why don’t hiring managers look for potential in people?

A reader writes:

In November, it will be 5 years since I graduated, with a Bachelor of Science degree and a 4.0 GPA. I have experience, though most of it has been volunteer, trying to get more experience as I don’t know what else to do.

Regardless, my experience has been in my field, and paid experience in other fields. I have been able to complete advanced training in my field. Not to mention the international experience, broad knowledge base, wide range of interests and abilities I have. Heck, I was even elected president of a radio station (equivalent to CEO), in another western country last year, with no prior experience. Yet I was very successful, and completed my term in June this year, but it was volunteer, despite being basically a full time job. (I was gone from the U.S. for a year due to a medical family emergency.)

Yet here I sit, not even able to get an interview. My resume is good, I know it’s not that as it was just reviewed and deemed quite acceptable.

So, what do people in my position do? I’m either overqualified or still don’t have enough experience, apparently even if paid training is advertised as part of the position.

I have student loans to pay — I can’t defer. I have no money, no unemployment benefits, kids to look after and I am very highly frustrated and getting very depressed.

Do hiring managers and HR people even look at potential? Do they glance over someones resume and not actually “see” it properly, or do they just not get that some people can literally walk into a job and hit the ground running? Do they look at what the candidate has done and actually comprehend it, or honestly, do they just not “get” some specifics?

Why do they mention entry level and training if they are not willing to take someone who is entry level? And why, when someone may have potential, and has applied thinking they would be trained and therefore have a chance, do they not even look at that candidate? I do understand that hey, if they can find someone with experience and doesn’t need training.. but how much experience are they wanting… is a PRESIDENT of a radio station not considered good enough? My gosh, how much higher do I need to go on the spectrum?

Well, it sounds like you’re looking at it from your perspective without thinking about the perspective of an employer — and that’s key to understanding what’s going on.

Yes, employers may be willing to take someone entry-level and do some training — when they first advertise the position. But when they get flooded with applicants who do have experience and wouldn’t need training, some of whom are quite good, it makes sense that they focus on those people and don’t spend time with others.

You asked why they’re not willing to consider people with potential. But from the employer’s side of this, “potential” often means “unknown quantity,” which means “risk.” And when they have candidates who have already established a track record, there’s no real incentive for them to take a risk.

There’s another piece of this too:  You say you’re confident that your resume is “quite acceptable” — but having it deemed “acceptable” isn’t good enough in this market. It needs to be great. And you need engaging, compelling cover letters too. (And maybe “acceptable” was just a bad choice of words in your letter — but if it’s not getting you a single interview, it’s worth considering that it might need another look.)

I also wonder if you’re possibly shooting too high in the jobs you’re applying for. I don’t know what types of positions you’re targeting, but you might need to aim lower. I know that’s hard to hear, but I suspect that your expectations aren’t quite aligned with what the market will hire you for. For instance, you seem shocked that being president of a radio station isn’t getting you interviews … but based on the info we have here it probably isn’t the sort of thing that’s going to really wow employers. It was less than a year, it was volunteer, and you got the job without prior experience, which says that it probably isn’t really CEO-equivalent, despite your description of it that way. I don’t mean this to be harsh at all, but if you’re applying for jobs assuming that you’re bringing a certain level of qualifications, and employers see it differently, you’re better off realizing that so that you can recalibrate your approach.

It’s hard to give you more specific advice without knowing more specifics, but these are the things I’d start looking at.

It doesn’t do any good to be annoyed that employers don’t see in you what you see in yourself. Your job is to find ways to make them see it — whether it’s through a better resume, or an awesome cover letter, or starting lower than you want and working your way up. If they’re not “getting” what you have to offer, that means that you need to revamp the way you’re selling it.

Of course, none of that is intended to discount the role that the crappy job market is playing here. It absolutely plays a role — a pretty big one. But that doesn’t negate anything above; in fact, it makes it all the more important.

{ 276 comments… read them below }

  1. BHB*

    I don’t know whether the tone of the OP’s letter is indicative of their underlying tone in cover letters/resume, but the way the letter to AAM reads comes across as rather entitled to say the least. You say you graduated 5 years ago, have a lot of experience in your field, paid experience in other fields and a lot of previous volunteering experience and responsibility. That’s great – but there are a lot of other people out there who have similar experience, or even better – paid experience in the field. In terms of the resumes that pass the hiring managers desk, yours probably isn’t all that outstanding compared to all the other resumes the hiring manager sees.

    I think you need to take a long hard look at your covering letter and/or resume and make sure it’s really selling the vital points. Do you have someone you know from any of the volunteer positions in your field who would be willing to take a critical look over your resume/boilerplate cover letter? There might be certain key skills or elements that you’re missing out on your resume that hiring managers are looking for.

    You ask why entry-level trainee positions which don’t then hire trainee applicants. Is this experience from being told they’ve gone with a more experienced candidate or just speculation on your part because *you* aren’t getting these jobs? If it’s the former – there’s not much you can do to combat that (sucky economy and all that), but if it’s the latter you might want to check the tone of your cover letter – if this letter to AAM is anything to go by it could come across as thinking the entry-level jobs are beneath you. I’m not saying this is the case, but just going off the very limited information I have.

    Is it possible to do an internship somewhere in your field OP? You mention volunteer experience but no interning – that might open doors for you. As well as expanding your network, it’ll demonstrate more of an employer/employee relationship in your field rather than simply volunteer work. I know being able to take on an internship is dependant on finances etc., but it might be an option.

    Are you working your network as best you can? Often (not always) if you can get someone you know professionally – from volunteer positions perhaps – to recommend you for a position this will put you in a slightly better position in the hiring process.

    I think AAM’s point about aiming lower is pertinent too. I know you say you have been applying for entry-level jobs already, but it might be worth looking for something slightly different within your field. Receptionist or adminsitration roles in companies you want to work for in your field will give you a chance to get a foot in the door, and once you’ve proven your commitment and ability you could move into a more skilled position related to what you want to do.

    I can understand the frustration of the OP (and many others who are in similar boats) – young people are often told that if they go to college/university and get a good degree they will be rolling in it once they graduate, and that employers will be begging them to work for them (slightly paraphrased, but that’s the sort of message a lot of teenagers get from high school). To then graduate in a poor economy and be told after 5 years of volunteer experience that it’s still not enough to get an entry-level job is really tough on the self-esteem and I don’t blame the OP for being angry about it. But at the same time, being angry and frustrated won’t get you a job so you just have to suck it up as best you can and keep doing everything you can to get where you want to be.

    Good luck OP :-)

    1. sr*

      Good points on the administration/reception roles. However, I wonder if those roles are witnessing the same crunch due to the sucky economy – with tons of both recent grads AND and people with qualified admin experience applying. Also I get the impression that the role of admins has been changing, requiring more experience and skills to complete the work due to a shrinking workforce, making their jobs not below entry-level any longer.

      1. shellbell*

        I agree. It seems that folks will suggest oh just get an admin job. Other times I hear people get frustrated because they can’t get “even” an admin job. These jobs require a skill set. You are competing with highly skilled people in a tough economy. It isn’t easy to get a job that you have no experience with when competing with highly skilled people. I was reviewing resumes for a new admin hire in my company. I had several to choose from. All had 10 years experience, degrees, some spoke a couple if languages. I wouldn’t dream of considering someone with no experience. It would be absurd.

        1. Liz*

          Our receptionist has two graduate degrees and is a very nice person. I am sure she can write a great grad school paper, but she sent our mail out for a week without postage because she “thought the post office put it on for you.”

          Experience counts.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        It is for me. Most of the employers around here are combining them with the accounting, which I can’t do. Trying to change careers is looking unlikely. I’m about ready to go jump in the lake. I don’t know what to do either.

        1. Ariancita*

          I really feel for you, Elizabeth. I can see from your comments that you’re struggling with finding employment. I’m wondering, is there any way you can upgrade your skill set? I have no idea what accounting entails, certifications you’d need, the level experience they want, but I’m wondering if there’s anything you can do (online classes, software) to upgrade your skill set (either for accounting or something else–like business software/stats/databases/etc). In any case, wishing you the best and sending good vibes your way.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yeah, if the jobs you want all involve accounting, then it seems like you have three choices: learn accounting (which I think you’ve said isn’t feasible for you), try a different field where this isn’t an obstacle, or accept that the openings you can apply to will be few in number. I know none of those are easier, but picking one as your path might make things less frustrating.

          1. Another Emily*

            If that’s the case, don’t discount learning the accounting stuff. I learned data entry entirely on the job, and if you’re organized and process driven you can really do well at it. If you’re good at admit stuff maybe you have the skillset for this too. Don’t let the word “accounting” scare you off.

    2. Zee*

      I don’t know whether the tone of the OP’s letter is indicative of their underlying tone in cover letters/resume, but the way the letter to AAM reads comes across as rather entitled to say the least.

      I think, in this case, what you’re calling entitlement is actually frustration. Entitlement would be after 1 year of graduation. Here it is 5 years, and she is still trying to figure out the game.

      1. Mike C.*

        Even then, after being told all of your life that if you just do A, B and C and you’ll have a decent job only to not have that happen should upset anyone.

        1. Lisa*

          That is exactly it, college was supposed to mean better pay and a job that others without a degree couldn’t get. Now even with a degree we are given entry level salaries that were given to non-grads. We end up with massive student loans and no way to pay for them with these new salaries and dont have a hope of buying a home or having a family until we are in our 30’s. Even then its a struggle, when those without degrees or debt are buying homes and having kids because they have no debt and have 4 additional years expereince compared to degree holding candidates.

            1. Molly*

              I’m a senior in college who will graduate in the Spring, and I have a well-paying job lined up. Several of my classmates also have good jobs lined up, and still others are considering two or more offers. While the economy is not so great that a C student majoring in communications or biology can waltz into a job, those of us who chose practical, in-demand majors and worked internships to gain job experience are largely doing fine. It is a bad time to major in the liberal arts or the social sciences, but for those of us in many engineering majors, finance, accounting, IT/ MIS, and CS, jobs are still available, and high-paying.

              Furthermore, those of us about to graduate and those of us who recently graduated entered college during a recession, and knew that the economy would be bad when we graduated. All of us with any sense knew that they job market would be worse than usual, and those of us with the most sense chose good majors to ensure our employability.

              1. The IT Manager*


                I admit that people are still spreading the myth “go to college to get a good paying job.” This has now proven false in the general sense, but unfortunately some college students have not been told this or choose not to believe it. You can’t just go to college, follow your passion and expect to find a $35,000 job waiting for you because for many their passion is something interesting but not terribly marketable.

                People can still go to college and get good paying job, but they have to pick the right career like accounting, medical/RN/Physical Therapist, engineer, maybe computer scientist. At this point, though, a lot of computer programming don’t require a degree (just the proven skill and experience) so students do need to pay attention to what’s going on industry now if they want their degree to pay off.

                If they do want to just follow their passion, that’s fine but they need to realize that post-graduation they may not find a job. This is the message that needs to get out to college students. Although they may not know what they want to do, they need to go to college understanding this or they end up angrt and dissatified and bitter about these false promises.

                1. HRWhale*

                  Your post indicates that research shows going to college does not impact success.

                  The reality is the unemployment rate for college graduates is half of those without degrees and one-third of those who do not graduate high school.

                  Lack of income or work is more a reflection of the degree. Example: my daughter graduated with a social work degree and will not make much more than a retail manager with no degree. This is why we refused to pay for my daughter’s first choice of degree (culinary arts.)

                  The real value of the degree is more than monetary. There simply is no replacement for a college education….it is opportunity, knowledge, connections, and being part of hundreds of years of learned people.

                  My daughter may never get rich but she is happy and twice as likely to have a job than the non=-degreed retail manager above.

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  For what it’s worth, a degree doesn’t on its own confer knowledge and a place in hundreds of years of learned people. There are a LOT of college graduates out there who never pick up a book, know little about the world, can’t write, don’t think rigorously, etc. And there are plenty of accomplished, well-read, sophisticated thinkers who didn’t graduate.

                  The real problem, though, is that what students (and their parents) think they’re buying is not what they’re actually getting. They think they’re buying something that will qualify them for many jobs upon graduation — which isn’t true for many degree paths. Colleges need to do a better job of making it clear what it is that they’re offering, and what it will — and won’t — get students.

            2. caitlin*

              I did. For me, it was a combination of luck, flexibility and entering a subset of my field that was growing.

          1. Katie*

            While I understand the sentiment here, I think it’s important to remember that it’s not just that the middle class got swindled when college degrees lost their market value, while high school grads are laughing all the way to the bank. Maybe you know a couple of people who started working straight out of high school and have a jump on their career, but statistically people with this level of education have lower wages over their lifetimes and experience longer stints of unemployment (which we all know has a serious effect on future earnings).

            It’s not just college grads who got cheated – everyone got cheated in the latest economic crisis. A BA might not earn you what it did 20 years ago, but that’s because a high school degree also does not earn you what it did 20 years ago. I like to remind people of this every time I hear some bourgie, offhanded comment like, “BAs are worthless now – what you really need is a Masters,” something that could only be said by someone who hasn’t been in the job market without a BA (amirite, KellyO?).

            1. Syd*

              I have years of work experience under my belt with no more than 2-month gap during those years, all with just a high school education. I was given those positions on a “prove yourself” basis, and was promoted more than several times based on my work quality, dependability, and ability to think creatively and with common sense.

              I started college in my 30s and, while I continued working part time in my admin/IT job, I earned my BA from a top university (I continued working in order to come out of it with as little student loan debt as possible, but it might have been a better decision to take out more loans in order to intern or do extra research). I could have stayed in that same old job with great benefits, but no real future and lower pay than the position warranted, but chose to take a year off for a master’s degree in the field I really want to work in. While writing my thesis, I interned (unpaid, part time) for 4 months, which ended recently. I was told by many people during that internship that I would be a great fit for my chosen field of work, but was not offered a position. The only other work I’ve managed to get so far is a volunteer position at a non-profit. I’ve had only two responses to my resume submissions (all entry-level jobs in my master’s degree field, plus a few in my old field out of desperation) simply to say that I’m not qualified enough. And it turns out I’m no longer qualified to work as a paralegal in my state without first obtaining an expensive paralegal certificate. It is like I’m over- AND under-qualified. So, with only a high school degree I worked pretty much non-stop in a mostly rising capacity and was mostly debt-free. Now that I have a BA and an MSc, I’m looking at so far 2 months of frustrated job searching and who knows how many more months of living on credit cards with the threat of being homeless constantly over my head. Luckily I don’t have children or pets to care for, only myself. I’m happy I went to college, it expanded my horizons immensely and it was a very inspiring and happy time, but if I had known I’d be better off without my degrees, I might have decided not to go.

