The experience paradox: Qualified but not qualified

Many seniors come into my office with what seems like a paradoxical situation. They feel simultaneously well-qualified (I just finished 4 years studying math and Spanish) and totally under-qualified (every job wants more experience than I have). There are a few ways to navigate this confusing situation.

  1. Most fields do have entry-level positions, but they can be as competitive as mid-level positions. Prepare to do a significant amount of research and networking even for what might seem like a “basic” job in a field. Education is just one of many qualifications for most positions.
  1. Get a more accurate assessment of your skill levels for your target job through conversations with working professionals in the field. Consider informational interviews, meet-up groups, and networking events to locate professionals you could talk with. For technical skills, try out online practice sites or visit an instructor during office hours to ask about key areas where you could keep honing your expertise.
  1. Keep learning about your field of interest through professional associations, books, lectures, industry news, and more—what are the key skills that are in demand? How have those skills changed in the last 5 years? How can I continue to practice key competencies while I’m on the job search? The more you know, the more you can shape your resumes, cover letters, and conversations to demonstrate your knowledge and expertise.

How does all this research help if you are a new alum who doesn’t have the exact amount of experience? The years of experience listed on a job posting aren’t necessarily precise cut-offs. A job posting seeking candidates with 1-2 years of experience is looking for someone who can demonstrate the skills necessary developed from some kind of experience. If you have some relevant internship and campus job experience, apply! However, a job posting asking for 7-10 years of experience is probably looking for a very different set of skills than a job posting asking for 1-2 years, so the key is to have qualifications that are reasonably close. Six months of experience is reasonably close to 1 year, not to 10.

By Catherine Basl
Catherine Basl Career Counselor