3 Reasons Entry-Level Work Does Not Exist Anymore

All these people are lined up for a conference, or lined up looking for work...or both.
All these people are lined up for a conference, or lined up looking for work…or both.

Alternate Title: Why Employers are Being Unfair with Their HR Methods

Lately, this topic seems to come up a lot among my peers and my clients at TAOpivot: “Why do I have to have years of experience when it is an entry-level job?” “Why can’t I get paid for my worth?” “Why can’t I get a job out there with benefits, health insurance, etc.?” and on and on.

All very valid questions and I completely understand the frustration; I experienced this in my own job search after I got my Bachelors degree. I moved to San Francisco, naively thinking that, despite no relevant work experience I was sure to land something entry-level.

I did and I did not: I was left with a lot of the same questions I listed above. The catch-22 of a job-seeker with little to no work experience: how to gain experience if nobody is willing to hire and train me?

I believe these days, entry-level work does not exist anymore. Three reasons why:

  1. Company staff are running lean; they do not have the time or money to have a staff member train a new employee, especially one without experience. The company must focus on how to utilize their available staffing in the most versatile way.
  2. Because companies are running lean, they feel that inexperienced candidates would only cost the company more (time, money). These companies may or may not have perpetual “interns” who end up doing too much of the slush work.
  3. Saying “entry-level” in a job posting plus “5+ years of experience” will certainly lure someone more experienced to be paid at an entry-level position…..because everyone falls for that, right?

The three reasons may all sound the same, and they pretty much boil down to one main point: the economy is still pretty crappy. The way businesses are run is changing in this new landscape where no longer do people stay at one job all their life: they may end up job-hopping a lot before they find a job that they will stick with. Employers are not happy with this kind of landscape because they could lose valuable talent right away if a better offer comes along.

But, these reasons should not cause for employers and HR managers to shy away from adapting to the new environment. And, most certainly, I find when job postings state both “entry-level” AND “requires 5+ years of experience”, that that is just unethical.

I know that companies are running lean; even my own startup is lean. But at the same time, I believe that the many jobless job-seekers out there can really help the economy if a few more employers actually played fair and were open to taking on entry-level/newly graduated job candidates and pay them their proper share.

The economy is not going to fix itself with a magic wand. We must make incremental changes in our own mindsets and how businesses are run in order to give our fellow Americans work and allow them to help alongside and fix our economy.

  • korina

    Generally I agree. Firms have been tightening their belts over the past few years. Even though in some cities and industries there is now some breathing room, they might be thinking, “Well I was able to keep performance up with lower costs, fewer people, slightly older technology…” And rather than invest in clean slates, they are, for now, holding on to their money if they can.

    Here are my thoughts as someone who is on the other side of the coin. Entry level roles are out there, absolutely. At least they are available in my local and competitor markets. Larger firms are also hiring right off campuses all over the country. While we both agree that firms have been running lean and more efficiently with fewer resources, investing in talent is more important than ever. However, the pool of applicants is incredible these days in terms of numbers and range of academic and professional experience. As someone looking out into the market for the right person to fill an entry level role, it’s not that I feel that inexperienced candidates would cost me more money, it’s that those with less experience (or none at all) are competing with people who *do* have experience. Much of the ‘burden of proof’ lies with the candidate to convince me, sell me on the idea that I will be worse off if I didn’t hire them to join our team. Many experienced and mature recruiters, HR departments, and hiring managers are open minded and creative about interpreting resumes and cover letters. In my experience, probably 80% of the time I’m just looking for the candidate to meet me half way and close the deal so that I’m convinced that I should hire them over the person with more experience. So I think that the standards for admittance to entry level roles of today’s economy are just much higher. We can’t just hire someone because they graduated from college. 27 other people that applied also graduated from college. Firms are hiring for talent, and that means someone that graduated from college and fought for that internship in the junior and senior year or really spent some time supporting or developing some projects for their volunteer cause. It’s the candidate that knows that while he or she does not have any direct experience, this candidate knows and is willing to adapt academic and extracurriculur experience to fulfill the role he or she is interested in. It sounds a lot like applying to competitive colleges, right? Unfortunately (or fortunately?) this is the environment these days, more often than not.

    Lastly, on the note of posting role descriptions. My advice to candidates of all levels is to remember that it’s in the best interest of the hiring firm to get the best candidate possible for the most comfortable price. For example, if my role really only requires 1 year of experience, but I can attract a candidate with 5 years of experience for the same price, why not? What that says to the candidate is that do not be discouraged by role descriptions just because they require some skills or experience you do not yet have. We are always looking for the perfect candidate, knowing that they may not even exist but always hoping they do! Many hiring managers have little time to write up the exact role description and may hand it off to a recruiter or HR resource. If you see a role description that interests you, and you feel you might be meeting only 50%-60% of the required or desired skills and experience, go for it. Try it! The worse that can happen is you get a “No, thank you”, which is not really different than having not tried at all. At least then you can follow up and get feedback as to why they felt you were not a fit.

    I enjoyed reading this! It’s a subject that’s near and dear to me. I’ve been on both sides of the interview table. I was once a candidate with just under a year of internship experience, interviewing for a top ranking consulting firm even though I was still working on my undergraduate degree. Now I’m looking for entry level candidates because they are the most open minded and willing to learn. Their experiences are wide ranging, not just professional but academic and volunteer related. So entry level roles are out there, and it is definitely possible to snatch them up even though you have little relevant experience. There is a market for talent, and to a potential candidate that means you’ve got to step up your game. Think creatively and work with what you’ve got. Your potential advantage is that perhaps older candidates (I’m not talking about a different generation, but even people who graduated from college before the collapse) have become complacent in their application process because they feel their seniority and experience will carry them. Sure, in some cases it can, but there are many opportunitites where a college graduate can really rise to the occassion. There is hope! We just recently interviewed and hired a December 2012 college graduate. I often feel the need to pay it forward and wish we could invest in more young, new faces, often wondering if my experience has made me biased. However, in my own interviews at other firms where I am looking for the next step in my career, I’ve had these conversations with hiring managers and practice directors. They are looking for the brightest people. Skills can be taught and experience can be earned. The creativity, innovation, dedication and other natural abilities are not as easy to come by and can be difficult to teach.