              A side question: I’ve noticed that many people I know who started working as admin assistants or in any kind of admin “assistant” job who didn’t then move up within a couple of years have had a difficult time getting out of that rut. It is like once you are seen as an assistant and not a manager/professional, you are not really “good enough” for a decision-making position. Am I wrong?

        2. JM in England*


          I felt somewhat cheated when I graduated during the last big recession in the early 90s……….was also drip fed the “propaganda” that a degree makes all the difference!

    3. Mike C.*

      With regards to the “entry level” issue, I can say from experience that at least in the lab world, tons and tons of “entry level” bench jobs – stuff that’s easily trainable in a few days for folks who took a few college lab courses – often asked for 2-3 years experience.

      It’s a stupid requirement.

      1. katie*

        I was a temp in recruiting last year for a company, in an area of the US where jobs are existant. We had a posting for an admin position up for about 3 weeks… and got about 100 resumes a day. I’ve seen them all come through. It was quite devastating.

        I myself was looking for an admin job for over a year (I have an AS and 2.5 years of field-related experience, 1 year of similar-to-the-field experience, speak 3 languages fluently, would be happy yo make 87 cups of coffee a day) and was not able to find FT employment for the life of me. Not even an interview. After working that temp gig I realized it’s probably not because I suck.. but because of the economy in my state. I mean, 100 resumes a day with barely any overlaps… come on.

        People think it’s so easy to get a job as an admin assistant… and it really isn’t.

        1. Mike C.*

          You’re fluent in three languages and can’t find better work?! Did you pick Klingon and Tolkien Elvish?

          More seriously, you should try to get a BA and work for the State Department.

          1. katie*

            LOL, I forgot about Klingon — that would be a fourth!

            But really, I’ve in the vicious cycle of ‘No time to go to school if I work FT – No money to go to school if I don’t work FT.’ I finally found a school that I’ll be able to adjust my schedule to, and I’ll be working on my BA come this spring with the goal of working for immigration after I graduate, as I’ve been through the immigration process myself. :)

            I found a decent job in a different city that I’ve been at after my temp assignment ended (something I’d need a BA for, but they hired me because they needed people with a certain language skill and turned a blind eye on the education). The only downside is that I have a 3 hour commute (1.5 each way) which really sucks.

            Thanks for the extra motivation, Sir! :D

            1. CS*

              If you are fluent in other languages, you might want to look into being a court room interpreter. They make pretty good money. Another place where you can use your knowledge of foreign languages is as a tutor. I’ve seen many postings for those on craigslist. Though the hours are closer to part-time (usually after school and weekends), the pay is a little bit higher than those I’ve seen for receptionists and other entry level office jobs.

              1. katie*

                Courtroom interpreter is a great suggestion, thank you! I will certainly look into it. I don’t speak a language that’s very highly in-demand in the US – such as Chinese or Spanish – it’s not completely ‘useless’ either, haha.

                I thought about tutoring but, as mentioned, I live in a very, very… very… dead area when ti comes to jobs. Craigslist here if full of scammers (sigh I know from experience.. even the real-looking ads are fake) and the one’s that aren’t, around here at least, all want some sort of teaching certificate, or background in education.

                But who knows, maybe in the future! :)

      2. KayDay*

        “tons and tons of “entry level” bench jobs – stuff that’s easily trainable in a few days for folks who took a few college lab courses – often asked for 2-3 years experience” I’ve noticed this too quite a bit (mostly in non-profit jobs, because that’s my field).

        I’m not sure about the OP’s cases, but I have noticed that many organizations are asking for a completely unnecessary level of education/experience at an alarming rate. In the past 4 years, as well, I’ve also noticed that Master’s degrees are listed as requirements for lower and lower level jobs, even if it really shouldn’t be necessary. Honestly, a master’s degree in international relations will not help you design a budget for an international exchange program!!!

        1. Piper*

          Agreed. I saw this trend starting when I graduated 10 years ago and it’s just gotten worse and worse. So called “entry-level” jobs now require 2-5 years experience and advanced degrees, all for the low, low price of $30,000 a year! Ridiculous.

          1. Malissa*

            I think a lot of this depends on the market. I’ve looked at jobs in Pheonix and Las Vegas. The same job pays almost $30,000 more in some cases in Las Vegas. I’m guessing accountants are more available in Pheonix???

            1. The IT Manager*

              I assume (no research done) that the cost of living in much greater in Las Vegas than Phoenix and that’s the cause of the difference in median salaries.

    4. Sue*

      As a person who has applied to admin roles, employers do not want to hire us. We are still competing against people who have lots more exp then us. I feel my generation is really getting the squeeze. For example: My mother is a boss and her admin has a masters degree and 10 years exp…. yeah there is no way I can compete against that.

    5. Tiff*

      I was with you until you suggested getting his foot in the door by taking a receptionist/admin role. It just hasn’t been my experience, and it was very frustrating for me because that was precisely why I took those jobs – to get my foot in the door and move up. But like many others I have spoken with, I was pretty much “grounded” where I started, and very few of us ever made it out of the admin pool (even the one who made it out eventually got demoted back to administrative assistant).

      My advice to the younger folks who ask me is to avoid admin work past college unless it’s something that you’re good at and enjoy. If you do end up in an admin role use the time to really stretch your abilities and learn new skills. They will serve you well whether you grow with your company or move on.

      1. LondonI*

        I completely agree.

        In *some* places you can work your way up out of an admin role (usually in small companies). At other places you end up absolutely stuck in that position. People are unable to see beyond you as ‘the admin’, regardless of your level of education, your competence and your experience.

        In my own role (which I took, believing it to be a ‘stepping stone’ to better roles in my field) I do apparently excel. I take on extra responsibility whenever I can and according to my annual reviews I ‘exceed expectations’. Consequently I’m rewarded with good bonuses and above-average raises at the end of the year. That’s nice, but that’s it.

        I’m fighting my corner to move into a position with more responsibility, but the organisation has no history of training an existing employee up to a new role. They would rather just hire someone who already has that experience. I’ve been looking for jobs elsewhere, but as we all know the economy isn’t good and potential employers seem to be worried about taking on someone who is ‘just an admin’ when I’m up against someone who has higher-level experience.

      2. Hari*

        I would agree for bigger companies, but smaller agencies and businesses often see the admin role as a gateway. At my last job, I know of 3 people with better jobs in the area they desired who started out as the admin assistant. So it just completely depends on the job and industry, I definitely don’t think its the same across the board.

        1. Not usually Anon*

          This. Really depends on the company and the industry.

          I started as the Office Manager and ended up in IT when I began my career – but have definitely read enough posts from people who’ve been pigeonholed to know it happens all the time.

      3. Lulu*

        +1 Unfortunately, I have to echo the comments about an admin position not necessarily being a stepping stone: after having been in the working world for about 10 years already, my last gig was the first time I’d filled that particular job description, and I eventually discovered not only was it not considered a promotable position, it wasn’t even considered one that should have access to company training opportunities. In my 6 years at the company, I only saw one admin get a promotion (which involved actual tears at one point), and she still had to retain her admin duties on top of the new work. It certainly wasn’t for lack of trying or ability on our parts, we were just a special class of little worker bees, apparently. I now feel like my decision to take that position, while good for other reasons at the time, has significantly restricted my future opportunities.

        If you do take an admin job with an eye to other things, definitely ask about the growth potential when you interview, make sure you’re learning solid skills, and be aware that you may need to strategize even more creatively to escape the label when you want to move on.

      4. Blinx*

        My ex company had a wonderful education reimbursement program, which many admins took advantage of. Many completed their 4-year degrees. But what I never understood, is that these same admins were rarely promoted to a more challenging role. It did happen, but it was extremely rare.

      5. Syd*

        I completely agree with you. I recently looked at a website for a small company which included their admin assistant on their staff bio page. The admin’s accomplishments were very slim, mostly it was just a list of a few of her duties, no mention was made of her degree/qualifications, and they had included her “personal interests” such as taking long walks with her children. I thought, “That is completely irrelevant” and it seemed demeaning especially since none of the professional staff had included their personal interests in their bios. I wonder if she had any control over her bio?

    6. Laura L*

      I’m not sure that getting an admin or receptionist role will necessarily lead to higher level work in the OP’s field.

    7. A Reader*

      Hi, thanks for responding.

      I understand that I probably came across as entitled, but no, its pure frustration. Its been 5 years, I have tried so hard to get something, but I’m working harder and not getting anywhere at all.

      The problem is, as you state, others have paid experience, but HOW are they getting it? I have made sure to increase my training in the field also. I have 9 different certificates- 7 certs of attainment in the field, 1 university post grad course certificate, 1 federal and state government course certificate (considered vital and only for sworn government personel, I was actually a sworn volunteer), a diploma, and courses in 2 other areas that are field related.

      Your next question – I’ve been told by employers they chose someone with more experience. I don’t assume anything, its not part of my personality or training. I usually try to call for feedback, but you’d be surprised how many people refuse to give it to you.

      I’ve tried finding internships, but I don’t believe there are any post grad internships in my field. I’ve asked too, and have been told they don’t do them.

      However, I did volunteer at one place for 2 years, in 2 different departments, one of which again, was sworn. I thought 2 years would have been a suitable amount of time in the field. My current volunteer position has been since end of August. I came back to the US in July.

      Lowering my aim… I can’t even get a receptionist job in my field. There’s either none around or I just never hear back. My last paid job only required a GED. I worked there for 1.5 yrs, had no opportunity for advancement, no real required skills and no skills to gain. It didn’t even cover my student loans let alone my living expenses, and that was a 40+ hr week job, floating shift.

      The job I had before that was in management (which is also part of my degree) in a different field. I took it because I needed a job, and only 3 months after I started, found the owner was into illegal activity. I quit, I did not want to be involved in that kind of an organization. He was later caught and closed down. The problem is, I have no record of my work there – due to the illegal activity.

      Networking.. because I worked in a different area prior to going to college and continued it during college, most people I know are in that field, not the one I’ve studied. We’ve also moved states, so while I am attempting to build my network here, I’ve gone about as far up the ladder as I can at the moment, and am still trying to meet others who might be able to help.

      Administration is only one of the areas I could go into in my field, though its the one I currently have the most ‘experience’ in, mostly because its the only area I can volunteer for. I have been considered qualified for other areas according to past potential employers, but never got an interview. The thing is, in my field, not everyone has all the certs and advanced training I have. I’m very confused.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Nine certificates is a lot, and they might actually be working against you. Having that many will raise questions about why, and whether you misunderstand their value or what they do for you. I’d be a little taken aback if I saw nine certificates on someone’s resume, especially if combined without much work experience.

      2. HR Anon*

        Have you thought about switching to the field you have experience in? Just because you have a degree in one area doesn’t mean you have to work there, and having any kind of professional job would be helpful (financially and for your resume).
        And I agree with AAM that you should edit some of the certifications off your resume, and shorter term jobs as well if they aren’t relevant to the opening.

      3. Another Emily*

        Do you think it would help you to be more specific to each job you apply for? If you’re not doing this already, make sure your cover letter tells the potential employer why you would be awesome at that specific job. And only put the certificates on your resume for that job which really would be a boost.
        You really do sound like you’d be a great employee, I know it’s hard to focus on conveying that when you’re understandably frustrated. I hope this works out for you and you find a good job.

  2. sr*

    AAM, are you saying that volunteer work, when full time, is not considered in the same light as paid work?

    1. Anonymous*

      I feel that often, they’re not held to the same standard. After all, if it provided sufficient value to the organization, they would’ve paid the person for it.

      1. Soni*

        Not sure why you feel this way, especially for non-mangerial-level jobs. Most non-profits simply couldn’t operate if they had to hire all their staff, and a great number of volunteers are working in roles comparable to paid staff – reception, admin, retail, front desk, social media, on-site crew leaders, basic labor, warehouse, forklift operator, fund raising, grant writing and so on. And many of the volunteers have way higher skill levels than the jobs actually require (often being either retired from a similar field or, like OP, working in that field at a lower level than they’re qualified/trained for.

        Yes, in some cases you’re doing stuff like stuffing envelopes, manning display tables and knocking on doors. But in my own volunteer efforts, I’ve done everything from actual on-site construction work to co-organizing large fundraising events to being essentially the primary media director for a very popular event/program, jobs for which I could have been paid rather well for the level and quality of work I was doing.

        When you work in a non-profit you may be a little less picky about volunteers you take on for grunt-level work, true. But for more specific jobs, the “hiring” process and expectations can easily be as rigorous as it is for a paying job, and you can be “fired” for not meeting those expectations.

        1. fposte*

          But “can easily be as rigorous” also means “isn’t necessarily as rigorous,” and a hiring manager isn’t going to assume that this was one of the more rigorous ones.

        2. Good_Intentions*


          Thanks for that great post!

          At the moment, I am a volunteer with a huge organization that’s based thousands of miles away. You are completely correct in that volunteers like me are doing the same high-level work of regional staff members– community outreach, event coordination, social media, volunteer recruitment, media relations, etc.

          Your statement about many nonprofits being unable to hire people and instead relying on volunteers because of budgets is something I’ve been seeing a lot in my region. It’s truly unfortunate because the nonprofits being hardest hit by budget constraints and needing more volunteers are those providing vital services such as outreach to the homeless and child nutrition engagement.

      2. Piper*

        “After all, if it provided sufficient value to the organization, they would’ve paid the person for it.”

        This is not true at all. I do volunteer work for several organizations, most are very small, volunteer-only animal rescues. These people cannot afford to pay me even if they wanted to. Their budgets are stretched so thin that they are turning homeless animals away. But at the same time, the work I do helps get these animals adopted faster and makes a huge difference in turnover to these organizations.

        1. Not usually Anon*

          I love that you do this. I’m involved in rescue as well and yep – there isn’t a dime left over to pay volunteers and I wouldn’t take it if there were.

          My efforts are not resume worthy – more in the poop scooping, blanket washing, kennel scrubbing, bath giving, playing/cuddling line – but I know a lot of people doing higher level work so I agree with you. For me the difference is in the level of accountability that makes the difference rather than the value of the work itself.

      3. A Reader*

        Not every company, or in this case, government agency has the budget. In this economy, budgets for local government have been held pretty low. So not everyone can hire someone on, even though they need the extra personel.

        I’ve been told that I might have a chance to get hired on where I am currently volunteering, but the budget only comes up once a year. The other issue of course is, I have no money, and I’m very worried that I won’t be able to just keep working for nothing. I’ll have to look outside my field, which of course appears to be an issue simply because it is outside my field and not the specific work the employer wants. Its a never ending cycle.

    2. Kou*

      I don’t think it is for a lot of people. I’ve even seen a lot of listings specifying that your experience must have been full time AND
      paid- a real thorn in my side since all my internships were unpaid.

