Based on calls I received from reporters over the past few weeks, the current hot topic in the job search is experience: how imperative it is in the job search process; how job seekers acquire it; and how it is best explained on a resume. With each reporter I discussed the types of experiences that can be acquired (volunteering, interning, self-employment, etc.) and the best ways to explain that experience to a potential employer, particularly when the experience isn’t necessarily directly related to the job.

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Whether you’re a college student seeking that first opportunity or a career transitioner hoping to move into a new career field, acquiring experience is one of the best ways to demonstrate to an employer your seriousness about a chosen career field, your ability to succeed in a work environment, and your specific skills and talents. Keep in mind that experience can be either directly relevant to your planned career, or offer transferable skills that would apply to the field in which you’re seeking employment.

For years, the standard advice for college students in particular has been to complete an internship because internships were viewed as a likely entry point for future employment with the company. For individuals interested in the hospitality, entertainment, or related fields, Disney, for example, has an extensive college internship program. Interns are not guaranteed a future job, of course, but internship alumni have a chance to pursue more opportunities worldwide. 

Interestingly enough, though, a new survey of 225 employers conducted by Millennial Branding and Experience,Inc published this week contained an interesting finding:

  1. Employers desire more experience and internships from potential employees. (91 percent of employers recommended at least one, and preferably two, internship experiences. In addition, 87 percent of the employers indicated that the internships should be substantial in nature, lasting at least three months.)  However...
  2. These same employers aren’t hiring from their internship pools as often as they used to. Half of those employers responding to the survey indicated that they had not hired any of their own interns in the past six months.

In other words, an internship is just a start in the process and the job seeker should not assume it will lead directly to employment with that organization. In addition to a greater amount of experience, the top skills sought by employers include communication skills, having a positive attitude, and teamwork. Jobs seekers should keep this in mind when seeking experiences. How can you demonstrate strong communication and teamwork skills through your internship, volunteer work, or other activities? (See a related blog post on the T employee to take full advantage of your education and experience.)

According to this study, employers also seek relevant coursework, referrals from a professor or former supervisor, and leadership experience. Just under a third of the respondents indicated they also like to see entrepreneurial experiences on a resume.

So what does this mean for the typical person looking for a first job or transitioning to a new career? Some advice is to be expected: prepare for your interviews; maintain a positive attitude in the interview; acquire as much experience as possible; and make sure your resume reveals the relevant coursework you have completed.

But the message is also clear that one experience or internship is just a start in this job market. Think more broadly about ways to acquire different experiences and round out your resume. Be prepared to do at least a second internship and/or seek other ways to acquire experience. Consider starting an entrepreneurial venture or working (interning) with a solo entrepreneur in your community. Continue your job search even if your internship has the potential to lead to a job. Whether you're a college student hitting the job market for the first time or someone transitioning to a new career field, the experience you acquire can make all the difference in this job market.

©2012 Katharine Brooks. All rights reserved. Find me on Facebook and Twitter.

Photo credit: Flickr creative commons

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