Q: I just received my master's in human resources. I've applied for 40 jobs or more, but every employer is looking for someone with three to five years of experience. What frustrates me most is that the last company where I interned hired a guy, whose background was similar to mine, because he knew an employee there. I'm stumped—what can I do to gain experience if no one will give me a chance?
A: I have no doubt that someone with connections might have an upper hand in landing an interview, but no business that wants to stay in business will hire someone simply because of who they know. So I have to ask: Might it be that the person who was hired was actually more qualified?
Worrying about a position you didn't get wastes energy you can't spare in this economy. With one in six Americans currently unemployed or underemployed, the competition for work is fierce. So focus on what is in your control—selling yourself and your skills.
Consider these job-hunting strategies for more tips. First: Stop looking for a staff position. I'll bet many of the companies you've applied to have work for you but aren't able to give you a long-term commitment that includes benefits. So make them an offer that acknowledges these tough times, and package yourself as an independent contractor available for hire on a project-by-project basis. A good strategy might be to start with the company where you interned—you've already got the inside track on what they need done. Present them with your brilliant ideas for three projects you know they would benefit from, then do the same for other companies. Becoming an entrepreneur with multiple clients is a smart way to navigate today's economic climate.
Second idea: Offer to intern. I know, I know—you're ready to scream at the idea of being back at this stage, master's degree and all. Is it unfair? Yes. But the idea here is to get your foot in the door, which can help you nab a position once the hiring freeze melts. I realize another unpaid internship requires serious juggling. You may have to take a job—any job—to pay the bills. But ask yourself if you can do it for the next several months to reap the benefits later. The trick is to make the people you depend on for work dependent on the work you do. Accomplish that, and they'll do budgeting backflips to put you on the payroll.