      1. majigail*

        I’m seeing on here that it seems like a lot of people are doing internships AFTER graduation. Is this a new norm? How do people afford to do this?

        1. Tina*

          It’s not ideal, but some people are doing it. One way to look at it is this – if you don’t have a job anyway, and aren’t getting paid, than you’re not actually “losing” anything, but could actually gain in terms of experience and networking potential. And of course, you keep searching for full-time jobs in the meantime.

        2. Kate*

          Ugh, I did this. I lived off of my savings account and luckily did not have to pay back my student loans for another few months, but I found it very frustrating to work for free–especially when the company I worked for would go on and on to their clients about how they kept their costs low and could pass along the savings to them (um, yeah when 50% of your workforce is unpaid interns, of course your cost is low!). Unpaid internships (even if you earn college credit) should be illegal and employers should be prosecuted. There is no reason a company should hire someone to work without pay. It’s pretty much slavery, in my opinion.

            1. Kate*

              It was a small start-up, but it was definitely for profit (3 employees, 3 interns). But what am I supposed to do, sue them (with all this spare money I have) and burn my bridges? I just wish unpaid internships were not a thing…it is not ok, in any case (or so I think anyway).

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Kate, if it helps you not feel frustrated about it, it’s worth remembering that you presumably took the job for a reason, didn’t feel forced into it, thought you were getting some benefit from it, etc. I’m not saying it’s okay for companies to break the law — it’s not — but you presumably felt you were getting something out of it too.

                1. Eric*

                  Well, yes, but it’s not right for employers to take advantage of people’s need to work, keep busy, feel somewhat productive by having them do work for free that they should be paid for.

                  Just because one party “gets something” out of a bad situation doesn’t not make it a bad situation.

        3. N*

          I feel like this is the new norm…I did three internships during college and one after. I know for a fact that I wouldn’t have gotten my current job if I didn’t do those internships.

        4. Blargh*

          What drove me nuts was that even when I was unemployed, looking for my first in-my-field job, even when I -wanted- to take internships (and sometimes even for free), some places would require that you were a current student.

          I know that internships require supervision and whatnot, so they’re not positions that can just run on auto-pilot… But…for instance, if a national park is sending emails saying “please apply, pleeaaaase?” and they’re getting no responses because no students want to work there over the winter… I can’t even qualify because I’m not a student anymore. I’m sitting here, dyyyying to work in a national park! Pick me, pick me!

          I know it’s probably a government thing, but I’ve seen it elsewhere. =\ Bums me out. I suppose there’s always the option to go sort of fake-enroll in a community college and sign up for one credit or something, but… I don’t know if that would qualify. idk.

          Also, my other favorite… one 3 month internship at the British Library conservation lab — the catch is that you HAVE to be employed while you apply, but then also get permission to take a 3 month break. How many employers in the library/etc field seriously would do that? Ugh.

          1. Jill*

            I totally understand your frustration with internships looking for students. I wanted to work for my dream organization but they were only offering internships for college kids. I graduated just over a year ago but I decided to apply anyways. It turns out they loved my experience and during my phone interview they told me about a full time opening that wasn’t being advertised that I am now in the running for. I would never have known about it if I hadn’t apply. Although the outcome may be different I say apply for it anyways. You can’t lose much. Good luck!

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Sometimes this is due to restrictions on the funding provided for the internship, or to ensure they don’t skirt the law around unpaid internships.

        5. Hari*

          Every person who graduated with me that I know of either got their full-time job from interning at that place their senior year or interning there after graduation and getting hired on. A grad’s best bet for a job these days is interning at a company and getting hired on after. Depending on where you intern they can pay up to 18$ an hr so it can be affordable.

          1. Kate*

            What!?!? Where? When I did have a paid internship, it was only $8.50/hour. For goodness sake, I only make a little over $18/hour now…

            1. Jamie*

              I’ve worked in a place where the paid internships were $16-17 per hour.

              Mechanical engineering and CAD/CAM stuff.

              1. EM*

                Yeah, I had an internship at an aerospace manufacturing facility almost 10 years ago, and I got paid $16 an hour. I have specialized STEM degrees. It’s awful that wages seemed to have gone DOWN since then. :(

            2. Hari*

              Marketing and advertising in the Seattle area pays interns well lol. Although standard of living is much higher here.

          2. Molly*

            My last internship in IT paid $24 an hour, plus a stipend for travel and rent. My engineering friends often make $20+ an hour as summer interns too.

        6. KS*

          The few that have done this did post-graduate internships for 3-6 months and interned 3 days per week or such then had retail or other service jobs on weekends and evenings. It isn’t ideal but helped them to gain experience.

      2. Hari*

        I’m curious, what industry has these listings been in? At least in my state, this certainly hasn’t been the case in marketing/advertising.

    3. Joey*

      Of course it’s not equivalent, at least in terms of professional experience. Here’s why:
      1. If it was critical work they would have prioritized it as such and it would be a paid position.
      2. The expectations of a volunteer are frequently lower than a paid employee. The assumption is that volunteering is a favor so goal is to bend over backwards to accommodate.
      3. Volunteering is less competitive than paid jobs so its assumed that its pretty easy to get volunteer work regardless of skill.

      1. sr*

        Good points, but none of this reflect how the person actually handled the work, how hard they worked, what they learned from it, and how those new skills can be applied to another job.

      2. Piper*

        While I don’t think volunteer work is the equivalent of paid work, I don’t think all of the reasons are fair here.

        As I mentioned upstream in the comments, I do volunteer work (that requires very specific, very good skills in the area I work – I’m not stuffing envelopes or doing administrative work), and I’m not paid for it. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t have hard statistics that prove my value to these organizations. Even if they wanted to pay me, there is no way they could afford to (for reasons I mentioned previously).

        The automatic assumption that value=money for every non-profit is just flat out wrong, in my opinion.

      1. Jamie*

        Yes, it’s the difference in accountability.

        There may be the rare unicorn where it’s the same, but typically volunteers are doing an organization a favor so they aren’t going to be held to the same standards or have their work measured and judged with the same metrics as a paid position.

        If you do an adequate job you won’t be asked to leave the volunteer post. That’s radically different than having to navigate the organization to grow a career.

        1. Piper*

          This. The accountability/responsibility level is the difference. Not the fact that it’s not paid because the organization doesn’t value the work. That’s poppycock.

          1. Joey*

            I’m not arguing the assumptions are true or fair. I’m just saying that’s the general assumption when hiring managers see volunteer work on a resume.

        2. Good_Intentions*


          From my own experience, I take issue with part of your comment.

          In particular, I find that last line paragraph a dangerous generalization about volunteer responsibilities and the outcome of completing tasks.

          The regional staffer with whom I volunteer started out as unpaid volunteer with the national organization. He secured this mid-level administrative job, which entails a great deal of autonomy, because he exhibited high levels of professionalism and follow-through as a volunteer.

          Among his accomplishments were hosting events of nearly 200 people, establishing a well-read blog and Facebook page, collaborating with the media for publicity and recruiting volunteers.

          Not all organizations relegate volunteers to stuffing envelopes, scooping up animal fecal matter and sorting donations. Many “big idea” nonprofits– international, educational, medical–really ask their volunteers to act as extended members of their team and assume responsibilities with real consequences in large projects.

          I’ll end as I started, this is from my own experience.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            See fposte’s comment below, as it applies here too — while there are certainly exceptions, in general hiring managers won’t perceive volunteer roles the same way they perceive paid roles. The reality of the job could be different, but we’re talking about perception here, not actual value in every case.

            1. Good_Intentions*


              Good point. I did read fposte’s comment and agree with your assessment.

              I really dislike generalizations made about volunteer experience, especially as you can build your portfolio, secure references, build up a skill set and make connections through giving your time and abilities to a great cause.

              Again, I concur with your sentiment.

          2. Jamie*

            Nothing I said implied that I thought volunteers all dealt with fecal matter or envelopes.

            Some volunteer experience can be very valuable in gaining skills – however, yes, I believe the assumption when seeing a volunteer job is that it probably didn’t involve the same level of accountability.

            I’m not sure why I got singled out as making a “dangerous generalization” when a lot of others expressed the same sentiment.

    4. fposte*

      There may be the occasional exception, but in general, it’s not considered the same because it’s not the same. You’re not requiring the same level of investment from your workplace so they’re not judging you the same way or making the same demands.

      A job means somebody spent money on you; a good job history means they considered that money well spent.

  3. Jesicka309*

    Have you tried a recruiter? Sometimes they can get you the ‘in’ that differentiates you from the other candidates, and they know exactly what their clients want, so if the employer wants a semi experienced person for an entry level job, the recruiter will be looking.
    Also some companies use ‘entry level’ as code for ‘bottom of the rung’. They still want some experience, but you have no reports and little responsibility.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Just one clarification, to prevent further frustration on the part of the OP — recruiters work for employers, not for candidates, and they have specific jobs to fill, just like would be the case if you went directly to an employer. In most fields, especially for someone without a lot of experience, you can’t really just pick out a recruiter and decide to work with them — they need to approach you about a specific job. (The exception here would be temp-to-perm or temp staffing agencies, but that’s a different thing.)

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Yeah, I tried this in my area, but all they had was temp positions. I’m looking for something permanent. One place promised me temp-to-hire but only sent me on two interviews. One ended up hiring internally, and the other wasn’t a good fit because it involved something I can’t really do. The rest of the options were temp only. Grr.

        1. Jamie*

          I was thinking about you yesterday when I was dealing with a rep from my main vendor – who is amazing.

          I know what you’re saying about a lot of admin jobs bundling accounting duties – I definitely see that in my industry where businesses are trying to do less with more people so the AA or receptionist is now the AP clerk as well, or whatever.

          But her job has no accounting – but she does admin stuff for various customers. Gives customers information about various things, directs inquiries, lights fires under people when things take too long…a lot of admin stuff without the accounting (trust me – she does not do accounting aside from forwarding stuff to them).

          This is a software vendor but she doesn’t do any of the technical end – it’s basically an admin liaison between the customer and company. It’s a really cool position for someone looking for admin work without the finance part.

          Anyway, she was talking about her job and how much she loved it and I thought of you so wanted to mention it. Unfortunately they aren’t in your state – but maybe other software companies have this too?

        2. Lulu*

          Elizabeth, I can’t tell from your post whether you wrote off the temp-only options or were just frustrated that they were all that was on offer – if it’s the former, you may want to reconsider. I did end up with a full-time job at one point via something that was originally a week-long temp assignment. Someone else in the department ended up needing additional help, and asked if I’d stay on and work with them after the week was up, and eventually this went perm. This didn’t happen with EVERY temp assignment I ever had, but I was also able to gain some useful experiences from the shorter term gigs even when I didn’t stay on. Of course, this was earlier in my career, when my salary requirements were lower, so it was easier to be open to whatever.

          That said, I’m another person who’s feeling really sidelined by all of the extra accounting/book-keeping/graphic design duties that seem to have crept into the admin purview. I can make an attempt to learn some of the tech skills on my own, but won’t become an expert overnight, especially without real-world scenarios to work with. And the temp agencies here no longer seem as accessible as they once were (I assume they’re overwhelmed with applicants, too). So I definitely feel your frustration!

  4. MentalEngineer*

    Actually, OP…they do. A series of studies from earlier this year shows that people tend to have a fairly strong bias in favor of potential over actual experience, all other things being equal. (Article here: http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2012/08/the_surprising_secret_to_selli.html and studies here: http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/2012-18069-001/). If hiring managers and interviewers saw the potential in you that you see in yourself, one probably would have hired you by now. As Alison and the other commenters have suggested, you should probably a) reassess what your potential actually is and b) present it so that hiring managers will agree with you.

  5. shellbell*

    Do hiring managers and HR people even look at potential? Do they glance over someones resume and not actually “see” it properly, or do they just not get that some people can literally walk into a job and hit the ground running? Do they look at what the candidate has done and actually comprehend it, or honestly, do they just not “get” some specifics?

    I understand your frustration, but I take issue with this a bit. When I review resumes I often do want someone who can hit the ground running. That requires that they have very closely related experience with a proven track record of accomplishments. Someone with a variety of experiences ( some relevant and some not) is not generally viewed as someone who can hit the ground running because in all reality they cant. They might be brilliant and a fast learner, but they will need some training/coaching and it will take some time. There is nothing wrong or shameful about this. It is just true.

    1. Anonymous*

      Nothing wrong or shameful indeed – just send outs message that perfect cookie cutter employees are valued….and others are strictly also-ran.
      But yes, I agree while hard to swallow it is the reality to be dealt with…

      1. fposte*

        I think the “cookie cutter” phrase there reveals some misunderstanding. What’s valued is the candidate who’s likeliest to do the job, and that’s reasonable, not some kind of conformist timidity.

        When I buy a fridge, I buy the one that has features that have proved useful to me in the past and that comes from a company with an established record. I don’t think “Hey, maybe I’ll drop $1000 bucks on a fridge that nobody’s ever heard of and that is trying some innovative concept where there are no shelves or crisper drawers.” Make it $40,000 and I’m even less likely to throw aside my need for shelves and drawers. For most jobs, a candidate who is coming in without the standard experience for the position is a fridge with no shelves. Maybe that would turn out to be great, but I’d have to figure out how the heck you use it and spend a lot of time setting it up. I’m not likely to do that if I have qualified candidates who I know can do the job and who I can plug in and start using from day one.

          1. Jamie*

            It was perfect. Although to be literal, I would pay a lot of money for a fridge with no shelves or crisper as long as the darn ice crusher thing in the door lasted more than 6 months.

            I’m on my third and if I burn through one more I’m pretty sure my family will vote to keep me out of the kitchen permanently.

            1. fposte*

              I’m Jack Sprat to your Mrs. Sprat on the ice stuff–don’t much like it, don’t like cold water, so I buy fridges without those things and they last really well. (Apparently once you add the plumbing component you’re just asking for trouble.)

    2. Stells*

      To this point, I think the OP needs to (like everyone has said) really do a deep dive into (a) what job(s) they want and (b) how your resume is matching those job requirements.

      There are some roles, as a recruiter, that I know you probably can’t have worked in EXACT way the role is in our company (for example, an admin role in one department is much more demanding/stressful/political than the admin role in another dept/company/etc – so while someone might have lots of admin experience, they may not have dealt with some of the issues that my role requires and I’ll look for other types of experience that would produce similar stresses and work)

      I think a resume revamp is all that’s needed here. If the letter is any indication, the OP should have some really great experiences from the volunteer roles/internships/jobs but they aren’t presenting it in a way that a recruiter can read when reviewing a mass of resumes.

