have to be more articulate and thought out. The more prepared you are, the less you will lean on the verbal crutches “Like, um, you know.” (I once counted 17 “likes” in a phone interview with an entry-level candidate in the first ten minutes. I stopped counting and quickly ended the interview.)
Make the Most Out of the Interview
Think of the interview as your first moments on the job and the information gathered is the beginning of your training.
Take notes. Bring a notepad and make notes of your discussion with each person. This is what you will do when you get the job. You go to meetings, take notes, and do your work. Your notes will also give you information to personalize your thank you note.
Ask your own questions. This will take some preparation but you should ask the questions to determine if the job and the company are a fit for you as well. Asking the questions makes you look engaged, motivated, and thoughtful.
- Why is the position open?
- Can you tell me more about the day-to-day responsibilities of this job?
- What would success look like for me in this role?
- What do you like best about working for this company?
- What’s the next step in the interview process?
Ask for the job. Companies want to hire people who want to work for them. Make sure they know you want it. Flatter them. “I’m very interested in this job. Is there anything preventing you from offering me the job right now?”
Write a Thank You
The thank you note and cover letter are both a dying breed but both present opportunities for you to stand out and improve your chances at getting the entry-level job. If you’ve made it the interview process, you are already one of the top candidates. Set yourself apart with an effective follow-up note.
“Thank you for taking the time to meet with me about the X position. I really enjoyed meeting you and your team and look forward to hearing from you soon.” That is a nice courtesy note but it is not doing anything to help your cause.
Personalize the email with your notes from the interview with each person. Reiterate aspects of your background that relate to the position. Was there anything you meant to tell them that you forgot? Add it to the thank you note and keep selling them on the reasons to hire you.
When a company creates an entry-level position, they know that the candidates will require significant training. Demonstrate your willingness to learn on your own. Read books, listen to podcasts, follow industry leaders on Twitter and LInkedIn, sign up for their newsletters. You may be able to incorporate this new knowledge into your cover letter or during an interview.
Keep a Positive Attitude
Yes, it can be frustrating trying to get an entry-level job with no experience. Hopefully these tips, along with a positive attitude will help you find success. Make the choice every day to be positive. Bring that positivity to the job search process.
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