“Do You Have Any Experience?”

Students and Transitioning Professionals Still Need Experience

I recently had the honor to speak in front of 160 students and professionals at the American Marketing Association Student Conference.  Chance conversations before, during and after the conference put me into a real dialogue with both students looking for their career start and professionals in transition about the changing face of marketing in 2010 and the requisite skills employers want to see on a resume.   

One person I spoke with told me they wanted to work in event marketing.  Their resume however did not say this nor did it display any experience in that area.  Another person told me that they wanted to pursue a career in Internet marketing.  Yet again, nothing on their resume said, “I’m involved in it today”.

Think about.  If you are pursuing a career in Internet marketing, what makes your resume stand out?  Most of today’s competing candidates will have great educational background, strong grades and references.  Everyone may even be comparable in the way they express their personal and career goals.  Even in the interview you may be practiced and polished.  But the request that may decide the hire is, “tell me about your experience in this area.”

Now it may seem unfair to state that you have to have experience before you can get the job that will provide experience.  Catch 22 right?  Yet, I can tell you that, as an employer I look for that experience, even if the experience is self-propelled or unpaid.  I really want to work with people who are passionate enough about their stated career choice that they are already involved.  This prerequisite involvement is not as hard to get into as you may first think.  You just need to know where to start.

As a recent graduate just starting your career or as a professional in transition how do you garner experience without already having a position in your chosen field?  Let’s talk about where to get started.  Are you on Linked In? If not, join.  It’s free.  Sign up for a few LinkedIn clubs that are in your area of interest.  Next let’s do some relevant career research. You will find that  there are  numerous professional organizations for every field that offer frequent webinars, case studies and meetings.  Take AMA-STL as an example.  For anyone interested in keeping up to date with marketing trends AMA is a terrific resource. 

True, these steps will not provide “work” experience but will show passion and involvement.  This elective involvement is also a good start in finding pathways to work experience. For a student, if you are lucky enough to get on as an intern performing work that will get you hired then congratulations.  If not, then while on campus maybe try to figure out who can use your assistance and self-propel into some experience.  Could it be your club, fraternity, sorority, church, family member or maybe even a teacher that gives you the chance to perform research, write  blog or run an event?  If not, I can assure you that there are dozens of non-profits in every community that will take you on in a heartbeat.   Even a local business may be interested in some cheap but capable assistance. (Will blog for food?)  Again, one of your goals is to put something under that “Prior Experience” heading on your resume that will make you stand out.

Many professionals today have their own website.  If you wish to be equally ambitious yet don’t claim to be a html expert, why not start your own blog?  Blogs require about zero technical knowledge today.  They are also cheap to create, host and maintain.  The primary requirements in having a great blog are using your brain, having the willingness to create a community and the discipline to commit adequate time.  What to write about?  Some of the most widely read blogs contain posts that inform their readers about case studies, work related information and excerpts from other authors that the blog owner finds interesting.  Wouldn’t it be great to respond to a question from a prospective employer with, “yes, I know what you mean.  As a matter of fact in my blog, I noted an interesting study in that same area and I thought…..”  That’s a person the interviewer will remember.  Equally, the people you blog about, the members of your LinkedIn groups and your  fellow charity co-workers could just possibly be the faces you see across the table during a job interview. 

Much of the same thought process above can work for transitioning professionals, but what if you are looking for a career in a non-marketing related discipline?  Again, I think most employers are looking for passionate, involved and creative people that can show experience even if through their own initiative.  That is especially true if you are “recreating” yourself for your next career opportunity.  Knowing your subject matter from a working world perspective, writing about your desired area of employment, proving your thought leadership and being involved in a like-minded community go a long way in making a great first impression.  More importantly, they allow you to answer “yes I do” to the question “Do you have any experience?”

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