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Does College Count as Job Experience?

The job description asks for three years of experience—do you qualify?

College student applying for jobs
Image courtesy of Jeswin Thomas

If you’ve recently graduated from college, you’ve most likely started the journey to getting your first job. And at this point, you’ve probably figured out it may not be as easy as you thought it would be. 

A common challenge in applying to entry-level jobs begins with their requirements. Along with a long list of attributes and skills they’d love you to have, many job descriptions also state a ridiculous number of years they require in experience. 

As a former recruiter, I can confidently tell you that companies will always interview candidates who don’t fulfill all the requirements. Many times this is due to the fact that the candidate they’ve laid out in the job description doesn’t exist. Think of the description as the hiring manager’s wish list of what the “perfect” or “ideal” candidate looks like. Essentially, many of the requirements may be “nice-to-have” qualities, but are not always deal-breakers. 

Another thing to note is that companies won’t always do their research on the requirements they’re laying out. For example, a company recently came under fire for asking for more than six years of experience using Figma, a vector graphics editor and prototyping tool. However, the software had only been around for four years at the time, making it impossible for anyone to have that much  experience using the software. 

Moral of the story? Don’t let requirements scare you. Always apply and let the recruiter decide whether or not you move forward, but don’t take yourself out of the race before it’s even started. You might be surprised to see how many more opportunities come your way because of this.

Read more: Why 60% Is Qualified Enough, According to a Recruiter 

Does college count as relevant work experience?

So, as a recent grad, what counts as relevant work experience? 

Here’s the secret: Everything you’ve ever done in your life is experience. This includes college activities like coursework, clubs, extracurriculars, volunteer positions, and on-campus jobs. 

Tracking your relevant experience

To demonstrate relevant experience on your resume, start by documenting all of your past experiences in a Google or Word document. I like to call this the “job descriptions master doc.” This will hold all of your relevant work information in a centralized place where you can pull bullet points from every time you're looking to create a new resume

Begin by listing all your previous positions (both paid and unpaid), projects, coursework, and anything you feel is connected to what you want to do. Then, give yourself some time to brainstorm and bullet-point every responsibility you’ve had in each role and list all the tools/softwares you’ve ever used. 

Read more: How to Write a Resume for Your First Job

Demonstrating your relevant experience to a potential employer 

In order to position those bullet points as the experience employers are looking for, you need to define the industry and role you’d like to pursue. Once you’ve decided, gather up a few job descriptions and study them.

What's necessary to be successful in these roles? Are there any tools or software they're asking for experience with? What are the terms and lingo they use in the industry? That’s the information you need to translate your experience on paper. Compare the job descriptions to your resume and see how many words match. You want your resume to reflect the language of the job description as much as possible. 

Small tweaks such as changing a sentence from, supported over 300 students… to supported over 300 customers… or remembering to mention a software you’ve used can make a big difference to an employer. 

Read more: How to Use Resume Buzzwords the Right Way

When you’re discussing your experience in an interview, focus on what you’ve done that’s relevant to the role. Odds are, you’ve likely done a lot of things that give you a unique skill set, but remember that recruiters and hiring managers want to know how good of a fit you are for the specific role you applied for

For example, if a company asks for experience with a software, explain how you’ve used the software or a competitor tool in the past. If they ask for research experience, explain the research you’ve done in college. If they’re asking for time management skills, discuss how you managed your time or schedule each semester to optimize for the best outcome.

An easy way to prepare for this ahead of time is by mapping out the role and matching each bullet point to your experience. Ask yourself, have you done work similar to this in the past? What skills do you have that immediately transfer over to this role? Is there anything you have experience in that isn’t in the job description? For example, if you go into accounting with a creative background, you likely have a mindset unlike any other accountant at the firm. How does your different perspective provide value to the company? What superpower does it give you? Write this down and practice speaking about your value. 

Above all, be confident in what you bring to the table. Remember, your opportunity will come, though you may have to fight for it. Your transferable skills and experience is what makes you unique, but it's up to you to tell your narrative in a way that resonates with a recruiter and shows you're the best fit.

Read more: 5 Tough Interview Questions and How to Answer Them

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