Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt attacked by a job post asking for 2-5 years of experience for an entry-level role. ‘Work experience’ has been a hot topic for a while now—and for good reason. We’re seeing more and more demand for candidates to have years of experience, and for those who’ve never worked before, this is a major challenge.
What we’re going to do is explore what’s driving this shift and how job-seekers can navigate this chaotic landscape.
What is work experience?
According to Indeed, work experience can be defined as “Work experience is when you gain practical wisdom with an employer by learning about a particular role, organisation or career path.”
This includes firsthand exposure and active involvement in a professional setting that contributes to the development of practical skills and understanding of a particular field. Basically, you’re doing things that help you learn and get better at a job or a type of work.
What qualifies as work experience?
For starters, it’s a very wide and vague concept. Just based on the definition alone, anything could be work experience … if you play your cards right.
The label of work experience is influenced by different things, not just how much you get paid. (If you get money for your work, it’s a clear sign of having a job as being paid for work is a standard part of regular jobs.)
But it’s important to recognise that even if you don’t get paid, doing things like unpaid internships is still a form of employment. People put in time and effort, similar to having a job, even if there’s no payment involved.
A few recognised methods of gaining work experience include internships, volunteer work, part-time roles, full-time roles, apprenticeships, freelancing, and more. In all of these examples, you’d be partaking in a range of activities in professional settings, applying your skills and gaining practical insights. This is what work experience is.
The big experience conundrum
The growing trend of asking for 3-5 years of experience in entry-level jobs can be explained by a few reasons. First, because many people are looking for jobs, employers use experience requirements to quickly narrow down the number of applicants. They believe that candidates with a few years of experience have proven themselves in a professional setting.
Second, companies now expect entry-level employees to have high skills right from the start. Technology is advancing, and jobs are changing, so employers want new hires to be skilled and able to contribute right away.
The kind of work expected in entry-level jobs has also changed. Employers now want candidates who have done internships, part-time work, or other related tasks during their education. also think about the cost of training new employees. If someone already has the basic skills and knowledge, the company doesn’t need to spend a lot of resources on training. In some industries, there are rules or expectations about how much experience is needed for entry-level roles. Also, during uncertain economic times, companies might be more careful and prefer candidates with a proven record.
However, not all entry-level jobs require so much experience. You can still stand out by emphasising relevant experiences like internships or part-time work. These show how your skills from school apply to the job, and making connections through networking. While asking for more experience in entry-level jobs is a trend, it’s not the same for every industry, and you can find ways to showcase your abilities and get noticed.
Why do employers ask for it?
When companies ask for a specific number of years of experience for junior positions, it’s not always a straightforward requirement. There are various reasons as to why.
Firstly, companies use the years of experience as a quick way to screen applicants. It helps them filter out candidates who are familiar with the ins and outs of a professional work environment, saving time in the initial selection process.
Companies might think that candidates with more experience need less training. They believe these candidates can jump in and start contributing to the team right away. Moreover, there’s this idea that candidates with several years of experience have learned a lot of different skills. Companies want people who have faced different challenges and have a wide range of skills.
Sometimes, asking for a specific number of years is really needed for certain jobs, like those involving leadership or special technical skills.
To be fair, there are other ways to check if someone is ready for a job. Instead of only looking at years of experience, companies may test a candidate’s skills or look at what they achieved in past jobs. Also, they may think about how well a person fits into the company culture and how fast they can learn new skills or get familiar with a new tool.
In a nutshell, asking for a set amount of experience in junior roles might seem a bit confusing, but it’s a mix of industry habits, quick checks, and ideas about skill-building.
Obstacles to look out for
Companies often ask for work experience for various reasons, and technology like Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) and AI play a big role in making the hiring process smoother. While they can be helpful, they can surely be a challenge to work around—and have their own fair share of issues, which we won’t dive into too deeply.
When there are lots of job applications, it can be hard for recruiters to go through all of them. Asking for work experience is a quick way to sort through resumes and find candidates who have shown they have the right skills and knowledge beforehand.
Job postings often list specific experience needs for the position. ATS and AI quickly look at resumes for certain words and match them with what the job needs. This helps make sure candidates have the right kind of experience.
Automated systems save time by going through lots of resumes quickly, which lets recruiters focus on candidates who meet the experience criteria, making the hiring process more efficient. Additionally, in some jobs and industries, laws or rules say a person needs a certain amount of work experience. Automated systems could help make sure companies follow these rules.
Even though automated systems make hiring quicker, there are challenges. Using specific words or years of experience can be biased and might not show all a candidate can do.
The solution to getting recognised? One fix would be to customise your resume/CV, which could greatly improve your chances of securing the job. (Here’s a free resume template to get you started.)
Practical advice to help you out
Navigating the job market isn’t easy—and it’s only made harder by having no work experience. But there’s a lot you can do to still secure a dream role. Crafting a targeted resume should definitely be high up on your priority list! Tailor it for each position, emphasising skills and experiences that matter. Highlight achievements and quantify your impact to show tangible results—use stats, facts and figures.
Focus on how your skills align with the role, using concrete examples to demonstrate your capabilities. This personalised approach emphasises your contribution to the organisation’s goals.
Also, establish a strong online presence, especially on platforms like LinkedIn. Keep your profile updated, add a professional photo, and showcase your skills and accomplishments. If applicable, create an online portfolio to showcase your work, providing project descriptions, outcomes, and your role in each.
Networking also plays a vital role! Try and attend events, join professional groups, and connect with industry professionals to open doors to opportunities. Trust us, knowing the right people really helps!
Plus, make sure to stay updated on industry trends, acquire new skills, and pursue relevant certifications to demonstrate commitment to professional development. Adaptability is often prioritised by employers when evaluating candidates and showing that you have the right certifications, hard skills, soft skills, etc., and put in the work to cultivate them will definitely help you stand out!
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