The Graduate's Dilemma

March 19, 2017

The essence of this dilemma is the definition of 'experience'. For hiring managers 'experience' can be quickly drilled down to the number of years worked in a certain role or sector. Yet for college grads 'experience' means what have you done and learned thus far.


Do you see the rub? To get a job you need experience but how is a college grad supposed to get this all holy experience? If you've been out of college for a while or haven't graduated yet, let me share my anecdote of my experience with this dilemma.


For the past four years I've studied Finance with a concentration on New Venture Planning and Execution at The University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). Now unless you're from Chicago you probably have never heard of UIC. It's an affordable, academically strong and surprisingly large state school just outside of downtown Chicago.


I knew going into my freshman year that UIC was not going to give me the same stamp of approval as a Northwestern or University of Chicago would. So I decided to supplement my schooling with as much outside experience as possible. In essence to pack as much into my resume as possible before graduating.

During my four year education I did the following:

  • Interned at a market research firm (C+R Research)
  • Started a tech startup, that got ranked in the top 32 college startups in the nation
  • Worked at two startup consulting firms (The Small Business Development Center and Venture Connects)
  • Started my own consulting firm with a leading Chicago retail consultant and a leading executive at Linkedin
  • Started a podcast covering startups, technology, and innovation (The Founder's Report) that had an audience of over 10,000 from all 50 states and over 100 countries

While trying to stay humble, I have to admit that I've added about three years of equivalent experience into my four year degree. So by my math I've squeezed seven years of experience into a four year degree. It wasn't easy, but I learned a ton. I'd go from learning theories in the classroom to actually seeing them being executed in the real world.


But as you can imagine, I'm writing this to say that hiring managers still would say that I don't have experience. Recruiters for entry level positions would tell me that 'we can't consider you without one to two years of experience first'.


I should first mention that these are well known and respected BUSINESS firms. I was applying for entry level sales positions or business development positions, not to be a manager at Abbot labs or NASA!


This then leads me to the jobs that college grads can get with no 'experience' and they are awful. Such as handling phones at a small logistics company or managing a team unloading trucks at Target. Because unloading trucks at Target will get you the one to two years of experience you need to land a dream job.


Now this problem may sound like a real pain in the ass for graduates, but it also hinders businesses as well. Last time I checked the cheapest employees at virtually every firm are those in entry levels. Each year millions are made available and are hungry to prove themselves. Hiring managers should be beating down dorm doors and dumpy college apartments to get these cheap, hungry and tech savvy prospects.


In financial terms, firms are being too risk adverse when they should be risk-seeking. By standing by the old hiring methods they are potentially losing out of inexpensive yet incredibly valuable talent. A college grad is almost by definition under valued due to the lack of employment history. This could be optimized by systems that weeded out under performers quickly and retained top performers. Fail fast, fail cheap, and fail often (an old startup proverb).


If you made it this far I'm pretty impressed. Feel free to shoot me an email, I'd love to hear your experience post-graduation. [email protected]