Why “2 Years of Experience” Applies to Entry-Level Jobs

…and How It Helps Your Career

Why “2 Years of Experience” Applies to Entry-Level Jobs

At times, I have heard this lament from college students who are applying for jobs:

“Two years’ experience required? But it’s an entry level position! How can they expect that?”

Companies can and do expect experienced candidates right out of college because of internships.

What was once considered an optional summertime gig that you did between your junior and senior years has morphed into a multi-year requirement for virtually all fields. While there may be a collective bemoaning of yet another demand set forth to be deemed employable, there are various benefits to be gain from internships.

1. Real-world experience

Whether an internship is paid or not (or considered part of your required clinical experiences for your major), the experiences and successes you have are valid because you are working in your field. Yes, there may be more guidance for you and your responsibilities are lower level, but it helps you secure the foundational concepts that are critical for success and better understand the real-world scenarios that are part of the day-to-day work.

And don’t make the mistake of downgrading this on your résumé because it’s “just” an internship. While you must use the appropriate title and designation for this position on your résumé listing, the overall heading for this section should be something like “Professional Experience” because this is your professional experience.

2. Learning how to make decisions on the fly with incomplete information

Life is not a textbook, and internships teach you that situations you run into in the workplace are rarely as black and white as the case studies you work on in school. Developing more confidence when faced with the uncertainty will help you become a stronger candidate. Plus, you will have stories of what you actually did in X situation (vs. candidates without internships talking about what they theoretically would do).

3. Mentors to guide you as you develop your skills

Getting to work alongside folks who have honed their craft over many years is exciting for any intern. The stories they share, the key lessons they impart, or the advice they offer on how you can tweak your approach — they are all worth their weight in gold. They can give you insight into where the nuances are, where you can find the wiggle room, how to discern the different methods to be used with each project. Valuable, valuable stuff.

How else can internships help your career?

1. Your professional network

You’re going to meet many new folks in your internship. People from your company, from their clients, and from their vendors are all possibilities for growing your professional network.

Of course, the easy way to keep track of them is on LinkedIn. You are on LinkedIn, right? If not, you really, really need to set up that profile to be able to keep track of folks in your network.

2. Important references

Including one or two references from companies where you interned gives you a leg up because someone who is actively working in your industry is vouching for the skills you have demonstrated in the field.

Don’t get me wrong — professors are excellent references to have because they can speak to your leadership in the classroom and your performance as a student. But like I said before, the classroom and the real world are two very difference places. And prior bosses (even from minimum-wage jobs) can support the claims you have made about your work ethic. But having someone from your industry sing your praises about real-life problems you have solved just brings that something “extra” that sets you apart from other candidates.

3. Keeping you competitive with your peers

It’s not uncommon for students to have internships from as early as their sophomore year in college. And, unless you land an internship that is ongoing, you will need to do your best ensure that you have another gig lined up for when the first one ends. Keeping yourself in the thick of your field is what employers are looking for, and what many of your peers can offer. Any significant gaps could cause them to wonder how committed you really are to your work.

4. Full-time employment with the company

Increasingly, internships are paving the way to a job after college. This happens for a variety of reasons:

  • It’s easy to see the interns as part of the company because they are a part of the company right now.
  • Folks already know if they will fit into the culture.
  • Managers have a good idea of how the interns are applying their knowledge to real-life situations.
  • The interns have insider knowledge about projects in development.
  • They may be part of a team that is working to bring one of the projects to the marketplace.

How do you plan to incorporate internships into the mix before you graduate?

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