Photo credit: Rochelle Nicole,

New graduates find themselves stymied in their job searches by the ubiquitous phrase – “experience required”. Frustrated by the inability to get experience without having experience, they tend to throw in the towel prematurely.

Rookie mistake! Just because you didn’t get paid for something, doesn’t mean you didn’t gain any valuable experience.The trick is to showcase how your academic training, extra curricular activities, and volunteer positions have enabled you to develop the value- added skills you can offer to each employer. It’s all in how you tell your story.

According to NACE research, employers have identified eight critical factors to indicate job readiness.

They include:

  • Critical Thinking/Problem Solving
  • Professionalism/Work Ethic
  • Oral/Written Communication
  • Teamwork/Collaboration
  • Leadership
  • Digital Technology
  • Career Management
  • Global/Intercultural Fluency

Your task is to identify a compelling example of your success in each area. Consider these examples:

  • As a biology major, I spent hours in the lab reviewing data to support my hypothesis. It was an intensively difficult class and I’m so proud to have received an A on my analysis. (Demonstrates critical thinking/problem solving and/or written communication skills).
  • As a history major, I was challenged to examine why, despite the Rebel Army’s military victories, they had still lost the Civil War. It required the ability to look at each battle from multiple perspectives and draft an analysis defending my thesis. I received my highest grade in college on this paper. I would bring that same level of analysis to the workplace. (Demonstrates critical thinking/problem solving and/or written communication skills).
  • In addition to graduating with a 3.9 GPA, I also worked two part-time jobs throughout college and was Senior Class president and captain of the Women’s Basketball team. These experiences have taught me to manage my time effectively. I take pride in showing my teammates and co-workers that they can always rely on me. (Demonstrates professionalism/work ethic and leadership).
  • For my senior class project, I worked with four of my classmates to design a marketing campaign for a local non-profit organization resulting in a 25% increase in volunteers and a 20% increase in donations. (Demonstrates teamwork/collaboration).
  • I had the opportunity to spend junior year abroad. I lived with a German family and was able to travel throughout Europe in my free time. It was my first time out of New Jersey! (Demonstrates Global/Intercultural fluency).

You get the general idea. Experience comes in many shapes and sizes, but it’s up to you, as the job seeker, to translate how your background will benefit the employer. As you launch your first professional job search, consider these suggestions:

Read job descriptions carefully. Consider what skills, talents, and expertise each employer is seeking and then provide evidence, based on the experience you do have, to compel them to want to interview you. Remember, employers write job descriptions for the ideal candidate; yet the ideal candidate rarely exists. If you satisfy 60%+ of their stated criteria you should apply. Be sure to tell your story well in your cover letter.

Own your gifts, talents, and successes! It’s important that you promote your strengths during the job search process. Display them proudly; do not minimize them. Find the sweet spot between humility and confidence as you share your successes with potential employers. A healthy dose of humility will enable you to confidently discuss your strengths without suggesting that you’re arrogant enough to believe that you’re superior to others because of them. Your gifts and talents were given to you to be used for a specific purpose. Spend the time to figure out what they are and then share them unabashedly with the world.

Identify your comfort zone… and then take two steps outside of it. Embracing your new role as a member of the workforce can be scary. You’ve been a student for most of your life and are about to enter unfamiliar territory. Convert your fear into curiosity to allow yourself to explore all the possibilities available to you. Instead of approaching new situations with “I can’t because…” thinking, try asking “How can I….?” instead.

Never accept the world’s limiting view of what is possible for you. People offer a million excuses for why they have been unsuccessful in a job search. They tell themselves, “I am too young…” “I am too old…” “I went to the wrong school…” “ I didn’t pick the right major…” “My grades aren’t good enough…” “I don’t have any experience…” blah, blah, blah. Even if all of those things are true, the question is, what do you have to offer an employer? (Read suggestion #2 again!!)

Every job seeker must be able to complete the sentence, you should hire me because…. and provide data to influence the employer to believe that you’re the best candidate for the job. You may not convince everybody, but remember, you only need to convince one person to get your career started.