Your Career Q&A: Is It Your Experience? Or Is It Your Interview?

By Martin Yate Oct 25, 2016
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​This week's letter comes from an HR professional with strong educational credentials but interviewers tell her they are looking for more experienced candidates. How can she get her foot in the door?

Best-selling author Martin Yate, a career coach and former HR professional, takes your questions each week about how to further your career in HR. Contact him at the e-mail address at the end of this column.

I am having a difficult time landing a position in the HR field due to my inexperience. After I graduated with my bachelor's degree in 2009, I decided to leave my management position at a small company to pursue a role in the HR field. However, I failed to land a position. The frequent response was "We are looking for someone with experience or a master's degree in HR." I decided that I would go back to school for my master's degree in human resource management and graduated this year. However, I continue to struggle. How can I get some experience prior to anyone hiring me?

Anonymous

Congratulations on the successful completion of an advanced degree. With your credentials and the right career management tactics, you should be able to get your career moving. It seems that you are getting interviews but not job offers. Whenever I see a stalled job search—wherever it is stalling—I know we should start the quest for solutions at the beginning of the process because a job search must be built on a firm foundation. 

How and Why a Resume Can Stall Your Career

The first thing you should do is go back to your resume. While you no doubt recognize that a solid resume is critical for getting interviews, it's easy to overlook the fact that it plays an important role in setting the right tone for a job interview through effectively advertising what you bring to the table.

Most people write a resume based on what they think is important. This is subjective, less likely to make your resume discoverable in databases and won't position you appropriately for the interview itself. Instead you should develop a resume that speaks directly to the requirements of your target job. Collect a handful of job postings and make a list of what they hold in common. Focus the resume on what you bring to the job, based on the employers' stated needs, and expressed in their terminology.

Then your resume will be based on objective criteria that is likely to be more discoverable, resonate more effectively with headhunters and corporate recruiters, and generate more interviews. Just as importantly, it will be far more effective at setting the right tone for the job interview. 

The Interview Hurdle

You were unable to land an entry-level position with a bachelor's degree and now, having obtained a master's degree, you are experiencing the same problem. This brings us to the crux of the matter: You are getting interviews but not getting job offers.

It is a myth that all you need for a successful career is a good education. Yes, it certainly helps, but there is far more to achieving a successful, fulfilling and financially stable work life. What they don't teach you in school is how to get a job, make a success of it, pursue promotions and make strategic career moves.

Allow me to put this bluntly: The advice you may have heard—that advanced degrees will prove your worth—is wrong. Our educational system does not always prepare working adults for the realities they will face once they graduate. Please realize that it's not your fault and it's not a personal deficiency.

No one likes to reject a candidate, so when you hear "not enough experience," it could indeed be true or it could be one way for the recruiter or hiring manager to let you down easily. There could be more to the problem than inexperience.

Job interviews are like a ritualized dance, and the best partners whirl away with the glittering prizes. Part of the dance is answering tough questions with grace and ease. I think your problem lies with how you handle yourself during job interviews. The reasons are likely to be that you are:

  • Not answering questions convincingly.
  • Not asking questions that demonstrate your understanding of and engagement with the day-to-day processes of the job.
  • Not presenting yourself appropriately.

Check out Knock 'em Dead 2017: The Ultimate Job Search Guide (Adams Media, 2016) to get a thorough grounding in how to get your career moving and guide its trajectory going forward. It will help to improve your resume, as well as increase your number of interviews and show you how to turn them into job offers.

In the short term, you should also check out local consulting, contracting or temp companies that have HR clients. Be clear that you are only interested in jobs within an HR department. This can help you get in the game, but don't get sucked into temporary or contract assignments for the long haul. You want a full-time job. This stop-gap will give you current experience and a frame of reference for working in a human resources department.

Have a question for Martin? E-mail your queries to YourCareerQA@shrm.org. We'll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know. We look forward to hearing from you!

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