    3. AdAgencyChick*

      And the more the economy sucks, the more businesses are skittish about hiring anyone until the need is acute, rather than just “wouldn’t it be nice to have another person to handle X, Y, and Z?” The more acute the need is, the more important it is to have someone who can hit the ground running.

      I do remember that there was a time *coughcough* years ago when someone took a chance on me and hired me when I had no experience in my field. So I have, in the past few years, given that same chance to a couple of people. One worked out swimmingly. One proved exceedingly problematic, and I had to fire him. As Alison said, it’s a big risk — at some organizations, it is quite difficult to remove a poor performer, requiring months of documentation and hard conversations (not to mention carrying the workload that person isn’t doing well), and even if there aren’t organizational barriers, it’s not fun to have to fire someone.

      The one I had to fire, was one who seemed extremely eager to learn and showed initiative when I interviewed him, which is why I was willing to take a chance. But eagerness doesn’t mean *ability* to learn. If someone walked in with the OP’s attitude — whether it stems from deep frustration or a sense of entitlement — I certainly would not take a chance on someone who not only doesn’t have proven ability through experience, but also doesn’t show a positive, upbeat attitude and an awareness of how much s/he has to learn. My bad experience has already made me leery enough of hiring no experience, great attitude, let alone no experience, off-putting attitude.

      1. Lily*


        Attitude is so important, so if I don’t know where the attitude is coming from, whether it is entitlement or frustration, then why take the risk?

  6. Anonymous*

    You also have to consider another thing: how many candidates with “potential” are in that pile? I bet you are not the only one. Its not personal, they aren’t being rude to you directly – they just have other choices.

    I possibly detect something else in your letter (and I do apologise if I’m wrong): a sense of “well I’m brilliant and wonderful you’d be lucky I’d even consider working for you”. If you are looking at entry level jobs they may not want to deal with that potentially “loud” personality. I’d be surprised if some of this doesn’t come over in your CV. If it does then its easier to pass on someone who looks to be very individual for someone who is likely to be easier to mould into the right shape for the departments atmosphere and working style.

    (Think about it, you aren’t going to want to employ Sherlock Holmes in a Desk Sergeant role – he’s probably going to take a little too much work to keep up with and is likely to keep bucking his position and reaching beyond his roles scope. Its disruptive if it doesn’t have a place in the structure of the working environment.)

    I’ve personally been turned down for jobs because “you’ve done better jobs than this before, you’d be bored/trying to take my job”. I had to tone down my loud personality before I could get past that hurdle. I don’t have a set formula for how I did it – I just tried to be more “quiet” in my tone and writing style and at interview. It was also a more forgiving decade as well – now they have far more choices available to them.

    1. AdAgencyChick*

      “You also have to consider another thing: how many candidates with “potential” are in that pile? I bet you are not the only one. Its not personal, they aren’t being rude to you directly – they just have other choices.”


  7. Katie*

    OP, I understand how frustrated you feel and am sorry that things aren’t better for you. BHB is right – in this economy, don’t underestimate the power of your network. But here’s the part that might sound harsh, sorry – you need to be absolutely certain that the attitude of negativity and entitlement that comes through in your letter doesn’t show through to the people in your network. Take an honest and critical look at yourself – when you are volunteering or interning, are you coming off as thinking that you are overqualified for what you are doing? If so, you are undermining your own efforts – employers don’t want high maintenance staff that have an attitude about tasks that they consider to be beneath them. I absolutely understand your frustration, but vent it over beers with your friends, not in professional settings – even if those settings are volunteer positions. I’m not saying that you do have this kind of an attitude, but it’s how your letter comes across, so you might want to think about how others could perceive you and how that might be affecting your job search.

    1. Mike C.*

      Why would it? The OP is writing to an audience where such expressions aren’t unacceptable. One can express frustration in a safe environment without having it bleed out everywhere else.

      1. Jamie*

        I think Katie has a point – yes this isn’t an interview – but the way you present yourself in writing when speaking about your career to strangers is similar to a cover letter.

        The way letters are written definitely leave an impression, good or bad, so pointing out that the tone of this letter left somewhat of a bad impression on some people (I also thought it sounded either entitled or quite naive) is helpful as the OP should make sure he isn’t having the same issue with cover letters being somewhat off-putting.

        I don’t hear judgment of him as a person, but some valid critique about how he’s presenting himself.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Agreed. If the OP thinks, “Of course, this was me blowing off steam,” then that’s fine. But if the OP thinks, “Huh? I don’t hear that in my letter,” then that’s a signal to her that she might not realize how she’s presenting herself to others.

          1. Katie*

            Exactly! That’s what I meant. Not that the OP definitely has a bad attitude, but that it might be worth considering and could help her job search. I’m not judging – we all need to vent our frustrations – just trying to be helpful.

  8. Anonymous*

    You graduated 5 years ago and it doesn’t sound like you have held 1 full-time entry-level paid role for an extended period of time— this can be very alarming to a hiring manager. I know I’d honestly look at your resume and think,” that is odd, he graduated in 2007 or 2008 and is still hasn’t secured full-time regular employment… what is up with that…” I also know a lot of larger companies hire recent grads for entry-level roles… you no longer fall into this category. Instead, most of your peers have about 5 years of professional experience now and it sounds like you’ve sort of been floating from internship to volunteer experience to internship, etc. (which is professional experience, just doesn’t display a long-term commitment, no real career movement, etc.)

    And no, I’m not knocking volunteer work or internships…. during college I had 3 unpaid internships, volunteer part-time currently, and got my first job through a paid internship upon graduating from college… I just think it is odd that 5 years later you are still at square one. They also are likely wondering why all of these volunteer/internships never turned into employment opportunities. They are also likely wondering, how the heck has this person been living with little to no income for 5 years?!

    Basically, I’m just trying to say all of what I’m saying is what runs through someone’s head when they see a resume that you are describing. And when they see a TON of resumes, all of these questions may land you in the, “eh, maybe if these exceptional candidates don’t pan out” pile.

    1. Sue*

      No offense but what you say ” most of your peers have had 5 year of professional exp” shows how disconnected you are with our generation. Most of my friends have been bouncing around from internships, vol, or temporary jobs. The ones with the most stable job experience are the ones working the same job they had in college ie waitressing or retail….something that has nothing to do with their field and does not pay their college bills and has no health benefits.
      It is not odd that this person is in this position still trying to get that entry level job, this is the new reality for my generation…
      It gets really frustrating…. My friends and I have put off having a family, buying a house, etc… All the milestones of being an adult because of this job market.

      1. Kate*

        Preach it, sister!
        I am an admin assistant (not at a company in my field either and thus have no room to move up) and most of my friends are either in grad school or working in jobs that do not require college degrees (one is even an industrial laborer). We all had great grades, went to good schools, and had internships/part time jobs in college. But, it’s pretty impossible to compete with someone who has several years of experience more than you do.

      2. Liz*

        Ditto. Almost everyone I know has work history for three or four years out of college consisting entirely or almost entirely of temporary employment and internships. The few who were hired immediately after graduation have already been laid off. There are a few ‘consultants’ too, but yeah, stable job with benefits = barista.

      3. The IT Manager*

        Maybe I am disconnected, but I think degrees matter. Some degrees must have a much better rate of employment than others. And when I hear “my friends” used as sample group I imagine that these friends are often trying to break in the same oversaturated industry/fields.

  9. L*

    Believe me, OP, you’re not alone in your frustration. I’m graduating from college this winter and struggling to find an entry level job in DC. Pretty much every listing out there requires 3-5 years of experience in the field. For ENTRY LEVEL.

    I was so disheartened that I turned to unpaid internships instead. Sent out many applications and can’t even get an interview. Here I am, begging to throw my free labor at you for 40 hours a week, and you won’t give me a chance?

    1. kdizzle*

      Hi there, L. Sorry to hear that. I’m mid-career in DC, and have found there’s jobs to be had for the newly minted grad if you know where to look. What is your degree in (if you don’t mind me asking)?

      1. L*

        Hi, thank you for asking. My degree is in business administration. I’ve taken mostly marketing classes. I have done 2 internships that add up to about 2 years of experience in PR and communications. I’m just looking for anything ranging from “marketing/PR assistant” to “marketing/PR specialist”. Would you happen to have any advice for me?

        1. kdizzle*

          Hmmm. PR can be a tough nut to crack, but it’s fantastic that you’ve got internship experience already! I’m in finance, so you may wish to take most of this with a grain of salt since my experience in PR is limited…

          Have you considered employment that is more on the adminstrative side, but includes creating / maintaining social media presence? A lot of non-profits in DC may not have the money to pay for a full-time marketing person, but will farm those responsibilities out to a program assistant. It may be a good way for a newbie to jump into a good amount of responsibility in relatively flat organizations.

          Just off the top of my head, I can remember seeing this posting from one of my linkedin connections: http://www.bullhornreach.com/job/556893_non-profit-program-associate-recent-grad-alexandria-va?utm_campaign=v1&shortlink=1424020&utm_content=1&utm_source=linkedin.com&referer=None&utm_medium=referral

          Since you have a business degree, it may not be a bad idea to take part-time employment at places like Shugoll Research (market research in Bethesda) or Coyle Hospitality (market research online). It could help you make some good connections in marketing.

          If you’ve ever thought of going back to school for a graduate degree, you may want to apply to jobs at GW (department admin, marketing, etc). Even part-timers get some tuition remission, and full-timers get 96% free tuition. Many professors are very well connected to non-profits in DC, and make great connections for those starting out.

          If all else fails, I do believe that volunteering is a great option. The AARP Tax-Aide Program provides free tax preparation classes …and those who complete the classes agree to volunteer to create tax returns for the elderly. It certainly isn’t marketing, but it’s an objective business skill.

          Good luck to you! That first job is the hardest to get, but (at least in this area) it gets easier after that…promise!

        2. KayDay*

          Many not profits have communications and PR positions. Look out for positions titled “marketing/communications/public relations/advocacy assistant/coordinator”. You could also look into fundraising positions which sometimes have a strong marketing component.

  10. Anonymous*

    Hang in there! When I graduated from a BIG FANCY university, everyone was convinced I’d have job offers landing at my feet left and right, but I couldn’t even get an interview. I couldn’t even get my old job back I had worked at every summer before graduation. After 9 months I got a decent-ish paying job at a call center, worked there for THREE TERRIBLE YEARS, and finally was able to jump ship into something slightly related to the call center work (but not at all related to my degree).

    1. A reader*

      Thanks! I appreciate that. I’ve been told the same thing by everyone, I think that’s why its so crushing. Hopes are up, you crash when it doesn’t happen, and every time you try for a job, nothing, and you crash lower.

      Trying to hold on, believe me..lol

  11. Joey*

    If you’re trying to get into Radio, Communications or something similar you’re fighting an uphill battle. It’s a notoriously competitive field. Ive hired a handful of PR type jobs, most recenty a PR Manager and frankly Ive always been flooded with excellent candidates. I see lots of former newscasters, radio and tv producers, Communications professors and PR folks from very impressive companies.

    1. AP*

      I recently hired for an admin assistant at a film production company and was flooded with 300+ resumes in a week. For a job with no benefits paying $26k in New York City.

      It’s painful out there.

    2. A reader*

      No, I am not at all in the field of communications and have no wish to be. I was in radio simply because I was nominated, I accepted the nomination and was elected.

      I originally had been helping with thier website, in my spare time. It wasn’t until I actually went back home to be with my family that I even met any of them, and that’s when I was nominated.

  12. Victoria*

    These days, it can be all about getting past the robot. I’ve been employed but looking for something else for about 6 months now. Recently, I started copying and pasting verbiage from the job postings into my resume before submitting it (assuming, of course, that the verbiage is truly something that I do or have done successfully in my career). That has garnered me 3 job interviews in the last week.

    So most hiring managers never see the 100+ resumes that are received for a job opening. They see the top 5, if that. The rest are screened out by job applicant tracking software and/or human resources, based upon criteria for skills/knowledge/experience specifically mentioned in the resume.

  13. fposte*

    I’m really struck by this overvaluing of “PRESIDENT of a radio station.” If I’m hiring you, I want to know what you can do, not what you’ve been called. I don’t even know what this is–I’ve never heard of a radio station having a president, and it doesn’t convey any particular skills, certainly none that would apply if I was running something other than a radio station. Worse, it sounds overblown enough that it could actually be funny, which you don’t want; making it highly visible in an application without additional meaning will enhance that effect and raise questions about your judgment.

    Now, if you said in your cover letter that one of your best workplace experiences was being the go-to person in a small overseas radio station, where you were responsible for booking guests, fixing sizzling wires on the spot, doing PR in three languages, and coordinating a devoted but motley crew of expatriate volunteers? I would know something about you and what you could do for me, and we’d have avoided the apparent overinflation of the word “president.”

    1. Jamie*

      This is so well put, and the same point jumped out to me. The way the OP represented the volunteer gig struck me as either resume inflation or naivete in which he was genuinely misunderstanding how that comes across.

      Either one would be a red flag.

      1. A reader*

        Yeah, I understand, I really do. But it was not meant as a ‘ooh hoo look at me, I was PRESIDENT ‘ believe me, I am NOT that kind of person.. it was meant as a ‘I have these awsome skills I can present, because I worked as a President’ I was very happy that I had gained this position, it made me feel much more confident about myself.

        This was actually the very first time I ever mentioned to anyone in public that I was President of anything.

        So believe me, this is not something I normally would do, I am just sooooo frustrated and feel so low. My confidence is at an all time low. I honestly was hoping that that position would give me *something* to look forward to as far as skills in an employers eyes. Honestly, I am so sorry this was taken the wrong way. Right now I just feel like drowning somewhere. I feel like I am never going to get a job, and my life is a worthless mess full of student loans that I am NEVER going to be able to pay back. I am in a horrible financial situation, with kids…

        A president is only in context of a community radio station (non profit) as apposed to a commercial radio station – completely different.

        I do list on my resume the duties I had, but I also have country this was in. Y

        1. Syd*

          Have you tried writing out your accomplishments instead of just listing your duties? You mentioned in your letter that you did accomplish something at the radio station, so you should be able to show some kind of worth as an employee. Forgive me if I’m wrong, but in reading a lot of your comments I’ve formed the opinion that you might be following a resume/CV type that is more common outside of the U.S., but you are looking for a job in the States. The advice I’ve read about writing a resume in the States is to show accomplishments and (quantitative) results, rather than simply list duties, wherever possible.

        2. Liz*

          I actually knew what you meant, both because I have totally been in your position as to having no idea what people want, and because I have experience with media.

