There is a very old saying that “you need a job to get experience, but you need experience to get a job.” The gist of those words is that it’s difficult to land your first job as employers are looking for relevant experience in those they hire, but new graduates often have no experience after graduation except for maybe an internship. FYI – internships are a topic we’ll tackle some other time.

It’s a conundrum that makes a new graduate’s initial journey into the career world frustrating, to say the least. If you were lucky enough to land an internship that provided REAL experience that was truly relevant to the jobs you seek after graduation, you’ll certainly have an easier time competing for jobs after graduation. Then, there are grads like me. Some of us find relevant jobs as undergraduates, jobs that we work full or part time, often getting paid well (often 20-50% above minimum wage). Doing well in your college courses can open doors – seek guidance from your undergraduate advisors to research such options.

So, for those who did not get an internship or relevant experience as undergrads (or high school students), how do you get experience if no one will hire you right after graduating?

Great question! Here are some options that have worked well for my clients and students alike.

  1. Find ways to incorporate experience (relevant to your degree and chosen career path into your current “non-career-related” job. For example, as a business/marketing major or graduate working at a restaurant as a cook, speak with the owner or supervisor and ask if you can provide assistance in generating social media marketing? In doing so, your position now becomes a cook/advertising assistant (you can work out an appropriate job title with your boss. I imagine most restaurant owners will not have the funds to pay someone to do advertising beyond what is already being done. If that’s the case, do it for free! The experience itself usually pays off in little time.
  2. Volunteer at a non-profit entity in your area. Are you a recent graduate with a social science degree such as sociology, social work or psychology? If you are and you were unable to obtain an internship or relevant experience while pursuing your degree, look to volunteer at libraries, museums, and/or summer camps to mentor students in reading, writing, math… any subject you can effectively tutor other in. Mentoring can be a great springboard for grads in those majors getting entry-level position in their respective field. Yes, I’m aware there are professionals and educators who don’t believe this. Meanwhile, I have helped countless psychology, sociology and social work graduates get jobs with just a bachelors. Just sayin.
  3. Freelance! Sites like provide an outlet for individuals to bid on jobs that are relevant to their skills and career training. Writers, computer technicians and artists often find this site to be a great way to build a customer base, solid recommendations from satisfied customers, and money. Working in a freelance capacity also can lead to your being offered a full or part time job if you do a great job.
  4. Reach out to alumni. Once students graduate from college, the alumni center from the college will usually send out information on resources available to alumni. One of the best resources is an established network that includes past graduates with the same degree and career aspirations as you. Contact the Alumni Association and ask to be connected with an alum whose career matches what you are planning to pursue. Whether it’s getting job search advice or insight into what employers are currently hiring, contact with an alum could help you get an entry-level job quicker than if you just go it on your own.

Yes, it can be tough getting relevant experience with which to land jobs after graduation, and it is difficult to get relevant jobs without your degree. That said, connecting with professors before and after graduation can help you find and attain jobs. If your work with professors doesn’t help you locate a job, gives these tips a try. Better yet, use these tricks at the same time you are collaborating with professors to find jobs.

Neil O’Donnell

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