By the end of 2010, job experts were wondering if internships were the new entry-level jobs. These often unpaid positions were becoming the place young people gained experience and professional behavior. Companies didn’t have the patience or the funds to wait the six-odd months for a new employee to become profitable. The requirements for first-time workers had changed dramatically, giving us a new meaning of “entry-level” that persists today.
First, what hasn’t changed.
Basically it’s the negative stuff that comes with being an entry-level employee that has remained the same. As the low man or woman on the totem pole, you can still expect to be given the dirty work, the tasks the more experienced members of your team don’t want to do. Depending on your line of work, it may be difficult for you to get much exposure at first, as the level of responsibility you are entrusted with will be minimal. Should layoffs become necessary, the “last in, first out” policy will put you squarely in the line of fire (unless they decide your salary is cheap enough that they can afford to keep you).
Here’s the difference.
- Employers won’t train you.
In 2011, consulting firm Accenture conducted a survey that found in the previous five years, only 21% of workers said their companies had given them formal training. However, 55% said they felt pressure to improve their skills base to keep their current jobs or to advance. And as fully two-thirds of the respondents said they felt it was their responsibility to attain their own training, it’s clear this way of thinking has become institutionalized and not likely to change any time soon.
- Companies want you to already have experience.
In a cruel and frustrating twist, recruiters for supposedly entry-level jobs want candidates to have one, two, and sometimes as much as five years’ previous work experience, thus voiding the definition of the term “entry-level.” Three-fourths of companies who responded to National Association of Colleges and Employers’ Job Outlook Survey said they preferred candidates to have previous experience. A recent survey by Millennial Branding and Experience Inc. (which we’ll get into more momentarily) found nearly half (49%) of companies think college grads need two years of internships, barely nudging those who chose one year (42%). If you missed it, that’s 91% of companies that think experience is a must for entry-level jobs. The only problem? Exactly half these same companies haven’t hired a single intern since 2011. Such is the state of entry-level jobs today — employers want college grads with experience, they just don’t want to be the ones to give it to them.
- The expectations for skills are much higher.
Long gone are the days when employers took a “kids will be kids” approach to first-time full-time workers. Managers aren’t willing to put up with immature or irresponsible candidates, and they don’t have to; the job market is completely in their favor.
The Millennial Branding and Experience survey we mentioned asked 225 companies what skills they look for in entry-level hires. The top five answers were all “soft” skills that employers ranked even higher than education. Communication skills came in at No. 1, with 98% of companies saying it was a must-have. A positive attitude, ability to adapt to change, teamworking, and being goal-oriented rounded out the top five. One-third said they wanted applicants to have entrepreneurial skills, another qualification that so many employers wouldn’t have dreamed of looking for a generation ago.
We haven’t yet reached the point where “entry-level” hires have to also have all the necessary “hard” skills to do their job, and possibly we never will. Surely a certain amount of company-specific training will always be necessary. However, four in 10 employers in the Millennial survey said they have been alarmed by candidates’ lack of knowledge about their company’s workings and/or what the job might entail. In other words, a certain amount of industry knowledge is now considered a prerequisite for not blowing an entry-level interview.
This demand for skills is why companies are placing so much emphasis on prior experience: they know college students need real-world work environments to develop them. This is a paradigm shift in the hiring of recent college grads, as never before have employers sought candidates with such complete skill sets for first-time jobs.
The evidence is clear that college graduates will have to shed any preconceived notions they may have held about entry-level jobs. The landscape has changed. Many are picking up their third or fourth internships after graduation or volunteering simply to gain experience. Until the job market picks up, staying aggressive and constantly updating skills seem to be the best ways of getting one’s foot in the door.