advice for a recent grad

A reader writes:

As a recent grad who is looking for my first real job in a market that quite frankly sucks, I’ve become an avid follower of your blog.

I have a bachelor’s in Business Administration from a private university. Not exactly ivy league, but respectable nonetheless. My professional experience is limited to just over one year doing administrative tasks as part of my work study scholarship and a three-month international trade internship at a U.S. embassy abroad.

It seems like every job description (besides those entailing telemarketing) requires substantial experience. I was even told by one recruiter, “I don’t doubt you’re a smart girl, but you just don’t have the experience.” My question is, what options do I have in terms of my first job? It’s frustrating applying for positions that I don’t have a shot at, but at the same time, I want to gain some valuable experience.

I’ve been applying mostly for marketing assistant and sales/marketing positions. My concentration is in international business, but I’ve yet to find anything promising with an international twist. Also, I should forewarn you that the career placement office at my university is shamefully substandard and thus offered me little direction in terms of career options.

Thanks for whatever advice you might be able to offer!

This does suck.

A job market like this one is bad enough regardless, but having very light experience is posing an extra obstacle for you (and many, many others) because you’re competing for the same jobs with people who have more experience.

First, a quick tangent that won’t help you now but will help others still in school: Do internships every semester you can, so that you have work experience on your resume. Paid, unpaid, whatever it takes.

Okay, back to you. It feels like a catch-22, of course; how are you supposed to get experience when no one will hire you without it? There are actually two time-tested ways to do exactly that:

1. Temp. By temping, you’ll get additional experience to put on your resume. It also has the added benefit of giving you an inside track for upcoming job openings wherever you’re temping.

2. Volunteer. At a minimum, it will give you more experience to put on your resume. And it may also expand your network of people who can assist in your job search. (It will also make you feel good.)

So you’re temping and/or volunteering and putting it on your resume. Meanwhile, you should also:

1. Expand the types of jobs you’re looking at. I’m curious about why you’re focusing on marketing positions. There’s a whole world of other interesting work out there — broaden your search to include other types of work, and you’ll raise your odds. (Relatedly, be flexible on salary and location. You’re not locking yourself in forever.)

2. Go for quality over quantity with your applications. This may feel counter-intuitive, but a smaller number of really well-done applications is going to get you better results than a generic resume blast to 100 places. This means, at a minimum, a cover letter that is tailored to each position you apply for. (And I mean really tailored — at least several fresh paragraphs per job, not just plugging in the name of the company.) Read this post on cover letters. And read this one too.

And don’t be afraid to show a bit of personality in your cover letter; hiring managers read so many dry cover letters all day long that coming across one that sounds like a real person, and one you might enjoy talking to, can really make a difference.

3. Be willing to pay your dues, meaning be open to low-level jobs that might have a decent amount of drudgery to them. (Nothing about your letter indicated you’re not, but I want to emphasize this.) Take on the on menial stuff and do a good job with it, and eventually someone is going to let you do something more interesting.

You will get a job eventually, by the way. Hang in there, and good luck!

{ 8 comments… read them below }

  1. Kerry*

    I completely agree, especially with the part where you should temp. I got two really big breaks in my career, and both of them came from temping. You get exposed to different companies, meet new people (and build your network), learn new things…and they pay you for this. There’s really no downside.

    Good luck–hang in there. There IS a job out there for you.

  2. goldencubbie*

    Great advice. I always recommend temping as an option. But remember to use your temp assignments as an opportunity to gain experience and demonstrate that you would be a good employee; it’s not to press the managers into hiring you.

    The last temp we hired spent a little too much time asking about what opportunities were available at our company, and not enough time and attention on what we had brought her in to do. Unfortunately, she did not get a good recommendation from us.

  3. Christine Witt*

    Good advice.

    My volunteer job and experience led directly to my career path. At the very least, the writer will be building her resume.

    Don’t be too choosy about a job if it’s within the company or industry of your dreams. Remember that you’re not stuck in a position forever and you never know where things will lead.

    Good luck!

  4. The Office Newb*

    I agree with goldencubbie 100%. I brought in a temp that decided after 3 days he was going to quit our temp project (which obviously still needed to get done) and apply for a full-time sales job that had opened up in our company.

    I’m sorry to say he did not end up getting a full-time position and seriously damaged his reputation with everyone.

  5. Anonymous*

    Thanks for featuring my question (and everyone else for the input)!

    I had never seriously considered temping, but I’ll definitely explore that option since everyone seems to be in agreement that it might lead me in the right direction.

  6. Anonymous*

    Also some additional advice: you mention that you’re focusing on sales and marketing assistant gigs. Sales and marketing positions are usually among the first to be cut in companies when business gets slow, so there might be much more competition for these positions, and while no job is secure, I worry that the newest in the sales/marketing departments are the first to go up on the chopping block.

    I would suggest looking for a receptionist or administrative assistant position at a company/in an industry that really appeals to you. (think at an ad agency, or a company with international reach). I got my first gig as a receptionist in HR, and worked my way into a recruiting assistant role after showing that I could handle the reigns of the front desk well.

    Good luck with your search!

  7. Ethan Bull*

    I also agree with anonymous (the comment above this one) about find an admin or executive assistant position in the industry that you would like to grow in. Being an assistant is better than another entry level position in that you’ll learn the whole organization and be in a better position to see where you can picture yourself down the road. You’ll be able to emphasize your interning/admin experience and tailor your resume to such a position. We feel so strongly about recent college grads finding assistant positions in industries/companies they respect and want to work for that we are getting ready to launch our assistant training program so our enrollees get a jump start and are ready to impress day one. Last point, if you do get an admin or assistant spot, put at least a year in at the position and at your first year review, be prepared to explain where you see yourself heading career wise… then your superior will help you get there. Good luck!

  8. Riaz*

    Advice for a recent graduate
    I have a bachelor's in Business Administration from a private university. Not exactly ivy league, but respectable nonetheless. My professional experience is limited to just over one year doing administrative tasks as part of my work study scholarship and a three-month international trade internship at a U.S. embassy abroad.

    My humble advice to this young lady is as follows:

    Think of your resume as your marketing campaign brochure or a flyer reflecting your values that you would bring to the table if hired. What values are we talking about? Sales / Marketing Support (Show your experience while working in the trade show, retail shop, grocery store and any assignment in which you interacted with customers), Event Management (As a college student if you were involved in organizing an event that should be counted as an experience); Your computer experience as an Administrative Assistant (Excel, Power point presentation, MS Word), Writing Business Proposals (Class Projects), Market Research (Include Class Projects)

    You need to organize your resume in six paragraphs as described hereunder:

    Customer Support / Interaction, Sales / Marketing Support, Vendor Support, Product Support, Market Research, Proposal Development
    Other idea is to engage in networking as much as possible. I wish I could you in the construction of your resume. Best of luck

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