It’s tough enough landing an entry-level job when you’re competing against your peers, but what do you do when more-experienced workers are after the same job you are?
This predicament is a common one for new grads and workers these days, due in great part to a lagging economy that has led to significant layoffs. In one MonsterTRAK poll, 90 percent of respondents believe they’ve been hindered in landing entry-level jobs, because they’d been forced to compete with nonentry-level candidates.
Fortunately, experts say, there are a few strategies you can use to beat out your nonentry-level competitors and win the job.
Work on the Employer’s Terms
"When economic times are tough, employers looking to fill entry-level positions tend to hear from more-experienced workers," says Colleen Kay Watson, CEO of Edina, Minnesota-based Career Professionals Inc.
While these candidates say they’ll do anything to work again, "employers have been burned by these people," Watson notes. "In six months, the person will say, ‘I know I said I could do this job for an entry-level salary, but now I need to be paid a better wage.’"
Watson recommends graduates sell their newness. "Reassure employers you’ll take an entry-level position on their terms," she says. "Tell them, ‘Even though I’m not going to know everything right away, I’m willing to be your trainee and work on your terms.’"
Stress Salary Flexibility
"If you’re a new grad, you haven’t been working in the real world so most offers won’t look like a pay cut," says Brad Karsh, a former recruiting professional for advertising giant Leo Burnett and current president of Job Bound, a Chicago-based company. "If anything, it’ll be a pay increase."
"Because of that, you can tell employers you won’t be looking to go somewhere else in three or six months," Karsh says.
Get Experience — Somehow
If you have little or no work experience in your chosen field, you may have to make sacrifices in the short term and do whatever you can to gain experience, be it interning or volunteering.
"If you have to work in fast food at night so you can take an unpaid internship during the day, do it," says Arlene Vernon, president of Eden Prairie, a human resource consulting firm. Vernon suggests grads tell employers up front. "Tell them you know how important it is to get work experience in your field and that this is how you managed to pay the bills while doing so."
Out-Market Competitors with a Career Portfolio
Sometimes, seasoned job candidates simply send out resumes and "rest on their laurels," says Hilles Hughes, director of career services at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. If you go beyond mere words by telling prospective employers you have a portfolio highlighting your education, skills and accomplishments, then "you can sometimes be seen as a credible candidate by an employer, thus increasing your chances of competing with others who are more experienced," Hughes says.
Invest in Additional, Short-Term Training
Shortly after Kristen Gustafson graduated from Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts, with a communications degree in 1998, she decided to get into publishing. She attended the University of Denver’s Publishing Institute, a month-long, graduate-level course on the book publishing industry.
"Essentially, a month at the institute is equivalent to six months in an entry-level position," says Gustafson, author of Graduate! Everything You Need to Succeed After College and publicity manager for International Publishers Marketing, a Sterling, Virginia-based firm. Gustafson says she was able to begin her job search "with a basic knowledge of the publishing industry and its functions, so I had that competitive edge."
But is it really possible to gain a competitive edge over more-experienced candidates who are willing to settle for the same entry-level job you actually want? Absolutely.
"New grads aren’t necessarily at a disadvantage compared to someone who has more experience," Karsh says. "The mindset of recruiters isn’t always, ‘The person with more experience is the better candidate.’ The key is if you know how to turn your situation into your advantage."