If you talk to anyone under the age of 30 about their entrance into the working world, there is a common complaint that you will hear:
Even for entry-level positions, the level of experience required strikes me as a bit unrealistic. Many will point to internships as a source of experience, and that is true to a certain extent. But anyone who has ever completed an internship knows that the kinds of things you are working on as an intern are not exactly the experience you need to get that first job. More often than not it’s the little tasks or dirty work that no one else in the company or institution wants to do. It is an extremely frustrating situation for the job seeker.
The same thing happens when you are attempting to shift into a new career field, which most of us will do at least once during our working lives. It is almost like starting over from scratch, only it is a bit more difficult because normally you have been working for several years and aren’t looking for the entry-level positions. But in this day of Automated Hiring Systems and other software that evaluates your resume without a human even looking at it, you are more likely than not to find your resume rejected, unless you manage to succeed in gaming the system by stuffing your resume with keywords and sentences lifted whole-cloth out of the position description…and that doesn’t always work. I tried that very method on countless occasions through the Federal Hiring Software system when I was attempting to follow my dream of obtaining a job with The Smithsonian, with no success.
Wayne Luke, managing partner of Witt-Kieffer (a non-profit executive search firm) wrote an excellent piece for the Career Development blog community at the Association for Talent Development’s website describing some tips and tricks that you can use if you are in this type of situation. For those at the start of their careers (or for those of us making a shift into a new sector), he recommends featuring your curiosity, tenacity and desire to learn and contribute as ways to combat the stereotype that you are too young or too inexperienced for the field. For those who are at the other end of the spectrum and may be facing stereotypes about being too old, he recommends highlighting that your experience makes you decisive and discerning, which are key traits for those seeking higher level positions.
Overall, I think that these are excellent pieces of advice, so long as you can get past the software that’s going to evaluate your resume. Most head hunters and other successful job hunters will tell you that you need to try to avoid going through Human Resources at all costs, and with the increased reliance on these software programs that is even more true. After all, they are just looking to match up keywords. Unless your resume is going to resemble a James Joyce novel, there is almost no way to highlight what you want to highlight and still rake up enough keywords to get the software to let you through to an actual human being. Software is good for a lot of things, but I maintain that this is not one of them. So you need to start by networking in person, using all of the tools at your disposal to make yourself known to a person first so that you have someone you can make your case to.
For those of you in career transition, I would also recommend thinking creatively about how you would like to get to your ultimate goal. Just like in life, your journey is not likely to be a straight line, but it will definitely be interesting. Check out Wayne’s blog for more insider tips, or check out my previous post on a similar topic: learning how to stand out from the crowd.