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The Experience Paradox, And How To Beat It: Using Project-Based College Work to Land Your First Job

By George Pettinico, Assistant Professor of Marketing

When freshly-minted college graduates are looking for their first jobs, many are frustrated by what can best be described as the experience paradox.  Many supposedly entry-level post-college jobs ask for one or two years of experience.  I’ve heard many graduating seniors exclaim, with warranted frustration, “How can I get my first job, if all of these supposedly first jobs want one or two years of experience?”

First, I will defend the employers (don’t boo me yet!).  Before becoming a professor, I worked for years in business and hired many people.  I preferred hiring people with at least some real world experience.  Why?  Because they were able to get up to speed faster at their jobs.  It made life easier for my coworkers and I.  Quicker on-ramping, less stress, smoother functioning.  It’s a smart choice for a hiring manager.

The good news is, there IS a way around this dreaded paradox!  Being a college student, you are in an even better position to beat the experience paradox.  The key is as a student, you need to create meaningful, relevant, real world experience while you are an undergraduate, and then communicate this experience via your cover letter, resume and interviews when you apply for jobs.  There are three things I urge all students to do to beat the experience paradox:

Plymouth State Marketing Students
  1. Do an internship in your field.  Some college majors require internships or practicums, others strongly encourage it.  I urge all students to do one in their junior or senior year. Start thinking about it in your sophomore year.  Talk to your advisor, a trusted faculty member, or an expert in your college’s Career Development Office about how to find and undertake an internship.
  2. Participate in as many class-based projects as you can.  Talk to your advisor or other trusted faculty member to find courses that have projects that include real-world work for community partners.  Here at Plymouth State, our Cluster Model encourages students to get involved with interdisciplinary projects from their very first day in their first-year “Tackling a Wicked Problem” course. From there, there are a range of project-based courses that students can select both within and outside of their majors. One such course that I co-teach is MKT 4850 Plymouth Marketing and Design Agency, where students do real world marketing and graphic design work for companies like Waterville Valley Resort and Franconia Inn.  These are powerful resume-building activities. You can see a range of other project-based examples from PSU at our Cluster Learning website.
  3. Join a student group doing relevant activities.  Many student organizations undertake interesting activities that can qualify as real-world experience.  For instance, the Marketing Association of Plymouth State (MAPS) runs their annual Rail Jam.  Student leaders who help organize this activity can list their involvement as experience in organizing and marketing a significant event – managing people, schedules, a budget, etc. The PSU Black Student Union recently hosted a week-long series of Black History Month events for the campus; this work can be listed on a resumé or discussed in a cover letter and will be attractive to many employers who will appreciate your skills and who may also be focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion in their workplace.

Do the above three things and communicate that experience via your cover letters, resumé and interviews for your first job after graduation. Here at Plymouth State, our Career Development Office can help with this process, but most colleges and universities will have a similar office where you can find this kind of support.  Employers will take notice of these sorts of experiential activities (I did when I hired people).  These activities will give you that extra edge to help you BEAT the experience paradox.

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