          My theory about media is that anything journalism related is like the law, teachers… et al. There are certain fields that people are both 1) POSITIVE that they know what the job entails (because of tv shows or widespread perceptions) and so they will believe absolutely nothing you say about that job and the skills you used; and 2) They have so little to compare to the experience of doing that job that most of what you say about it doesn’t even register. You’ll say something like, “I spent all day in the basement of the FCC researching auction filings for three months, then project managed the results for a client who needed to use the information to support commission sales teams in a changing regulatory environment,” or “I drafted standard operating procedures that were responsive to the latest OMB” and everyone looks at you and says, “Oh. Well. Did you get nervous when you went to court?”

          Rather than try to cast a wide net with claims about transferrable skills that just won’t work, I found it helped to focus ONLY on networking with people who knew my field. Anyone else was a waste of time. I never once had a nibble at a job application unless someone there already had one of my jobs. (And then I had to remember to back it up with prestige points, rather than experience, because they granted me the experience and just wanted to know how high I had made it).

  14. Janet*

    My tip for you is to focus on your connections. Are you on linked in? Have you told everyone you know that you’re looking for a job and the type of job that you’re looking for?

    I know that some people hate the “It who you know, not what you know” but it’s honestly a little bit of both.

    I graduated in the 90s when the economy was booming and I had the hardest time getting an interview in my field. I had two great internships, had served as President of the Student Government, was a supervisor in my part-time job, etc. I went to the college career center and was told that my resume was good. I eventually managed to score a part-time job in my field through my professor. From that job, I managed to score a job interview for a full time position because an older co-worker recommended me to his old boss.

    Even now the past two jobs I’ve gotten have been because of a connection. That person could at least get my resume into the right hands or give me tips on the company’s interview process.

    It sounds like you have great experience – now just work the connections that you have. If you see a job at a company figure out if you know someone there who could help you out.

  15. Ivy*

    Wow. In my area almost EVERYONE gets a job right after graduation. There’s more jobs than people here. I mean.. you really have to be incompetent not to land a job. Good, high paying, (generally) oil and gas jobs.

    Reading AAM regularly gives me a glimpse into the US job market and it’s not pretty. I’m sorry you all have to go through that. I’m also sorry I’m not being that helpful right now….

    Other than what I’ve seen others say, I would add you need to network! network! network! If your having trouble putting your foot in the door, then get someone’s help to do it. Do your parents have any connections? Friends? Have you attended job fairs? Industry events?

      1. Ivy*

        Alberta, Canada… To give you some statistics from my university business school:
        – 89% of 2011 grads that are looking for jobs have relevant full-time employment
        – 97% of 2011 grads that completed work-terms have relevant full-time employment

        That’s after one year….

        1. KarenT*

          Just to add context (as a fellow Canadian) the job market in Alberta and other select cities are booming, but overall the Canadian unemployment rate is in the toilet and new grads are experiencing the same frustration as the OP.

          1. Chinook*

            And the cost of living in Alberta, especially in the areas where you can make over $15/hour at McDonald’s, is very high. My dh regularly tortures himself by looking at real estate ads back in his home town in Southern Ontario and seeing what type of house he could be for what it cost for our “low budget” townhouse.

            I try to console him by pointing out that we only pay 5% GST and no provincial sales tax. It helps sometimes.

            1. Chinook*

              And I should add that not all occupations are crying for workers here. I am a teacher who was laid off 7 years ago, they did another round 2 years ago AND they doubled the number of B.Ed granting institutions. There were 2 weeks of 15 min. interviews scheduled just to get on the SUBSTITUTE list (which doesn’t even guarantee you will ever be called) for one district.

              And that is why I am now an EA.

          2. Ivy*

            Yes, that’s definitely why I specified. The east is not doing so hot in terms of employment. We have a lot of people moving here from Ontario and the Maritimes. Which probably doesn’t help the price of housing and cost of living that Chinook mentioned.

          1. Ivy*

            Haha I can 100% agree to that… it’s snowing outside right now :P.. BUT, we’re getting a chinook next week so the snow will melt! (fingers crossed) At least we have great skiing?

            1. Chinook*

              Someone call my name?

              I have to say that I would much rather have the “snow – chinook – blue sky – repeat” pattern than “rain/sleet/fog/grey skies” randomness of other places I have lived.

              And I can confirm the chinook is on it’s way – I have had a killer earache for the last 2 days, which means it will blow in by Sunday.

        2. Anonymous*

          North Dakota is also in pretty much the same situation. There aren’t enough people to fill all the jobs and everywhere is hiring.

        3. Liz*

          Congratulations on your country’s social safety net and conservative banking practices. After all the crap about socialism that you took for the decade before the Great Recession, I supposed you are entitled to brag a little :)

  16. MzLucy*

    I am in the same position as the OP. I have been under employed since 2003. Fully unemployed since 2007. As for doing volunteer work, I no longer have the extra money in my budget to put gas in my car to give my work away for free. I am 53, have two degrees, over 7 years experience in my field, I have had several volunteer positions (to put on my resume to show that I can work), I am also a veteran.

    Since May of 2011 I have sent out 2,463 resumes and applications (I keep track) for all types of jobs and I’ve only had 3 interviews.

    I have had my resume reviewed and rewritten many times over the years and I always include a cover letter when it is required. It is the economy, employers are not hiring and those they do hire have to fill many roles on the job.

    I read AAM every day and I am amazed at some of the smug responses from the employed. If you have try to keep it. Being unemployed is very stressful and has affected my physical and mental health.

    If I was not married to a husband with a full-time job I would be living on the street. I live with the constant fear that my husband will divorce me and I will have no money, no job and nowhere to live.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      ” I always include a cover letter when it is required”

      This jumped out at me. Always include one even if it’s not required, and make sure it’s awesome: conversational, customized, engaging, and that it doesn’t just repeat what’s on your resume. Lots of people who change their cover letters like that write back to me and tell me they started getting interview calls.

      1. Your Mileage May Vary*

        I applied for a position a few weeks ago for a national company and their online application process very sternly said not to include a cover letter. Then at the end when it gave you the opportunity to upload your resume, it had a checkbox where you had to check to say that you understood you were NOT to upload a cover letter.

        And then I still debated whether or not it meant I should do it….

    2. Jamie*

      I would strongly suggest sending a cover letter every time, whether it’s required or not. A well written cover letter can really help move your resume to the call pile.

      I don’t know your field – but that’s a lot of resumes. I also once sent out resumes to everything just to see what would stick and got very little response. Once I changed tactics and targeted my job search to things in my field which seemed like potential good fits I immediately got much better results.

      With the see what sticks approach I had sent out hundreds of resumes and not one response. As soon as I targeted my search and was able to research companies and be specific in my cover letters about what I wanted that job and not just a job I sent out 5 resumes got three interviews and two job offers (one I pulled my candidacy, politely, at the end of the interview.)

      YMMV – but a more targeted approach can work.

      I don’t know what you’re referring to when you talk about smug responses – that’s surprising to me as I think people here tend to me quite helpful.

      1. Jamie*

        Because I’m a literal person – I feel I need to qualify what I said above.

        I didn’t actually write cover letters about wanting the job for which I was applying. Again, being literal I could never know I wanted something until after I met with them – belying a great ad could be a horrorshow.

        My cover letters focused on what about the job/company I found personally interesting and why I wanted to meet with them to see if it would be a good match.

        It sounds like semantics and it probably doesn’t even matter – but I never used the cover letter as a why you should hire me platform – just why you should want to meet with me.

      2. Anna*

        Great response. Like Jamie, I have used both approaches. And experienced the same thing: while it takes a lot more time, my targeted search/customized resume and cover letter approach worked much, much better.

      3. MzLucy*

        The corporate work world no longer wants me so here I sit. At this point I am desperate for any type of job I can get. Retail, fast-food, dishwasher, etc. Anything with a paycheck.

    3. Jack*

      Since you’re a veteran, if you’re in the US and you haven’t already, you might want to look at the VRAP program. It’s designed to help veterans who have been out of work and meet certain requirements get retrained in high-demand fields.

  17. Amanda*

    I really sympathize the OP because I’m in a similar situation (except I DO have some solid work experience–two years of Peace Corps–and it hasn’t helped one bit). Five and a half years out of college, I only have about 30 months experience at “real jobs” and both of those jobs–PC and working for a nonprofit during their campaign–were both position were fairly linear and did not have a path for promotion. And all my other experience has been unpaid internships or volunteer. I could have job-searched MUCH more effectively during 2007-2008 when I was still a recent grad. But this time around, with work experience and a lot better job-searching skills, I still can’t even get interviews. I’m told my resume looks good, my cover letters hit the right note, I come across as polished and professional and my work experience is impressive. I can’t figure out what I’m doing wrong. People keep saying, “it’s not you, it’s the market.” So I’m completely at mercy to the economy. Fantastic.

    So I feel quite a bit of sympathy for the OP. It’s a really disheartening to work so hard for something and not make even a bit of progress. Especially when you have no clue what you could be doing better. Obviously, you shouldn’t let the bitterness show in job searching, but I don’t blame him/her for venting. And I don’t think it’s entitled to think you should be able to at least get your foot in the door five years out of college.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I wonder if in fact your resume and cover letters might not be doing as much for you as they could, despite what people have told you. If you’re willing to send them to me and let me come back here with my opinion, it could be an interesting experiment.

      1. Amanda*

        AAM, sorry to respond so late, but I was out volunteering, ironically. I’ll send those to you–I would be more than happy to be ripped apart on a public forum if it will help me get hired somewhere!

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Amanda, I took a look at your resume, and I think you’re in good shape there. You do a nice job of listing accomplishments, not just responsibilities, for every job, and you pull out your key qualifications nicely at the top so they’re seen instantly. If I were to give you quick advice on strengthening it, it would be this:

          * Do more on achievements where possible. For instance — you “gave campaign speeches about X” — but to what audiences and toward what end, and with what results?

          * Currently, you have “responsibilities” and “achievements” labeled separately for each job, but I’d just combine them and get rid of those labels. No need to divide them.

          * Put your volunteer experience after your professional experience; currently it’s listed first, but the professional experience counts for more (especially since it’s in your field).

          Really, though, your resume is in better shape than most resumes I see! I’d actually focus on your cover letter instead. Right now, a third of it is focused on the health issue you work on and not about you. I’d remove all of the text on the issue and replace it with information about you and why you’d excel at the job.

          I also wouldn’t say that you’d be excited about the job because of the chance to rub shoulders with world leaders — that sounds too much about a side benefit you want and not enough about just why you’d be awesome at the work. They no doubt know that that’s a cool part of the job; they need to know why you’d be right for it.

          I hope this helps!

          1. Amanda*

            Thank you so much!

            After months of writing pretty bland cover letters, I was trying to follow your advice and let more of my personality show and also show why I feel passionate about the organization and their work. I guess I didn’t quite get it right here.

            On putting volunteer experience at the end, I put it on the top to A) help make up for the employment gap by showing that I have been doing quite a bit while unemployed and B) to make my resume flow chronologically, which I keep hearing is the preferred way. So it’s OK to not go chronological in this instance?

            And if my resume is already good, why am I having such a hard time getting interviews? I’ve only had four out of easily 100-200 job applications. Have I just not been in the right place at the right time?

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              You’re definitely on the right track with wanting to show more personality — just direct it toward why you’ll be great at the job, instead of explaining why the issue is important (they already know the latter, after all)!

              You want to go chronological within a particular section, but the resume itself doesn’t need to be. You want to go from most important to least, so that generally means starting with work experience.

              As for why you’re having a hard time … the biggest thing working against you is that you’re applying for non-local jobs. That’s just a huge extra layer of difficulty, unfortunately!

    2. A reader*

      Amanda!! EXACTLY what you said is happening with me! I have been told the exact same things. My frustration has been more recent I think because I am really getting desperate. Now we’ve moved to a new state and I am starting all over again.

      Believe me, I know I may have come across that way in my OP, but I actually get along with just about everyone I know. I try to be very honest and open, love everyone I volunteer with. I probably am a bit bitter I guess, but I honestly has started wondering if there was something wrong with me, personally

      1. fposte*

        I also think you need to cut yourself a little slack in light of the frequent moves. If I’m reading right, your current job search is just three months along, and if you’re moving to a new state then that’s resetting the counter to zero, as you note.

  18. HRWhale*

    Even a great résumé won’t help you if your experience doesn’t fit the job. You will never make it past the applicant tracking software (ATS.)

    Most large organizations use an ATS to handle the deluge of resumes they receive. Unless you get past the ATS you will never be able to pitch your potential.

    You (and everyone looking) need to be out networking, talking to friends, connecting on LinkedIn…anything to meet people in the decision making position for the types of jobs you want. Only when you get in front of these people will you have the opportunity to have those crucial conversations where you can pitch your ideas.

    Note: good networking is a two way street. It has to be as much about them–hell more about them–than you!

    Remember part of the importance in volunteering is not just experience but getting experience in front of people that can connect you to decision makers in the field you are seeking.

    1. A reader*

      Thanks! That is great info!

      I’m on linkedin but I honestly don’t know anyone. I think that is one thing I am lacking, how to really connect in linkedin if you don’t really know anyone. Mind, my past supervisor at my last volunteer position (that was for 2 years) is connected with me, but I guess I;m really just not exactly sure what I am supposed to do after that. I know it sounds rediculous, but do I just talk about the field?? Ask questions, answer questions?

      I’ve had my head stuck in a book for most of my life, and while I get along with a lot of people, I have also moved states, have only been here for 4 months, so don’t know anyone yet

      1. Anonymous*

        Depending on your industry, there might be meet-and-greets and association gatherings. For example, you can join the local chapter of the IABC (International Association of Business Communicators) or if you are a website designer attend something like Wordcamp (for WordPress developers). Local colleges and universities also have industry and student events. Some of them are only for students, but some can be open to outside attendees.
        If you join something like IABC, that’s a place where you *should* volunteer for things like website upkeep or organizing an event because everyone working with you is in the field you want to be in. They will either be good references or might provide good job tips. Also, some of these associations have private boards that can only be accessed if you are a member.
        Don’t be afraid to reach out through Facebook and ask friends if they know someone in the area you might connect with. Not for a job offering, but to network or to pick their brain during an informal lunch about what kind of things stand out in a resume and what the local job field looks like (it’s different in Alberta than in Montreal).
        You basically want to be in touch with people who are working in the area you want to work in.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Why don’t you have more LinkedIn (and other) connections? You’ve had a bunch of different jobs, paid and unpaid — those should yield connections, no?

        1. Anonymous*

          I’m going to assume she meant she doesn’t have connection in her specific field, but yeah. I have people I went to college with me, former co-workers, current co-workers, people I’ve done business with. Some are in my field, some are not.

          It would be odd if the OP has *no* connections on LinkedIn.

          1. Rana*

            Agreed. I have a lot of connections, but I’d say that only about 5-10% of them are actually likely to drive work my way. The majority are either colleague-competitors (who need the same work I do) or in fields completely outside of my areas of strength and interest. I do appreciate the few who can and will send referrals my way, but they’re rare among the group.

