Fresh Out of B-School: How to Leverage Your Inexperience

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How can newly minted MBAs get past the ‘lack of experience’ barrier that prevents them from being hired straight out of school?

By Sarah Wollnick (Co-founder, etailz)

Congratulations! You have finally earned the business degree you’ve been working towards. Now, you are ready for that dream position to which you can apply all that you’ve learned. Hopefully, an employer will acknowledge your potential, offering you a job, replete with the opportunity, income and benefits that motivated you through seemingly endless case studies over ramen noodles.

You are out in the world networking and interviewing when you hit what feels like a professional road block — you lack relevant professional experience. Experience can be a convenient screening device of lazy recruiters who fail to seek or acknowledge your talents, that may be ably represented in your course work, summer employment, volunteer work, on the athletic field or in a litany of other environments and, yet, you are told you lack what it takes.

Don’t accept it and don’t relent. Consider the job search as another test of your willpower – will you or won’t you accept defeat? Though you may lack the direct commercial experience listed on job descriptions, you have tremendously valuable personal attributes that justify your perseverance. Forge ahead with confidence, undeterred.

An MBA is an enormously valuable asset. It demonstrates that you understand the fundamentals of business, can complete a long-term commitment in a highly competitive environment and, have personal ambition.

Don’t let your lack of experience psych you out. Potential employers need to understand why you invested the precious resources of time and money in your professional development. Experience is always nice, but teach potential employers about your many demonstrable capabilities.

In addition to academic excellence, technology entrepreneurs look for the following in a “strong candidate.”

  1. Culture fit
  2. Attitude over aptitude
  3. Energetic and outgoing personality
  4. Strong work ethic
  5. Entrepreneurial spirit
  6. A hungry, “I’ll do anything” attitude

“Experience” didn’t make the list because an executive will teach you and train you if he or she believes you have the other complementary qualities. Furthermore, inexperience can imply a malleable, open-minded and fresh perspective.

Customize

When drafting your resume, cover notes and interviewing, customize your messages. For example, for a job in business development requiring experience developing new projects, be prepared to discuss the ways in which your previous life and professional skills and experiences, and studies, are transferable to business development. A volunteer fundraiser could make an excellent business development candidate by illustrating how they grew the tiny school fundraiser into a triple digit fundraiser or ran a campus campaign for new technical equipment.

To gain experience quickly, consider these tips:

  • Find someone who has the type of job you are interested in and ask them to mentor you
  • Try different functions to understand what you truly enjoy
  • Volunteer at a non-profit project or event to showcase your talent. You will likely meet well-connected professionals in the organization and influential community members who serve on the board and committees
  • Look for jobs at smaller companies. Due to size and budget constraints, these environments offer a larger role with greater responsibilities and more immediate on-the-job experience
  • Take an unpaid internship to gain experience and make connections

Consider Unpaid Internships

Yes, it’s not as “sexy” as what you thought you’d be doing — pulling in “mad” benefits and snapchatting your friends pictures of your incredibly glamorous professional life. True, you are done with school and absolutely do not want an internship. However, this might just be the best career move you make.

Why consider an unpaid internship?

  1. It gets you in the door.
  2. You’ll gain industry experience.
  3. It demonstrates your commitment.
  4. It showcases your work ethic.
  5. It’s not the easy route, but it’s progress.
  6. People will recognize and respect your effort.
  7. You may have more flexibility than in a paid position.
  8. You can learn whether a company or industry is a good fit.
  9. Unpaid tells prospective employers that you’re not just there for the financial reasons. Employers have to believe you want to be here.
  10. It illustrates you are unwilling to accept “no.”
  11. If you, along with your supervisor, establish specific goals and a time-frame to achieve those goals, you will learn an excellent lesson in business process management.
  12. You might end up with a full-time, paid position out of the deal!

The last person I hired for an unpaid internship, due to budget constraints, was unpaid for just three months. At the end of that period, she had exceeded her and my goals and I couldn’t imagine not hiring her. Inside of one year at my company, this person, she now manages the team that I previously managed!

For those just entering the job market: What are other strategies you can use to get around your lack of experience?

sarah_wollnickAbout the guest blogger: Sarah co-founded etailz in 2008 and serves as VP of Supplier Relations. Sarah was shocked at the lack of information provided to consumers about products they use daily, so she substituted natural alternatives for standard products. Follow her on Twitter @Sarah_Wollnick.