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The Paradox of Entry-Level Jobs

Taking first career steps can be an overwhelming experience; here's a guide to surviving the search for your first job





February 24, 2021

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paradox, [noun];Guide

a seemingly absurd or contradictory statement or proposition which when

investigated may prove to be well-founded or true.

Are you on the hunt for your first job? Congratulations! You're probably skimming through job boards, emailing acquaintances, and scanning social media for any lead on what could turn out to be your very first job in the industry. And that's an exciting thing, right? Such a milestone in anyone's life and career. After all, it's a unique experience that won't repeat itself: there's only one job which will forever be your first.

Maybe you're the type who's super excited, feeling a rush of energy as you're ready to take on the world with your fresh talent. Perhaps you're hesitant, painfully aware of that impostor syndrome, anxious about the future.

Either way, I'm sure you've already had the pleasure of encountering that very irrational job logic: an ad for an entry-level position, shamelessly calling for a few years' experience. "Absurd and contradictory statement"? Yup, that's the one.


When Entry-Level became an issue: On economy and education

On a recent TikTok video that went viral, Alexa Shoen - author of #ENTRYLEVELBOSS: How To Get Any Job You Want - lays the foundation of historical events that created this bizarre employment reality.

In a nutshell, she explains it all began in the big recession of 2008. As the global financial crisis hit, many of the jobs lost were of mid-level positions. That meant a population of the freshly laid-off and panicked workforce willing to downgrade to junior-level jobs they were overqualified for.

This situation set a bad precedent that created an employment market which is unfortunately still with us. And so, 13 years later, we are still seeing entry-level jobs that now require 2-3 years of market experience, all because years ago there was an entire workforce too senior for the role they had.

Talking to Shoen, a bigger picture is revealed. Another fundamental crisis is responsible for this - the one of the higher education system. Shoen explains: "Looking back, the percentage of Baby Boomers attending college was very low compared to today. Most of them didn't get a higher education, so those who did - were considered highly skilled and therefore highly employable. Having a degree meant a guaranteed job. Today, the shift from college to employment couldn't be more different, yet the narrative we all live to is still the same.

Moreover, the higher education industry hasn't changed in the last 75 years (unheard of for any other industry!): it hasn't caught up with technology. It is not aligned with a world where new jobs appear out of nowhere (podcast producer, to name one). So you've got yourself fresh graduates, disappointed and frustrated from a degree that gets them nowhere in the real world".


How to stand out without any professional background

So here you are, just starting out, or rather a recent graduate, or even a more experienced professional shifting industry, experiencing this catch-22 of job-seeking: Almost every position requires some kind of industry-specific work background. And when "entry-level" means 3+ years of experience, we have to ask how one gets experience without already having some? So here, just for you, a collection of ways for you to stand out and make employers notice more than only the number of years in your employment history. Grab your pen and paper, and let's get to it:

1. Stick to your soft skills

Your soft skills are your personal attributes that make you who you are, distinguish you from the rest. They are an asset that has nothing to do with actual industry experience. Emphasis them! You might even try to create a skills-based resume: compose it in a format that highlights skills rather than work experience. Make them stand out by showing rather than telling: don't just write you are motivated or have a problem-solving mindset - give examples for it.

2. School projects count

Try and think about what an employer might look for beyond years of experience. Significant research; completed independent creative work; made something cool with someone else; been involved in a college class project with real-world impact; gaining industry knowledge through networking; challenges you overcame: All of those are worth writing about. The creative work you've done during your school years matters.

3. Further education

No, we're not talking about signing up for your Master's degree just yet. But educating yourself further and gaining more knowledge is a highly covetable quality, which can not only go on your resume but also provide you with networking opportunities. That could mean as little as taking a few online classes or workshops in fields you're interested in, attending webinars, or maybe even taking a deeper plunge into a full program such as Wix Playground Academy.

Alexa Shoes adds: "A degree is no longer the end game. Education goes way beyond your years in college. We now have the power to educate ourselves and learn anything we can and want to: it's all there at our fingertips. You just need to take charge. This is how you can reclaim the power in your career."

4. Volunteer

Volunteering is a great way to exhibit interest and experience in a particular field. Since it is uncompensated, it shows above all else a genuine passion for what you do. There are countless organizations out there that would hugely benefit from a website makeover, a new logo, or just need to create visual assets for their social media posts. The best thing is, you can choose a cause that's close to your heart to offer your skills to. You gain experience, and they get to enjoy work they otherwise can't afford: It's a win-win situation.

5. Be mindful

When choosing where to apply, don't just mindlessly and frantically send as many applications as possible. Carefully pick each job you apply to with a lot of thought and care. Tailor each application you send out to the specific job description for which you're applying. Be mindful about your online presence: it should be as coherent as possible and reflect your personality. Don't forget to check designated resources such as Discover Creative which offers career information and opportunities from creative organizations for young graduates.


We'll be back next month, further exploring the topic of entry-level jobs, this time with stories from real people and real experience. Stay tuned, and in the meantime: good luck!

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