Searching for your first "real job" after college can be both exhilarating and frustrating. In a perfect world, potential employers would hire you based on your college transcript, your credentials and your willingness to learn. However, in the real world, employers want proof you have what it takes to get the job done. At the same time, gaining experience may seem impossible if you can't get anyone to hire you in the first place.
So, with a seemingly blank resume, how do new graduates overcome their lack of work experience and get a job? Here are seven ways to gain applicable experiences to beef up your resume:
1. Apply for an internship
No matter what field you earned your degree in, you'll find paid and unpaid internships available. While a paid stint with a company may be ideal, you should also consider the latter option and be willing to take the best internship you can find, even if it's unpaid.
Internships provide the perfect opportunity for you to network with other like-minded professionals, gain valuable work experience and build your resume. Also, some internships can actually lead to a job with the same company. Now that would be a win-win for all involved.
2. Volunteer your services
While some businesses may not offer formal internship arrangements, you can always ask them to make an exception -- or volunteer to show up and help out. Depending on your field, you could volunteer to complete a specific project or simply fill in over holiday break. You could even volunteer to show up and run errands for the company, complete simple, manual tasks, or deliver mail or coffee.
You never know what kind of connections you'll make when you volunteer for a company just for the sake of learning more. So, put your volunteer cap on and be grateful for any opportunity you can find. A smile and handshake could be all you need to get your foot in the door. At the very least, your volunteer experience will help add depth to your resume.
3. Shadow a professional in your field
Job shadowing is a great way to improve your resume while gaining skills and experience that will make you a better employee. Shadowing the right professional could also help you make a valuable connection in your industry and earn a friend who could vouch for your potential and serve as a reference.
To find the right individual, reach out to your social and professional network. Look for those who are already working in your desired field or position and ask if they are willing to let you see their world firsthand. Like any other work experience, you never know where job shadowing could lead. Finding the right professional to learn from could be the first step toward gaining the experience you need to get your dream job.
4. Apply for a temp job
While the previously mentioned points can help you learn new skills and make connections, it can also help to find work while you search for something more permanent. If you plan to enter your new field as quickly as possible after graduation, getting a temp job in any industry can help you earn money and make new connections.
Even if your temp job is in an outside industry, the fact that you have a job may impress a potential employer. Sure, you may be performing a job that doesn't relate to your new industry, but at least you're proving you can show up each day and do the work. Sometimes, that's half the battle.
5. Get involved in clubs or meet-ups
While work experience looks good on a resume, so do unique experiences that define and highlight your individual strengths. If you want to put your individuality on display, it makes sense to get involved in as many clubs or meet-ups as you can handle. Depending on your circumstances, clubs to consider can include fraternities, academic meet-ups, debate clubs, student government, athletic teams or any existing groups related to your college major.
By getting involved, you can show potential employers you know what it's like to collaborate with others and be part of a team. Also, if you complete a project with your team or club, you can use that experience on your resume to prove you are able to work with others to accomplish joint goals. In today's modern workplace, simply proving that you can collaborate with a team can go a long way towards portraying yourself as an asset.
6. Start your own business
Have a profitable idea that you feel passionate about? If that's the case, you can consider starting a new business on your own. Even if it's just a short-term venture to hold you over until you find a full-time job, you will no doubt learn many valuable lessons along the way. The leadership, organizational and problem-solving skills necessary to start a business are transferable to any job, so the skills you learn will help round out your resume. Also, the experiences you gain while starting and running a business will give you plenty to talk about in an interview.
Another benefit of starting your own business is that you can create a job that no one can take away from you. It is one way to take control while learning the ropes along the way, and your work can create a valuable enterprise you could sell down the line.
7. Take relevant classes or earn certifications
In addition to work experience, many employers look for credentials, certifications or other proof you have invested in yourself. Fortunately, there are more than a few ways to make yourself stand out in this respect.
Depending on your specific career field, you could pursue certification in a number of subjects or technologies. If you hope to work in information technology, for example, certification in any number of crucial software programs can show employers you went the extra mile. Likewise, if you work in construction or any rugged, manual labor industry, certification in fork lift safety or first aid can show you are dedicated to your desired career. While certifications are offered at traditional schools and institutions of higher education, you can also pursue them online.
The bottom line
Preparing to enter the workforce can be frustrating if you don't have work experience to build on. It can be difficult to land that first job without actual job experience or tangible evidence you can hold down a 9-5 job and handle the responsibilities that come with it.
The answer to this conundrum is simple: To gain the applicable work experience and transferable skills you need, you have to be willing to explore opportunities that aren't obvious. While any of the suggestions offered in this article may take some extra work on the front-end, the payoff could be well worth it.
"10 Clubs That Will Make Your Resume Flawless," College Magazine, http://www.collegemagazine.com/10-clubs-will-make-resume-flawless/
"Easy Certifications to Add to Your Resume," Investopedia, http://www.investopedia.com/financial-edge/0712/easy-certifications-to-add-to-your-resume.aspx
"Odds Are Your Internship Will Get You a Job," Forbes.com, http://www.forbes.com/sites/susanadams/2012/07/25/odds-are-your-internship-will-get-you-a-job/