Most employers are looking for some kind of experience. But if you are entering the job market fresh out of college, experience is the one thing you are not going to be able to offer automatically – you need to take initiative.
Even if you are still completing your education, there are plenty of things you can be doing right now to build experience. Demonstrate to your future boss that you have the initiative, the skills, and the leadership qualities to bring value to the team.
We sat down with recruiters and HR experts to get the inside track on what kinds of experience are most sought after by recruiters. And why they find these experiences to be most valuable.
Do an Internship
Internships are right up there at the head of the pack. And the reason is pretty straightforward.
An internship is the closest way to get on-the-job experience before actually getting your first job itself.
Internships expose you to a real working environment and require that you get your hands in the actual work, in the sense that you will be expected to apply your skills and knowledge on the job. As well as perform as part of a team and demonstrate your professional demeanor.
Paid or unpaid, an internship gives you a raft of benefits that can help you stand out from the crowd: exposure to the habits of professional practice, increased self-awareness, the opportunity to exercise civic responsibility, expansion of social and professional networks, and resume building.
From an employer’s perspective, internships also demonstrate that you have taken the initiative to build experience, develop your skills and knowledge, and to find out more about the working world. And all of this before you graduate.
So there you have it. Internships: a win-win for your and your next boss.
Certification shows your future employer two things. Firstly it is a guarantee that you have mastered core knowledge and skills so that, technically, you will be able to perform a specific role or tasks.
But beyond that, getting certified demonstrates that you have the focus and determination to want to get your foot in the door. You can follow through.
Cisco offers a range of globally recognized certification options, from CCNA to CCIE and beyond. Each certification path opens up a myriad of different career options.
There are a world of possibilities, when it comes to volunteering. There are so many different opportunities for you to get out there and showcase your skills, while demonstrating to your next boss that you have the leadership, drive, and the technical skills that they want on the team.
From offering technical support to a charity in your neighborhood, to setting up a network application for a local school or organization, volunteering demonstrates that you can work with others to get things done. And it is an opportunity to build up some valuable project management skills – the kinds of skills and experience very much in demand by employers.
Whatever kind of volunteering project interests you, you should also see it as an opportunity to get to grips with things like budgeting, equipment and resource allocation, people management, and approvals processes. Also, it is important that you document all of the details of your volunteer project, so you can reference it and use it as part of your discussion with future employers further down the line.
Take Part in Mentoring
Now here is the thing about mentoring. It is two-directional.
That means that you can find a mentor – someone ahead of you maybe, from whom you can learn and whose advice you can follow.
You can also be a mentor to someone who is behind you on your study path.
Now you may be wondering, how does that impress potential employers?
Well, for a start it shows that you have leadership skills, confidence, and initiative.
And whether you are the mentor or the person being mentored, there is a demonstrable willingness to learn, to communicate, and to exchange that is going to play out well with whoever hires you further down the line.
Use Personal Experiences Professionally
These could be competitions, hackathons, or innovation events where you have competed to win. Employers value these sorts of experiences because they not only showcase your technical skills, but also your creativity and your capacity to solve problems under pressure.
Cisco offers NetAcad students an array of opportunities to put themselves to the test, from the Dream Team to the NetAcad Hackathons held regionally.
And whether you win or simply take part, think about formalizing these experiences in your resume and how you will articulate them when you talk to recruiters.
Take the time to think about how every experience you have had – even in non-technical roles or jobs where you have shown initiative or taken responsibility – think about how they might play out in the interview scenario. Which experiences demonstrate leadership? Remember that any experience that pulls out your leadership qualities is going to be highly valued by employers.
Think about have you really showcased what you can do or how you can manage a project and bring it to a positive conclusion? How do the experiences that you have had map to the role that interests you, and equip you to do a good job. And they do not only have to be technical. There are many career skills that are essential to success beyond your technical skills.
Any job you have done will have had a positive impact on you. If it is not a technical role, just look beyond the job title to the experience itself: the non-technical skills, the communication capabilities, the confidence that you might have acquired in anything from a sales or call center role through to dog sitting for people in your community. Whatever it is, think about how to make it count.
As one Cisco recruiter recently put it: when you take academic experience, mix it with a little bit of leadership skill and add to giving back in some way, that is when you have got a rock star candidate.