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What Do Employers Consider Experience?

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A reader recently asked, "If I don't have actual experience in working as a guidance counselor, but I have experience in it within my college career, would that be considered experience?"

This question brings up the perplexing dilemma first time professional job seekers face when they apply for entry-level positions where employers prefer candidates with "experience." Naturally, the job seeker asks, "How can I gain experience if employers only want candidates with experience?"

How employers determine who is "experienced" may vary according to the employer. Most of the time, employers will define experience as teaching or counseling employment, not student teaching or internships required by a college program. However, if all you have is student teaching or internship experience, you will want to thoroughly describe this experience in your resume, cover letter, and application.

So to answer the original question, most employers would not consider work within the context of a college career as "experience," but you do not want to discount what you have learned and accomplished through your college education. While your resume captures your accomplishments through student teaching, internships, and college class work, your cover letter can effectively communicate what you learned in college and how you will apply this learning to the job for which you are applying. Acknowledge that although you have not yet been employed in the field, you are confident in the professional skills you developed as a college student. Be sure that your application materials clearly identify these skills and how you gained them. Cite what your professional references have written about your ability in their recommendation letters or student teaching / internship evaluations.

Keep in mind that job vacancy announcements seek the ideal candidate. A school district may prefer a candidate with "three years of experience," for example. However, the search committee representatives may have the flexibility to consider non-experienced candidates who skillfully articulate their skills and potential based on an outstanding college career. If you have most of the qualities that a job announcement identifies, there is no harm in applying. Allow the school district to determine whether you are qualified and deserve an interview. Don't rule yourself out before even applying. At the same time, if you see a position that is strictly for an experienced candidate and you aren't close to many of the job requirements, do not apply for it. Instead, note the experience this district seeks and figure out how you may gain this experience through another full-time or part-time job or volunteer work. Keep this district in mind for future employment after you have gained related experience elsewhere.

--John F. Snyder

Office of Career Services

Slippery Rock University of PA

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