            But having no connections at all also strikes me as odd.

  19. Michael*

    Granted, I have no direct data to back this up, nor do I claim it’s an original thought (probably isn’t as I read from various news sources so who knows what’s bouncing around up there) but I think the current education system is woefully inadequate but has only really become so in the last several years. When the recession hit and massive layoffs happened, companies learned to adapt with a LOT of them still posting record profits quarter after quarter. This means a trimmed down workforce that can do what the previous one could. No college program prepares people to do 5 jobs. Each still focuses on a single skill-set. I think the norm of what most company’s want has changed.

    1. Lulu*

      I don’t think it’s just the college programs: most people aren’t going to be prepared to do the exact same 5-in-1 job a company advertises. I think they forget some of these used to be more than one job for a *reason*. I’ve been out of college for quite a long time (graduated in the 90’s recession), and I can’t qualify for some of the so-called Entry Level jobs I see advertised. For instance, it appears to me that most undergrads have become experts in the entire Adobe Suite – really???

      I can sympathize with a certain amount of the OP’s frustration, even as a long-ago-minted grad. I’ve had a couple of long-term positions, with some useful temp experience in-between, all of which are tangentially related but don’t lead to a specific career path or field. Due to either budget constraints, job tasks, or just employer idiosyncrasies, I have not had the opportunity to develop some of the specific tech-related skills I see “required” in listings – I’ve had to learn other programs, however, and don’t have a problem with doing that. My most recent position was titled “administrative assistant”, but my job duties only seem to cross over minimally with those in many of the listings with that title out there. As much as I try to spin my many transferable skills when I craft a cover letter, it really feels like unless your experience exactly matches the hiring company’s job description, you’re just SOL So where does that leave those of us who haven’t been doing pivot tables for CEOs for the last 10 years while becoming an InDesign guru?

      1. A reader*

        Yep, I know the entire Adobe Suite too. Taught myself photoshop, am able to repair damaged photos, have been pubbed in magazines and have also done visuals for mags as a contractor.

  20. Anonymous*

    If your plan isn’t working after five years of really working it, then it’s time to change your plan. Can you look for foreign, paid, work? Can you change the field you are looking for work in? Can you work multiple part-time jobs? It’s time to get creative. You need a job, or you risk getting staledated.

    1. A reader*

      I’m married and my husband has a career here. So foreign paid work, I can’t really do… ok, with the exception that for the past year, I was in another country (due to family emergency – my dad had cancer and passed on, I stayed to help my mother for the rest of the year) and just returned to the US in July.

      That is where I was working as the President, and I also worked temp as an art teacher. Right before I came back I was offered a part time job as an executive PA but it was too late then as I had to come back.

        1. Anonymous*

          I say this as someone who’s walked in your shoes. I took four part-time jobs, none in my field, all kind of crappy jobs. I worked hard, gave my employers reasons to keep me and promote me, and now I make 6 figures. You CAN do this. From your responses below, it sounds like you might need to rethink how you describe yourself. Don’t downplay yourself, don’t put yourself “on sale” right away.

          You can get a crappy job. One of mine was a paper route…it kept me from appearing long-term unemployed. My first full-time employer mentioned my willingness to do whatever it took to not starve as one of the reasons they hired me.

  21. Lily*

    I used to think admin was easy. It’s not! There are a ton of details to juggle along with their priorities and follow-up and I no longer assume that people with advanced degrees can deal with it. Could someone please tell me what kinds of qualifications I ought to look for if I want to hire someone for an admin job?

    1. Not usually Anon*

      Admin is a broad category so it really depends on the role.

      In general though wicked good attention to detail, soft skills to deal with all kind of crap and crappy people, an inherent need to create efficiency, and the ability to prioritize. I would say multitask – but that can be misinterpreted…it’s more the ability to keep a lot of balls in the air.

    2. AP*

      I’ve hired a number of admin roles, both well and badly. A lot of it depends on the role, as NUA points out above, but here are a few things I’ve learned…

      -Ask them to demonstrate organizational skills and really probe their responses. One time someone showed me a picture of their kitchen cupboard, which was the most anally organized thing I have ever seen. I loved it.

      -Communication/presentation – You can learn so much about how they’ll communicate with people on the job by how they communicate with you now. Really, many people who seem great take themselves out of the running based on that alone. Remember, they’re supposed to be trying to impress you at this point – if they seem sloppy, or don’t respond quickly, or get confused now, it’ll be much worse later.

      – A LOT of what makes an admin good is how their personality fits in with your culture, department, supervisors. Deep reads of cover letters can tell you a lot about this.

      Another thought – you need to decide what the path of the person in your company should be. Are you looking for a longtime professional admin asst, who loves doing that job and wants to stay in it? Or an entry level person who will hypothetically move up to other jobs in your field? Every company has a different way of handling that and it makes a huge difference in who you end up hiring.

    3. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

      As an admin, you’re looking for really good computer skills (including not being afraid to look something up or find a tutorial if there’s something they don’t know how to do), ability to prioritize and multitask, attention to detail, and flexibility to deal with the unexpected. I’d also highly recommend giving a short exercise of the actual type of work they’ll be doing– creating spreadsheets or writing letters or processing invoices. Saying you can type 80 words a minute and that you know Word and Excel is very different from actually creating a letter using a mail merge from a spreadsheet in 20 minutes.

      1. AP*

        Oh yes – ask questions that allow the person to demonstrate that they are a problem-solver, can take initiative, and also that they know how to fix the printer and the wireless network. Those are huge.

    4. Lily*

      Thanks a lot for the responses! I think our job description of a position which is simultaneously admin / professional / managerial is probably part of the problem, unless you think that the same qualities are necessary for success in professional / managerial jobs, too? Can one person take on all 3 roles successfully? I guess entrepreneurs do …

  22. just laura*

    How much of the OP’s frustration is an unreal expectation of what she brings to the table? When I was job-hunting fresh out of college, I remember feeling that someone just needed to give me a chance, and they would see what a hard worker, etc., that I was. It’s key to present those characteristics in your job search materials. Title alone (especially in a volunteer capacity) won’t do it for you. What field are you looking in? Are you presenting your accomplishments in your resume or just your duties?

    1. A reader*

      When I graduated, I was looking for anything. Believe me, I was not expecting to start at the top, but I also graduated with a little experience – 6 years in marketing, 3 years in retail (2 of which were shift manager), but because it was a different field altogether, I expected to start at the beginning. I was hoping though that a little of my experience would be transferable.

      1. A reader*

        so sorry, I also should mention – I hoped that when I got an interview, they would see that I was a hard worker also, and I still to this day, even though I am volunteering, do anything asked of me, regardless of how simple or difficult the task might be.

        I worked hard at college. I was also group leader for many of my classes, and that hard work, I was hoping, would show through my resume and transcripts to an employer.

  23. Anonymous*

    “And when they have candidates who have already established a track record, there’s no real incentive for them to take a risk.”

    But that begs the question, AAM. How does a candidate without a track record establish a track record? I know your standard advice, “write a resume/cover letter that makes you stand out”. But how does a candidate stand out without certain experience, when they cannot gain that experience without certain jobs, and they cannot gain such a job without standing out? It seemed like OP tried to break the cycle by volunteering, but then you poo-pooed the OP for an accomplishment because “it was less than a year, it was volunteer, and you got the job without prior experience”. But what else are applicants such as this OP supposed to use to stand out?

    And as for your advice to the OP to aim lower… What is lower than entry-level trainee positions? What is lower than < 1 year, unpaid, no-experience-required volunteering?

    (I wonder if OP isn't so much "annoyed that employers don’t see in you what you see in yourself", but rather, "annoyed" that, after 4 years of college and another 4-5 years of unpaid volunteering, doing what they had been told was what employers wanted, the OP is instead confronted with a reality of debt, a generation written off as "unknown quantities" and "risks", and a vicious catch-22.)

    1. AP*

      I don’t think that was a full poo-poo – having volunteer experience is great, and really is helpful. But like with any job, paid or not, the title alone is just not enough – you need to demonstrate your track record of success. So, to use the radio example, does your resume say that you’re “basically the president” or does it say “increased listener contributions by 25% while managing a staff of 13, which allowed us to modernize radio equipment in 3 bays and add 2 new shows.”

      Hopefully, other staff people, contributors and vendors saw you do these things, so now you have a bit of a network (even if it’s in another country, people know people) and you can use that to your advantage.

      Again, it could also very well be that the OP is just trying to get a job in an incredibly competitive industry and those jobs don’t exist. But just having the volunteer experience isn’t enough, its what you do with it.

      1. fposte*

        Nicely said. There’s a difference between “This is worthless” and “This is valuable, but it may not take you as far as you’re hoping.”

      2. A reader*

        Yes, I do have listed my accomplishments.

        I guess what I am not understand about the comments here is why is everyone assuming that what I wrote ‘venting’ is exactly how I would write a cover letter and resume?

        Why would everyone think I wouldn’t list my skills and my duties in each position I have had? Of course I list them!

        I’m not stupid, I just don’t have a job…not said in disrespect, just confusion.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          1. Because your letter — however rightly or wrongly — sounded like you didn’t quite understand why employers wouldn’t value your education and experience as highly as you think they should, which is often something that will come across as a problematic attitude in other contexts.

          2. Because most people’s resumes suck.

        2. fposte*

          Okay, first off, people who make mistakes aren’t stupid for doing so. You can be a smart person who’s making mistakes that aren’t helping you. If you think that’s never you, then that’s one of the mistakes you’re making.

          Secondly, this is a practical advice blog–we’re going to tell you things we’re thinking of that might improve your chances. Since we’re not psychic, it’ll be based on what you’ve told us. If they’re things you’re already doing, then you can just move on to the next one.

          Thirdly: “Why would everyone think I wouldn’t list my skills and my duties in each position I have had? Of course I list them!” And that’s what I’m concerned about–that you’ve got a list of skills bullet-pointed position by position into your resume instead of a cover letter that dives into the story of what you’ve done and what you could do for me.

    2. fposte*

      I’m with “Not usually” below–this isn’t writing off a generation, and a lot of the people posting here are hiring and working with this generation. And sure, maybe the problem isn’t that the OP is aiming too high in some applications, but maybe it is, too–there’s a difference between entry-level rocket science, will train on shuttle architecture, and entry-level store greeter, will train on basket collection. It’s worth pointing out things that may be making you a less competitive candidate in a highly competitive market.

      Ultimately, people know it’s hard, and most people, especially here, aren’t saying that not getting a job is a sign that you’re going about it all wrong. But job hunting is hard not because hiring managers are doing everything wrong but because it’s super-competitive. There’s really nobody who can fix that for candidates. So we advise people on how best to be visible in a super-competitive pool.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I didn’t poo-poo the accomplishment. I said that it’s probably not conveying what she thinks she’s conveying.

      AP and fposte have already written what I was about to write, so I’ll just echo them.

      1. A reader*

        I agree. After seeing the comments, I actually didn’t realize that people wouldn’t understand the position quite as much, but I had been wondering that to a certain point. Therefore I was also wondering if I need to write it in a different way. That’s why I asked if ’employers always get the specifics’ of a candidates position. I didn’t say that trying to be rude, I was asking for an honest opinon, basically do I need to spell certain positions out more because they may not be something they are used to seeing, OR if I list the skills, they would understand straight away.

        But as I’ve mentioned, either way, I do list my accomplishments/skills in my resume.

  24. Not usually Anon*

    “a generation written off as “unknown quantities” and “risks””

    I understand the frustration, but I don’t think that’s a fair statement.

    I work for a SMB and we have several employees early – mid 20’s who are either recent grads or completing school who have added loads of value to our organization.

    I’m not saying the economy doesn’t suck and my industry seems to being doing a little better than some others – but our HR is at every local college job fair and has relationships with their career offices trying to find talent.

    It is hard out there – no doubt – but by no stretch has an entire generation being “written off.”

  25. Anon*

    This may be naive, but what about forming your own consulting company and seeking contract work through it? It gives you the “cover” of managing your image in a cohesive way, puts you in front of people, and may give a sense of control over the whole thing. This is common in my industry (finance) when people are between jobs. Granted, they may have experience, but these contracts could cover any type of work.

    1. A reader*

      I have actually considered that, but I am at a bit of a loss on where to start or what to consult on. I do have one idea, but its not really in my field. Is that something I should worry about? I just wonder, since its been so difficult already, if I consult, will it make it that much more difficult to get into the field because my experience has not been ‘in’ the field?

      There isn’t a whole lot you could consult on in my field without extensive experience. Its not the kind of job you can go hire someone outside of government to do… well I guess you could but, they usually have years of/or career expertise.

      1. Jamie*

        “There isn’t a whole lot you could consult on in my field without extensive experience.”

        I would agree that there’s not a whole lot one should consult on without a lot of experience in any field.

        I see this consulting thing tossed out a lot but speaking as someone who has hired many consultants and I have colleagues who also regularly hire consultants the first thing we check is accomplishments and track record.

        I will not pay thousands of dollars to people who cannot prove that what they are claiming they know/can do they have done successfully in the real world.

        I know people who’ve made a ton of money as consultants because they are good and were born to that. I know way more people who tried to start something up and just ended up wasting a lot of money on business cards and burning bridges with parts of their network and never made a dime.

        Not trying to be Debbie Downer here – but it’s the reality that you need a track record to get anywhere as a consultant.

        1. Rana*

          Agreed. I’ve ended up freelancing because my previous career was a deadend (as in, nothing but part-time jobs paying $800/month, no benefits, as far as the future could see), but it’s only possible because I do have transferable, marketable skills.

          My problem, employment-wise, has been in explaining how those skills would transfer to a different career, not lacking the skills in the first place. So, for me, freelancing has proven to be the answer, because I can convince people to hire me for a single project much more easily than I can to convince them to hire me full-time, untested, with no prior in-field experience. It’s working for me, but it’s not easy, and I’m leery of anyone who touts freelancing as “the” solution to people in your situation. It’s expensive, it’s a lot of work, and it takes a lot of effort to learn how to be a business, not just an employee.

          If it does seem to you that striking out on your own might be a viable solution, do your homework first and think it through carefully. What skills do you have? How do they compare to those of people doing similar work? How will you find clients? How will you handle things like finances, taxes, scheduling, health insurance? Do you have a space in which you can work and store your files? Etc.

          I’m proof it can be an option, but it’s not one to rush into.

