August 30, 2012

Employers Demand Experience – How do you Get Experience in a Tough Economy?

The success of any company rides on the talent and experience of their employees. As the residuals of the recession grind on, it is increasingly obvious that employers are being picky about whom they will hire. You need to look really good to get the attention of employers these days. Companies want the most talented, and feel that they do not need to settle for mediocre. They are looking for candidates who have something to offer and don’t need to be babysat.

The scramble for good candidates means if you have not managed your resume effectively, you may be left in the dust. I am not talking about the piece of paper… I am talking about the experiences you chase to put on that piece of paper.

You are going to need a solid academic record and some serious experience. You are also going to need to demonstrate that you are a self-starter with the requisite skills to be successful: team, leadership, communication, organization and time management skills - gained through work experience and professional activities. You need to be able to tell a story of drive, discipline, and determination to get ahead these days.

The US unemployment rate in July 2012 for young people, ages 16 to 24, was a whopping 17.1%.

Last week the Governor, in a union concession, laid off 3600 student interns. This is not good. Young people across the globe are struggling to get a toehold in the labor market – to get that all-important experience that leads to a more solid career. It is not easy. In the Euro Zone the youth unemployment rate averages 22%. In Spain the rate is 51.5%; in Greece 53%; in Italy 35%. This is a terrible waste of young talent and does not speak well for the future.

The good news is that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in many areas of California things are steadily improving. In July the overall unemployment rate for the Sacramento Metropolitan Area was 10.7%. This slow but steady growth represents an almost 2% drop from the unemployment rate this time last year.

How do you get solid experience in a tough economy?

Think outside the box. Look further afield- experience can come in many forms. Henry Hadjor, electrical engineering student at CSUS participated in a motivating six-week Intel summer mentoring program. He met a number of Intel engineers and learned how to find and use a mentor; discovered that Intel engineers work on prototypes 4 generations ahead; worked on multiple group projects with engineering students from all over California; and learned how to do more with less (time, money, people). Most importantly, he learned that you have to follow your passion. He reinforced his love of electrical power engineering, and connected with a powerful network of engineers who are willing to help young engineers realize their dreams. An added bonus was that Intel paid participants $4000!!!

Start your job search early, pursue it with a vengeance. Tyler Bal, was a sophomore when he started his quest for an electrical engineering internship. He took a career planning class, wrote his resume, attended job fairs, and researched companies inside out. He filed applications early and it paid off big time! He had two summer job offers for engineering internships – Disney and CaISO.

Tyler spent the summer as a “cast member” at Disneyland Resorts in Anaheim, California. He started the job search process at the beginning of the spring semester in January 2012 and was hired during finals week! He spent the summer updating and verifying drawings, doing control system verification, and testing linear inductive motors. The interviewer loved his head life guarding experience. Tyler got a chance to meet the key Disneyland players in engineering and engineering management (besides Mickey Mouse) and is being encouraged to return during breaks and as an engineer at graduation. They loved his enthusiasm for all things Disney - calling it the "pixie dust" factor. Tyler spent his off hours in the park observing guests and getting ideas. At Disneyland "no idea is a bad idea". Disney encourages the sharing and they are interested in any suggestions that makes the park safe and enjoyable for guests.

Be Bold! Ask for what you want! Zack Roppel, computer science major, took a career planning class in his senior year where he met Dan Dean, a senior manager from Accenture, a global software-consulting firm. After class he walked up and introduced himself to and requested an interview for a summer position. (Yes, you can be bold!) It worked – he got a call for an interview within two days and was hired within three weeks. He spent the summer Java programming on enterprise systems.

Accenture is hiring hundreds of computer programmers and software developers to staff new and existing contracts. Learning and working on advanced technology and systems that he would never have had exposure to, as a student was the best part of the experience for Zack.

Have a resume ready at all times! You need to have your resume and portfolio or web site with samples of your work ready to go at all times. Zack Roppel had a resume ready and a website containing work samples. The hiring manager cited the website as a key element in the hiring decision. The manager also liked that Zack asked questions in class and came up to meet him.

Build your network! Grab business cards and contact information from everyone you meet. Join LinkedIn too. Attend any job fairs, conferences, clubs or organizations where you will make professional connections. Follow up with requests for tours or informational interviews.

It is not always easy to get experience but it is possible.