Today I'm answering a question about finding a challenging job that balances years of work experience with getting a college degree later in life.
I started college late. At 26 years old, I’m receiving my bachelor of arts in economics, and despite years of work experience, I can’t land a great job. I worked in retail before college, completed several internships while in college, and took a year off between my freshman and sophomore years to work as an account manager for a Fortune 500 company.
Despite these four years of work experience, when I apply for entry-level jobs requiring one to three years of experience, I get the standard "You do not qualify" responses. Employers seem to view me as simply another kid fresh out of college, not someone ready for a challenging, professional role.
How do I convey to employers that I’m totally qualified? Or do I just have to bite the bullet and take a job for which I’m completely overqualified?
The answer may lie in your cover letter and résumé or the match between your experience and the jobs for which you apply.
When an employer advertises for one to three years of experience, they’re looking for experience specific to their job. This means you need to assess the job for which you’re applying and tailor your cover letter and résumé so that both highlight your relevant experience. If you submit a generic résumé that lists your jobs and the prospective employer doesn’t see the exact job title match, they may throw your résumé in the discard bin.
Cover letters that speak directly to what the employer seeks, or functional résumés that outline your skills before the employer sees your job titles, often provide an effective work-around to this barrier.
Most employers view their organizations as unique. This means they’re looking for specific industry experience. For example, when a sales organization seeks a management trainee with one or more years of experience, they hope to find a candidate who has worked in a sales organization, not one who has worked for a nonprofit or an educational or governmental agency. Thus, even though you don’t want to start in an entry-level position, you might need to so that you can gain the industry-specific credentials to land a higher-status and higher-paying job.
You potentially view your experience in ways others don’t. You undoubtedly view your account manager job as impressive because you worked for a Fortune 500 company. Many employers view account managers as bottom rung sales associates, particularly if these account managers worked for a large company with many tiers of professionals. Employers generally view internships as unpaid experiences that offer college students the chance to try out different fields. Unless you’re applying for a retail position, your years of experience don’t put you in the running for higher-level jobs.
Do you have to bite the bullet? Not necessarily. Finding a great job, like finding a great relationship, often takes time. You might give it more time, revamp your résumé and cover letters, or take an entry-level job if you can find a manager who promises to let you move up once you prove yourself.
Have a question for Lynne? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org with “SheKnows” in the subject line, and she may answer your question (confidentially) in an upcoming piece on SheKnows.
Lynne is an executive coach and the author of Solutions and Beating the Workplace Bully, AMACOM. You can follow Lynne through her other posts on sheknows.com, via workplacecoachblog.com, bullywhisperer.com™ or @lynnecurry10 on Twitter.
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