Students visit employer tables at 2019 fall career and internship fair

Career and Internship Fair Day One September 17, 2019. Credit: Courtesy of the Office of Student Life

Recent college graduates could be in for a rude awakening as they apply for their first job only to find out they don’t meet the minimum qualifications.

According to a 2018 TalentWorks study of more than 95,000 jobs, 61 percent of entry-level job applications had a requirement of at least three years of experience. In reality, Ryan Wilhelm, assistant director of Career Counseling and Support Services, said students may still be hired even if they don’t have the desired experience under their belt.

Wilhelm said that unlike a job’s requirement for a certain degree or certification, experience requirements are not always concrete. He said he encourages students to apply for a position even if they aren’t the “perfect candidate.” 

“If there were seven things that that job was looking for, and you checked off five and the rest of us checked off four, you’re going to get an interview and you might get that job,” Wilhelm said. “It’s not always about checking off every single box.”

Kristen Forche, an academic adviser for chemical and biomolecular engineering, said she also encourages students to apply for a job even if they don’t meet the experience requirement. When she applied to her current advising role, she said Ohio State looked for a candidate who had three to five years of experience, but Forche got the job with less than two years.

“Prove that you are still a hard worker and can do the job regardless,” Forche said.

Wilhelm said students can take additional measures to make up for a lack of experience and that networking may be key to landing an entry-level job. He said LinkedIn, Handshake and Alumnifire for Ohio State are great resources for students to make their way onto a company’s radar before a job formally becomes available.

“The goal is to become the person who they think about when a job opens up,” Wilhelm said.

Wilhelm and Forche said students tend to overlook prior volunteer or unpaid jobs, but those positions could qualify as relevant experience on their applications. Forche said she also encourages students to pursue co-ops or internships while earning their undergraduate degree. Co-ops are usually full-time, paid positions that take place during the semester while internships are held over a semester or during the summer and may be part-time, paid or unpaid, Forche said.

Alec Pellicciotti, a fourth-year in chemical engineering, will spend the next three months in North Carolina in a co-op with GE Aviation, an aircraft engineering company. Before this co-op, he completed two additional internships: one in Kentucky with GE Aviation after his sophomore year and another with Columbus-based applied science and technology nonprofit Battelle Memorial Institute after his junior year.

“By taking a co-op, you’re able to get a foot in with the company and start obtaining that resume experience,” Pellicciotti said.

Pellicciotti said that companies tend to prioritize a student’s major and GPA in their hiring process, but having relevant work experience can set a candidate apart. He said he feels prepared to apply for a full-time job since he will have completed multiple internships and a co-op by the time he graduates.

Pellicciotti said many students he knows start looking for work experience their freshman year at Ohio State. He said although attending career fairs or reaching out to employers may be intimidating, in his experience, demonstrating “soft skills” — such as teamwork and communication — to recruiters can help students “get a foot in” and develop lasting relationships with companies.

“A lot of those types of companies look at candidates with great soft skills that they can get involved in their intern program early,” Pellicciotti said. “As you have two or three rotations with a certain company, it’s much easier to transition into a full-time opportunity with them.”