  26. Sake*

    Despite what you might hear about being well-rounded and sparkling with varied interests and the like, you have to appear dull as dirt on resume, as though the job you’re applying for is all you’ve been thinking about and preparing for your entire life. Telling them that you’ve travelled and have done x-number of wonderful things in your past or present that are not immediately related to the position gives them the impression you’re a ‘flight risk’; someone who could easily do a 180 career-wise. I recall being stopped cold by a hiring manager as I was wistfully enumerating all the things I envisioned accomplishing in the future. He said, ‘Tip, always say, “This is what I want and will always want to do and show it.” Of course, I did not get the job.

    Yet on the other hand, a manager admitted to interviewing me simply because my background seemed interesting and she could easily see me in the position, but added that it would be difficult to compete against so many candidates who’d been doing the job on offer their entire lives. Here too I did not get a second interview but at least I knew why. In all fairness, I did go back and found out who had landed the job, looked at her bio and could see right away that I would’ve hired her over me too given her wealth of direct experience.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      You really don’t need to look “dull as dirt.” It’s a balance. If your resume shows 30 different things, all quite dissimilar, yes, hiring managers will wonder about your focus. But if your focus is pretty clear but you also have a few more colorful/interesting things in your background, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s often a plus; it’s certainly not a negative.

      You were “wistfully enumerating all the things (you) envisioned accomplishing in the future.” An interview isn’t really the place for that.

      1. Sake*

        I agree but he kept picking out different things on my resume and asking me what I might do with it, so I foolishly obliged only to discover that I was being ‘set up’ as it were.

  27. BW*

    “Heck, I was even elected president of a radio station (equivalent to CEO), in another western country last year, with no prior experience.”

    CEOs aren’t elected. They are hired based on qualifications, and being elected president (this is generally a Board of Directors position) is not the same thing as being the CEO though in organizations with working boards it can be a huge job. Unfortunately, employers won’t see that as an equivalent of being a CEO, and if it’s being presented that way on a resume, I’d suggest deflating the on-paper ego a bit. Focus on your accomplishments while working at the radio station, not the title or your interpretation of the title.

    I helped found a very successful volunteer org, and have always left it off my resume. It’s an interesting aside that often comes up in interviews, but it is not related to the work I do in my career and not even remotely in the same field. If you’re not applying for related positions, that experience may not be as useful as you think it should be.

    1. A reader*

      ‘Equivalent’ is the operative word here, not the ‘same’ as a CEO from a huge company. In non profit organizations, the CEO is referred to as the President. Think of it in these terms. The President of the USA – wouldn’t you kind of consider him the CEO of government? He is running the country. Just the same, the President runs a non profit.

      In a community, non profit organization, the President is elected by the body of members and any community members/public that wish to take part in the meeting. This is a strictly run election, requiring visibility of the count and usually involves a local government figure or council personel to be present.

      1. A reader*

        I guess I should also say that I do NOT write ‘equivalent of CEO’ on my resume. I’m not silly, just out of work.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I think the problem there is that it sounds/sounded like you were thinking of it as similar to having a high-level paying job on your resume and wondering why even that wasn’t helping.

        1. A reader*

          Oh gosh no LOL! I don’t embellish my resumes at ALL. I have written on my resume that it was President (volunteer) of unnamed organization spelled out very clearly. That job is also listed under the main heading of ‘other community experience’ So its plainly obvious that I don’t consider it the same as a high paying executive job, but I do have to tell you, there was much more to it than I even mentioned. I had to build the community relations up again to even liking the station, and in particular one other community organization that in the past had some bad blood between them and the radio station. They had been spreading a lot of unfounded rumors around town, ugh, long story. Yep, it was like a soap opera.

          But thats just the thing, how do I let employers know about those kinds of accomplishments?

      3. Anonymous*

        “In non profit organizations, the CEO is referred to as the President.”

        What kinds? I’ve only ever seen “director” or executive director”. (Not being snarky, genuinely curious. Is it common in other countries to say President?)

        I wonder if it is the election portion that is downplaying this achievement. I’ve seen some mind-boggling election results in my state, so it’s not as important to me as if someone was hired, assigned or what not. Given the frequency of locally driven arts non-profits to be, shall we say, “interesting”, you may want to alter your approach. It’s an impressive achievement for such a short time span and I really think it would be worth presenting it differently. Since I’m not sure how you are currently framing it, I can’t suggest changes, but think it over.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yeah, usually the president is head of the board of directors, and the CEO type role would be the executive director. There are some that do it differently, but that’s most typical.

    1. Rana*

      *offers Elizabeth the Tray of Comforting Things*

      (This is a concept I’ve picked up from another blog community. The Tray contains whatever might make you feel better, whether it’s a chocolate teapot, a basket of cuddly kittens, a bottle of booze, etc.)

  28. A reader*

    Thanks so very much for publishing my letter! Thanks to you all so far who have posted with comments, I am very appreciative.

    Let me clarify some things though, as it may help explain my position better. Understand also, that if I had written everything I have done, and what was going on, that letter would have been a book, LOL…like this might be…

    I wrote with pure frustration, yep, I probably did sound a little conceited or negative or even entitled, but honestly it was just frustration. It has been 5 years! I’m kind of freaking out a little here. I’ve tried everything.

    I’ve been told my cover letters are very good and people have even commented that “If that doesn’t get you the job, nothing will” So you can understand how disappointing it is to have your hopes up only for it to fall flat on your face.

    I always work my resumes so that it points out the specific skills/studies I have related to the job. My resumes have been looked at and revised so many times I’ve lost count. I just redid my resume 3 days ago and sent it to my supervisor where I volunteer and he only pointed out one small phrase that could be changed because it was a term he wasn’t familiar with. He said it was well focused, but he is a man of few words, and I tend to understate, which is why ‘acceptable’ my words, for others may translate as very good.

    In going through these comments, one thing I’ve realized is that most of the experience I have had, including volunteer work involves administration, which was part of my degree, and a large part of my field. What I am trying to get into is ANYTHING in my field, I am quite happy to start at rock bottom, but I can’t get a rock bottom job. Partially because they’re just not around, and the other part is because others have more experience. The other problem is, these jobs tend to have no career advancement, no advanced skills, and no new skills to be gained. Most only require a GED or high school diploma. I would consider those jobs rock bottom, and that’s what my last paid job was.

    This has meant that I have to try to find work outside my career field also, but the catch to that is, apparently, outside your field doesn’t work, because its specifically outside your field, and we can all talk about transferable skills, but that’s what I’ve been trying to attain doing volunteer work IN my field, to no avail. Mostly it seems because again, not enough experience and not specific enough.

    What I’m not understanding is where does the degree come in? I’ve studied everything in the jobs I am applying for, and graduated with A’s, and I don’t say that to make myself look special, only because I see a high GPA as the ability to understand the work with the potential to do well in it. I do understand that a lot of people leave college and need training, but what is the point of studying if everyone is only going on your experience? Does the study not qualify you for a position? Isn’t that the point?

    In addition to my degree, I was also told to keep advancing my skills. I can’t afford to keep adding degrees from University, and I already have 7 certificates of attainment in the field, but I added one recognized university certificate in a closely related field; 1 certificate from a government agency for a vital course I completed, (I was able to complete this because in one of my volunteer position I was actually sworn in so I could work in that field); 1 course also with the same agency. Awards have been in school, art and the Presidents Award for Volunteer work, received through the agency I was volunteering at for 2 years. I also have a 3 year diploma in creative writing.

    Experience from earliest to latest-
    several months in compliance (we had to move states due to husbands job, so had to quit)
    assistant manager of a restaurant (quit due to illegal practices by owner – who was later caught and closed down, so very glad I did quit – but no record of me being there due to aforementioned);

    the next four I was working in at the same time so the positions overlap:
    6 years in art/marketing part time, freelance contractor before and while I was in school.
    2 years with a local government agency (volunteer);
    3 months (temp) with a federal government agency;
    1.5 years in a field related, dead end job with no advancement opportunities;
    President and manager of a radio station (volunteer, non profit agency) – 1 year term;
    art teacher at a middle school (temp);

    My work as President for example, yes it was volunteer, but it was no fluff job, believe me. I was qualified for this position. Both in study and experience. I learned quite a bit about management, business, prioritizing, time management skills and the media industry. My studies also helped me with the legal side of business and general law. I also learned how to read and interpret law, which helped greatly as President, so my studies have qualified me for this job also.

    “…It was less than a year, it was volunteer, and you got the job without prior experience, which says that it probably isn’t really CEO-equivalent” and “…if you’re applying for jobs assuming that you’re bringing a certain level of qualifications”

    I studied everything that this job required – management, law, business (law), public admin…among others. I got this job in part because I had already been working with this organization as their website coordinator from the US (this station is in another country). Would I compare it to a huge multi million dollar company, of course not.

    The other thing is, no it wasn’t a huge organization, but do I not get credit for starting somewhere and actually being successful at this job? I don’t mean that in any disrespect at all, I’m just trying to understand.

    It was volunteer because it was non profit, NO ONE was paid. BUT this federally recognized organization still had to comply with strict federal media laws from two governing entities. I said I had no experience because specifically, I had no experience in radio, but management yes, marketing yes, knowledge of law, yes, knowledge of business, definitely yes. Therefore I was able to not only complete a successful term (the only reason I didn’t stand again was because I came back to the US after the family emergency), but I also wrote polices, chaired a committee, managed a staff of 26 people, 3 of whom were admin, increased the sponsorship base, which meant more funds for the organization, was able to have passed, at a meeting – a vital and legally written constitution that was then approved by the federal government entity, created sponsorship packages, created marketing plans, created the website, researched, wrote and received government and community grants to increase funds… had to deal with at least one complicated disciplinary action and meetings with a staff member who was involved, from which I was commended by a government entity on how I handled the situation, which included the way I wrote a letter to the employee.

    This person would have hired me if they had a position open and told me that directly on the phone.

    We also worked closely with the local government in disaster relief efforts – because we were a community radio station and that is part of the law. So we researched and gained grants for equipment that would allow us to serve in that capacity.

    So yes, I did have qualifications to do this job, even though I didn’t have direct experience IN this particular and specific position, I could still use the skills I have to work successfully in this job.

    1. Jamie*

      Your GPA means more to you than it will to an employer. Some will even find it odd on a resume unless you’re about 15 minutes out of school.

      I understand why you’re proud of that, but it doesn’t indicate anything about potential to do a job as you stated. All a high GPA tells an employer is that you were good in school. There are some people for whom school came very easy who don’t transition well to the work force and some who have brilliant success.

      I’ve actually known a COO who by FAR prefers a lower GPA with a extra curriculars or employment (especially in leadership roles) to a perfect student who was solely focused on academics.

      Education is great as it gives you a foundation of knowledge on which to build. But practice is VERY different than theory and if you appear to give undue emphasis to how school prepared you for work it can come off as naive…which is a word I’m using too often today, but it’s the only one that fits.

      “I see a high GPA as the ability to understand the work with the potential to do well in it.”

      If someone expressed that thought to me in an interview it would be over – because as bright as they may be academically it speaks to a potentially really rude awakening.

      1. MA*

        This type of comment should always be made with a caveat. There are industries where grades do matter, and maybe matter more than they should. I graduated from law school, and grades/rankings are incredibly important to employers. Many attorneys keep academic honors on their CV and biographies for years after graduation.

        I don’t expect anyone to know all the industries where grades matter. I make this comment only because the sentiment of “grades don’t matter” is painting with a very broad brush and for some areas of the work force, just plain wrong.

        1. Jamie*

          Right – for some industries and positions they do matter. Obviously law, medicine, and some others.

          In the vast majority of business they don’t – but certainly there are some where it’s relevant. Point taken.

          1. Katie*

            Some education jobs (but not all, somewhat horrifyingly) require transcripts and the like. I know at my company we ask for them.

    2. Anonymous*

      Are you putting *all* of that in your resume? Because if you are, it sounds rather messy and confusing. If I was hiring for a communications position, say writer, I wouldn’t really care about your teacher temp experience. The radio and marketing, you creative degree, that would be interesting. But the rest would be frankly overkill. Same goes for certificates. They don’t really have as much value, though my Marketing certificate I do include because it’s from a well-known institution where I live.

      Also, I’m not sure what you are trying to work in, but if it’s a creative field (you mention art and radio), your portfolio also needs to be up to snuff. You need to have the best clippings, etc. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people who apply for a job sending newspaper clippings with spelling mistakes.

      Finally, although I work in a creative field now and make a good living at it, I started as a video store clerk (two years, and I had graduated Magna Cum Laude). I progressed to a job in my field of studies by a combination of networking and freelancing (which augmented my portfolio), and moved to a better job after a few yeas in that position.

      The thing is after I graduated and before I took a job as a video store clerk, I thought that because I had graduated Magna Cum Laude and done an internship at Prestigious Place, I would be hired quickly. But it was not true. It left me very frustrated. I was even angry at my friends who got jobs out of school and had worse grades than I did, or who did not do internships at Prestigious Places.

      However, eventually I learned to leverage my assets (bilingual, ability to finish a design quickly) and worked a lot harder at establishing connections with people.

      I thought good grades and a good internship would be enough, but in my creative field, that was not enough. It took a lot of work but eventually I got there. Depending on your field and where you are, it can be pretty rough. You just have to keep at it. For you, rather than volunteer work at this point, I think freelancing and networking might be the key to a full-time job.

      1. Sake*

        I read somewhere that ‘B’ students often did better in life than ‘A’ students because the former often spent more time than the latter engaging in extra-curricular activities that help develop skills essential to thriving in life.

        1. Anonymous*

          I had to maintain a high GPA to keep my scholarship, but looking back I should have paid much more attention to networking and building better social connections. I did not realize the impact of what I thought were “small things” (like someone telling you there is a job opening in their company before the job is posted) versus the “big things” (graduating at the top of my class).

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yeah, I’m seeing a misunderstanding here about what education will do for you in an employer’s eyes. In most fields (not all, but most), employers care much more about work experience. The degree is often more of a prerequisite, but it doesn’t really qualify you for a position; experience does that. If you’re seeing your education as something that should open doors (and it sounds like you are), you’re setting yourself up for frustration.

      (Similarly, I mentioned above that 9 certificates are going to look odd to many employers. That’s coming across as overkill.)

      By the way, your supervisor may not be the best person to give feedback on your resume. First, he may not be good at it, but also, he may not be comfortable being blunt with you.

      1. fposte*

        Also, he doesn’t seem to be saying that it’s a resume he’d pick for interviewing out of a candidate pool if he didn’t know the OP, and that’s the goal.

      2. A reader*

        Ok, but how do I get that experience? If I can’t get it from volunteer work, which is what I was hoping it would achieve, and can’t get it from a job I had for 1.5 years in a dead end position (because that’s all I could get), how on earth do I get my *quality* experience to apply and be recognized for that work?

        And how do I keep doing the same dead end, no advancement type of jobs or a job in a different field if they don’t offer me any new skills or advancement potential for a new job in my field, or any field for that matter?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Network. Write a better resume. Write a better cover letter. Network.