  • Ryan C

    As a recent graduate I can relate to this subject with a great deal of frustration. While in college, I had to work two jobs to make rent. I did this all in the hopes that one day I would get a reasonable job with some room for growth – that’s the only thing I want is a chance to prove my worth.

    As of now, nearly a year later, I’ve got absolutely no leads whatsoever! Nothing, not a hope in the universe! which is a shame because most people considered me a bright kid. I REALLY wish I had rich parents or that I was so well off that I could have afforded to leave my summer jobs for an internship in D.C. or NYC for a couple months. Really, I would have done nearly anything for that opportunity! But I figured, working hard, being smart and sociable would pay off.

    I was dead wrong! now, I’m living in my parents basement with 30k worth of school loans! all because people like Korina, wont even give me a passing glance! I’ll send her 20 emails following up after a job app, call her several times, and he/she will act nice and pleasant but instead they’ll go for the rich kid who has no school loans and parents who paid for a crazy internship.

    3 Reasons Entry-Level Work Does Not Exist Anymore:
    Social mobility is becoming increasingly more difficult in America.
    Increased automation as decreased the value of human capital.
    Education is no longer a way to gain a “foot in the door” so to speak.

    I feel lied to, tricked and manipulated by the entire generation that came before me. I am beyond frustrated that I spent 5 years of my life working 60-70 hours a week on top of going to school full time to double major in International Business and Marketing all in the end to get an absolutely worthless peace of paper.

    To the people who actually think an internship is more valuable then working 70 hours a week:
    Do you have a brain? Are you capable of even the simplest of thought at all? Do you have any respect for yourself or humanity in general? You are honestly going to give the rich kid a chance over the kid who spent the majority of his life struggling to make ends meet because the wealthy one ran around and got someones coffee for a couple weeks? The kid who spent years interacting with people, selling crap or whatever he did to make it through knows how to budget, negotiate, interact with both internal and external customers and yet you are going to hire the kid who spent 5 weeks learning to barf orders at the barista at Starbucks? Why don’t you even give me a chance? or tell me what I have to do in order to be given a chance!? Stop ignoring my calls and emails! I know it’s annoying, really, I do! But, it’s no where near as bad as spending 100k on a education and getting absolutely nothing back. I have never been at a point in my life where I could afford Starbucks! EVER! But you’ll give the kid who had one every mourning using their rich parents credit card a chance! Why? That’s my only question is why?

    It would be different if I was asking to be the director or a leading manager, but all I want is a chance to meet these people!

    College is the biggest lie anyone ever created. It gives hope to the generation that opportunity forgot, an empty hope that leads to a life long commitment to debt and frustration. If I could go back I would never have wasted my time in college, knowing Korina here (who doesn’t even capitalize his/her own name) wouldn’t spare a passing glance to my job apps. She as a recent graduate with “nothing but internship experience” was being interviewed “at top ranking consulting firm[s]” before graduation. Now a recent graduate like me spends all day begging her to let me sweep her floor for $7 an hour and she want even talk to me because… I don’t have directly related experience! sweeping the %$^&@#$%^# @#$%^%@#% %@#$@$%# %#$^#@in FLOOR! I studied calculus, advances management, marketing and learned a different %#$%in language! but you’re right… I didn’t really study Advanced Brush Strokes of Floor Maintenance Devices.

    The article, however, is very well written. I agree with most the authors points but believe there are many more details that go into answering why there aren’t any entry level positions anymore. On top of the three I have already given is the impending threat of how the Affordable Care Act will effect employers, the lack of incentive for employers to recruit new employees, and globalization.

    • helene

      Hey Ryan,

      Feel free to discuss this more with me via email. helene at helenekwong dot com

      Thanks for the long comment!

    • https://plus.google.com/104470729147659603254 jeff loggens

      even though I’ve been looking for a job for a year, it sounds like you’re going through a REALLY rough time. I honestly hope you get a job, it sounds like you worked really hard. I truly hope you get a job long before me, people like you should rise to the top. I have rich parents but was too stupid or naive to get an internship. I didn’t think it would matter. I worked at my parents’ office in the summers, except one year. I worked at their office again after school until I got laid off (guess why: the economy). I’ve been on unemployment since then and get no call-backs. So maybe, seeing as how I’m suffering too somewhat, and you can take some gratification in that.

      but I realize that I’m EXTREMELY lucky to even have what I have. I personally wish you the best.

  • gggggg

    your three points are good points.

  • CriticUKGermanComparison

    Here is what is both scary AND unethical. Here in England Head Hunters place advertisements that are completely false. The idea is to gather CVs because they do not wish to pay for them on jobsearch or monster, and also they feel that in this way they can react quicker to the rare job that may appear.

    However, what is MOST disturbing is that companies themselves had started to engage in this practice. Now companies advertise jobs that do not exist. i was interviewed three times by a multi-national, they picked my brain (I am an experienced candidate with a PhD and a lot of knowledge) only to then forget to reject me or reject me. There was NO job.

    So when you look out here it LOOKS as though there are jobs but in fact there are NO jobs. You cannot rely on anything anyone tells you: head hunters, but now not even companies. They seem to post positions that do not exist in order to encourage people in other companies either to leave to them eventually or as a Marketing tool to keep the illusion of presence with existing clients and customers.