Despite employer expectations that only the most qualified candidates apply to job postings, there was still hope for new graduates and those looking for alternate careers: entry-level jobs. For grads with minimal work experience, these positions opened doors to work related opportunities, and they were paid. Those transitioning into new careers territory could also try out entry-level to get a foot in the door.
It's recently become apparent that these jobs are few and far between, or maybe they just no longer exist. The term 'entry- level' still floats around, and can be seen on online job boards now and again. Yet, what does this term even mean anymore, and is it of value to those in transition?
My interest in exploring this topic stems from a recent study published by The Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO). Published in three parts, it explores the hiring process from the perspective of employers posting job ads. Turns out the outcome isn't too favorable for job seekers seeking entry-level experience.
As is noted on the HEQCO webpage:
"A study of Canadian job ads found that employers posting entry-level positions expected applicants to have up to two years of work experience. But the majority of those who got hired had more – in some cases substantially more. "
Well, that's not great news. What we've come to realize is that even if employers hire someone for entry-level work with 2 or more years of work experience, the job is still probably an entry-level position. Those with work experience are most likely overqualified, but due to a shrinking job market, and choosy employers, they are the new pool of applicants. Makes me want to throw the whole concept of entry-level out the window, but my more creative and optimistic spirit causes hesitation. Perhaps we can redefine entry-level, in a way that makes sense for a new generation of workers trying to find work experience.
If entry-level is no longer a viable option to those with NO experience, what is needed IS experience. Thinking in terms of redefining what is entry-level, we need to get creative about getting experience. What a transitioning grad, or anyone else for that matter, needs to understand is how the work experience they do get is going to get them that entry-level job. A multi-step process, no doubt, but potentially a solid solution to an otherwise challenging job market.
So how might this multi-step process play out?
First, consider employment in sectors related (even if only remotely related) to the actual industry you want to break into. If an employer is looking at 2 or more years work experience for entry-level positions, this means the work you do to pocket those years can be made relevant, valuable, and related. Visuals help a lot with this. Start with the entry-level job you are interested in, and think about what skills, activities, and experiences are both closely and distantly related. These can be visualized as branches stemming from the entry-level position. Now, consider what other kinds of jobs and/or industries offer similar opportunities for skill development, meeting industry people, participating in projects etc. You will find that there is tons of overlap within a variety of industries. The transferability of the experience you gain while working towards that entry-level job will be an incredibly important part of your success in transitioning to entry-level. Keep in mind this is your starting point, it is not your end point. We all have to start somewhere, and with the current job market, we can't all start where we envision ourselves being.
Second, be open to other professional development opportunities as you are working and gaining experience. Seek out new opportunities within the company or organization you are working for, join professional organizations, network, set up informational interviews, socialize and participate in activities with those working in the sector you wish to get into. Most importantly, think strategically about the work experience you ARE getting and how this can be applied to something entry-level in your preferred industry. The combination of a) work experience you now have with b) the professional development you've gained, will enhance your profile and suitability for entry-level.
It may even be the case that you are considered for more experienced roles, given the work experience you now have has provided you with skills and training that are transferable to a new job. If not, it's about getting your foot in the door and then re-evaluating opportunities and expectations.