          I wrote above that you can send me your resume — I’m willing to take a quick look and tell you if that’s part of the issue.

          1. A reader*

            Oh, I thought you were talking to another poster!
            You have just made my day!! OMGosh! So thrilled!

    4. fposte*

      “Does the study not qualify you for a position? Isn’t that the point?” No to both, and for a variety of reasons, some good and bad. What it does is keep you from being *disqualified* for positions. Roughly 1.6 million people got a bachelor’s degree in 2010. Fortunately for you, they are not all qualified for the jobs that you’re searching for merely because of that degree.

      I know I’m not seeing how you write when you’re applying for stuff, but what I’m hearing here is a focus on your credentials, with your certificates, and honors, and grades, and how you qualified for what you did previously. Ironically, I’m wondering if your cover letters aren’t focusing *enough* on your potential, and aren’t bridging the gap from “I did this thing, which makes me awesome!” to “Doing this thing gave me knowledge that would be applied in a specific useful way for you and make you awesome!” Where you finally come alive for me is when you talk about what you *achieved* at the radio station—not, not, not how you qualified for it or what your title was there.

      Have you seen AAM’s example of a great and successful cover letter?

      There’s not a single box-ticking credential in there, and it’s totally awesome in its focus on what she could do for the person she’s writing to.

      1. A reader*

        would it be helpful if I posted a one of my resumes? (modified in keeping companies etc confidential)?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I don’t encourage people to post their resumes here because otherwise this blog would be full of them. But I’ve posted earlier that you can send it to me if you want to.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Actually, what the hell — let’s make a one-time exception. If you’re willing to post a resume and cover letter at the bottom here, I think it could help the discussion.

    5. Rana*

      What I’m not understanding is where does the degree come in? … I do understand that a lot of people leave college and need training, but what is the point of studying if everyone is only going on your experience? Does the study not qualify you for a position? Isn’t that the point?

      Speaking as a person with a Ph.D. who couldn’t get hired for a basic retail job, no, your degree doesn’t mean a whole lot on its own.

      What a degree means is that you have the capability – the potential, to use your terms – to do useful, productive things. That you can follow directions, that you can see projects through to completion, that you aren’t a completely useless nerf-herder. Degrees in specific fields mean that you have the basic working understanding of what that field entails in the abstract.

      What a degree does not do is teach you about real-world, paid application of those principles and basic skills. (Unless it’s a vocational degree, like nursing or plumbing.) And that, unfortunately for you and all the rest of us lacking in-field experience, is what employers want.

      The volunteer stuff, I would imagine, could be helpful. Perhaps you should try emphasizing the practical, hands-on work you’ve done, and deemphasizing your education? As a parallel, note that no one in my original field – academia – ever talks about their doctorates. Everyone has one; they’re the expected basic requirement for the field; they are nothing unique and nothing special. Outside of academia, having a Ph.D. frequently paints one as an out-of-touch elitist egghead ivory tower type. In both cases, what gets you hired is the actual skills and experience you bring to the table, not the degree.

      Just a thought.

      1. The IT Manager*

        I am not a hiring manager, but if I were hiring for a retail job I would probably pass on a resume that listed a PhD because I would not expect the person to be happy in a retail and I’d expect them to continue looking for something better and leave as soon as they found it.

        Frankly I imagine the same thought process must occur with MBAs applying for admin assistant. I expect the applicants to be trying to move up to a more appropriate post-MBA job ASAP and I would want to hire someone who might stick around for a few years.

        Very similarly, my brother had trouble finding a job between high school graduation and leaving for college. He was passed on because he could only stay in the job 3 months whereas others who were hired because they weren’t leaving town ending up quiting after a few weeks. He would have been a better choice, but the hiring managers didn’t know how flaky the guy they hired really was and went for the on he **thought** would be longer term. My brother eventually got a summer job by not mentioning that he was leaving town for college and worked hard for them until he moved away.

  29. Sake*

    I’m actually involved in the hiring process here. I can’t tell you the number of times the sales manager walked out of an interview and not be able to confirm whether the candidate has a degree without going back to the resume. They just don’t seem to care.

  30. A reader*

    No, not mentioning all of that in my resume. Just my jobs, with the most recent work completed and related to the needs of the position, I have listed with my duties/skills/accomplishments, where possible.

    No, not into any art or marketing media etc.. that is my ‘hobby’ not my career field. I happen to be an artist, self taught, won the awards, worked doing media and art while in school and prior to that for a year or two, but I just did it for the extra money – not for a career choice.
    I am much more into science, and my degree is not remotely related to art/media in any way shape or form.

  31. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Okay, OP, I received your resume and took a quick look. The good news is actually that there’s a strong chance that this resume is the problem. (That’s good news in that it might pinpoint the problem for you, and leave you less baffled about why you’re not getting more employer interest). It’s not that there are horrible glaring errors; it’s more that it’s not doing you any favors: It’s not doing anything to make you stand out in a sea of other qualified candidates, because there aren’t any compelling details in the way you’re describing your past work. Hiring managers are going to get a couple hundred resumes, at least, that look like this — so this won’t get their attention.

    To be clear, the problem isn’t your experience. It’s the way you’re describing your experience.

    The biggest problem: You didn’t list any *accomplishments* — your bullet points under each job are duties/responsibilities; they’re the same that anyone who held those jobs could list (they’re basically job descriptions), so they don’t say anything about what kind of worker you were or what you brought to the role. You need to rewrite this to focus on what you achieved, not what your duties were.

    More random feedback from just a quick skim:

    – You have an objective! Why, for the love of god, why? That right there tells me that you haven’t read a lot of other material here on how to put together a strong resume, so please do that — read the resume category, all of it. There’s a lot addressed in that section of the site that will help you revamp this.

    – Under your Qualifications section, the very first thing you list is “strong ethical and moral values conducive to maintaining confidential information.” That’s actually more relevant to your field than most (criminal justice), but it’s far from being your leading qualification, and frankly I wouldn’t include it at all because it’s a self-assessment and not an objective fact, which is what your resume is for. This is just one small thing, but it’s indicative of how you’re approaching the document overall.

    – The radio station president job that you described so compellingly in a comment here doesn’t convey any of what you conveyed to us. It comes across as staid and boring.

    This exercise is hugely useful, I think, because it tells us that when people are posting here saying that they can’t get a job but they know their resume isn’t the problem, and that their resume focuses on achievements … their resume may in fact be the problem and may not talk about achievements at all. This is particularly interesting to me, because you’ve written in comments here that it does focus on achievements — but it doesn’t :) Which makes me think that you’re thinking of “achievements” as “holding jobs,” when in fact it’s about specific things you achieve on the job, not the job itself.

    That makes me think that your confidence in your cover letters may also be misplaced, so I’d be glad to take a quick look at one of those too if you want.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Some other things this tells us:

      * You can’t rely on other people’s assessment that your resume is fine if those people aren’t actually good at telling you how to improve a resume (and also willing to be pretty blunt).

      * Even people who are really frustrated with the job market and their trouble finding work haven’t always taken advantage of all the resources available to them. I’m not saying that everyone should look at my site as the be-all/end-all of job search advice, but it does surprise me that if you’re this frustrated and you’ve written in to me, you’ve haven’t looked at what I’ve already advised on the subject! (And I don’t mean that in a snotty way; it genuinely surprises me, and I think may point you toward new/additional steps that you haven’t taken yet.)

  32. A reader*

    Thanks so much!! Ok, to be honest I knew it was my resume, that’s what I felt deep down. It just didn’t make any sense to me that I couldn’t get an interview. But I’ve had it reviewed so many times, it was getting confusing, and I honestly didn’t know what to write anymore.

    People kept telling me it was good, great and even the review at my university was telling me to fill it out on THIS template and add this. So I thank you so much for that

    A question I have is though, how do I write achievements in a position when there wasn’t any to speak of. For example, one of my jobs was dead end. I honestly didn’t achieve anything. There were no kudos from employers or supervisors simply because we were on shift by ourselves, we had a certain number of duties we had to do, and most of the time, it was a boring job, with a lot of admin stuff and running around at the beck and call of other employees who asked you to do things that were not at all in your line of work.

    The only real thing I can say I accomplished was to reduce car theft/break ins by 99.9% on my shift during my entire time there (only had one break in, right after I started, on my car).

    My other volunteer jobs (not radio) were literally admin stuff. I trained someone. But apart from filing, I didn’t do much else. The other sworn position, I completed 2 courses. But the rest was really just driving around helping people and writing citations.

    Can you give me some examples, because I’m quite stuck on that topic.

    1. Malissa*

      How many people did you help? why were you helping them? Did you do error free citations? Definitely mention the car theft thing, but leave out the part about your car… You trained some one! That’s an accomplishment!
      Getting the idea?

      1. Anonymous*

        Other ideas: error-free filing – people/you can later find what you filed!; did you built a good relationship with the people you were helping?; you were on shift by yourself and presumably managed your time well and got your work done!

    2. Syd*

      Filing: did you have to fix or augment or create the filing system to make it more efficient or make it easier to find documents later? Did you decide to create online records of the files? If you in any way cleaned up disorganized files, made it easier to find filed information, or made it easier to actually do the filing, that is an accomplishment.

      Admin: were you able to take some kind of pressure off those you were helping in order to make them more efficient?

      The radio station presidency: I’m not an employer, but I think one would be interested in the kinds of improvements you made during your time there.

  33. Lindsay H.*

    I want to give a quick word of commiseration. I went through eight months of unemployment and had 12 or so interviews with no job offers. I interviewed with a mix of positions that were in my area of what I had done before and some in areas I would be new to.

    Whenever I’d get a rejection email, letter, phone cask, etc. I would get so upset at the same old line of, “We think you have great attributes. However, we went with someone with more experience.” I wanted to scream at them, “You saw how much experience I have compared to the other candidates. If you wanted more then what I had, why’d you interview me? Are the intangibles and personality that I have not enough to take a chance on someone who’s willing to work herd and learn??”

    Yes, yes . . . I know the hiring process goes deeper than what I was raving about. And, I know that nor everyone of interviews were amazing. It’s just very difficult not to internalize repeated rejection in such a way tha lt doesn’t cause soul ulcers.

  34. Rana*

    OP, in case it’s not clear in my other comments, I just wanted to say that you have my sympathy. Even when there are things you can control and improve, it can totally suck.

    Here’s hoping things work out for you, and sooner rather than later!

  35. Rana*

    Actually, another observation/question. Now, this may be shaped by the questions posed here, and your initial frustration, but…

    Have you liked any of the work you’ve done?

    I know that sounds like a stupid question, but the impression I get is that you’ve been viewing your work more as things to check off, hoops jumped through, steps taken to get you closer to a job, etc. and not things you pursued because they were worthwhile, engaging, etc. So… did you enjoy any of it? Why? That’s the sort of thing that might be worth including in a cover letter.

    1. Rana*

      I don’t mean this in the “you must follow your passion” sense, but rather, that if your application materials are conveying the impression that work’s just a bunch of credentialing tasks and dutifully completed assignments, rather than things that you find interesting and engaging and want to pursue further or learned from, that’s something to work on.

  36. Tomas J*

    I just had my first experience of a hiring manager not seeing my potential. I am a nonprofit fundraiser, which entails a lot of different types of work – direct mail, grant writing, sponsorships, events, person-to-person asking, etc.

    I have extensive experience and a great track record. But I didn’t have a lot of experience personally soliciting really large gifts (like, six figures). I had done smaller solicitations but had never “closed the deal” on a huge gift. I had worked extensively with six-figure donors, just never being the one to close the gift.

    I had a courtesy interview for an internal promotion that involved big gifts, and they flat out told me that I wasn’t a good candidate because I had never closed a six-figure gift – despite my other experience and my background working with six-figure donors. I thought it was so short sighted, since closing a big gift is hardly unrelated to my other experience; it’s a matter of degree, and I definitely have the chops to take my career up a couple degrees.

    Joke’s on them, though, since a lot of other nonprofits saw my potential for this and I ended up with multiple offers and I just left my workplace for greener pastures.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      To be fair, if they had other good candidates who did have a track re record of raising large donations on their own, it’s understandable that they’d go in that direction. I’ve hired fundraisers before, and track record of raising money (particularly when it comes to major gifts) is a key thing to look for.

      1. Tomas J*

        You are right; I completely understand their position. I still think it’s very short sighted given the time I had already spent at the institution and the relationships I had already built.

        Their MO at the moment is to use search firms and hire people from far and wide to come to our small-ish city, thus positioning these jobs more as a “prestige” thing – look, we got somebody from Yale! We got somebody from the national office of Habitat! Etc. So, rather than make an internal hire of a very qualified person who already has relationships with the donors, they hired somebody from across the country with a great track record of major gifts but no experience in this particular field, and it’s going to take him up to 2 years (as is the general rule) to develop the relationships sufficiently to be able to make major asks. And in the bargain, they lose me entirely to a different org. The hiring manager (who I know rather well) wasn’t thinking about any of that.

  37. Jack Reylan*

    Don’t blame the managers, blame the unemployable housewives who work as headhunters and personnel, who destroy careers by churning people between firms and then refuse to hire them if they took time to care for dying parents.

  38. Tenchulis*

    These day jobs, don’t even bother trying to be the real you, don’t be honest, just lie and fake it all the way. That’s how I got my job. You just need a key, no, THE key to open the door , and bs-ing is the MASTER KEY to every door now. Everyone is lazy these days especially when you have to look over 300+ resume, S**t, I know I’m not going to. Employers/HR/managers, etc, they’re not god or a powerful wizard or some crap like that. They’re human too just like us. You can be the worst candidate, if they want to hire you, they’ll hire you, if they don’t, then they don’t. All these saying that you need this and that, are just excuses to not hire you that’s all. It could be because they don’t like your nose or the way you look at them, that sets them off in their own little world. Like Dave Chappelle said…who knows…. . So don’t feel bad.

  39. Let*

    When you have a degree they say you need experiences, when you only have experiences, they say you need a degree, when you have both, you’re over qualify, when you have none of these, they look at you like you’re a low life better get the hell out of here before they call the cops on you for trespassing. Where are people suppose to get experiences these days if jobs required such and such or years of experiences? Are people suppose to gain it over night, or are there now some special over the counter pills that I don’t know about, that we can take for a week and gain certain experiences in certain fields? I mean where are the employers/HR that believe people can learn? Some one mentioned above that volunteering is not enough or good enough. You mean I put in my time for free is not good enough? Get out of here. I had a friend who lost a job to someone else cause the person that does all the hiring, they were friends. The messed up part was less than 2 weeks, that peson quitted. sucker. No wonder most of the places these days are full of dumb people that don’t know WTH they are doing or saying.

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