The most common concern I hear from educators and career-minded students is about how to enter industry when all the “entry level” jobs they see posted require at least 2-4 years of experience. How many of these supposedly “entry-level” jobs posted are written gives the impression that companies are looking to poach each other’s employees instead of hiring new graduates. Yet many of these companies send representatives to university career fairs and tell eager students to apply online only to have such jobs posted on their “careers” page. If recruiters are open to considering new graduates yet their companies would prefer to hire candidates with several years of experience for every job, what does this mean for recent graduates?

I have asked this question to several industry professionals whom I have been in contact with. From what I have been told, some reasons their companies post jobs that require years of experience are:

  • More experienced candidates presumably do not need to be trained as much and are less likely to be bad hires.
  • Many managers do not know exactly what they are looking for and use years of experience in a specific field to gauge the general competency of job candidates.
  • Employers can use a candidates past experience, or lack of it, as a way to maintain the upper hand in salary and hiring negotiations with the selected job candidate.
  • Relevant experience can be a way to filter and rank job candidates in online applicant tracking software.
  • Miscommunication between managers looking for new employees and HR within a company on expectations.
  • There are still many experienced individuals who are unemployed and willing to take a reduction in salary for a stable job.

According to these same professionals, just because a new graduate may not have 2-5 years of previous paid employment does not mean they are not considered. In place of such, many hiring managers are looking for proven technical competency, effective teamwork, initiative, and willingness to learn.

Obtaining Experience as a Student

The students I often meet are technically competent, team players, and are willing to put the effort into learning the skills that will make them successful. The thing they are most concerned about is the experience necessary for a supposedly entry level job, and how to obtain it.

Many employers, including several whom I have asked, consider past internships, class projects and extracurricular activities as a worthwhile substitute to industry experience but within reason. For any of these activities to count, they must require brainpower and original thinking to complete.   Mindlessly following instructions or a set procedure does not demonstrate initiative nor is a good indicator of technical competency. The best ways to demonstrate such is to successfully complete open-ended projects to solve a recognized problem faced by the industry. Better yet is to identify a problem then initiate an effort to find and demonstrate a possible solution. For it to count, students should be able to claim at least a year of such “experience” if not more.