How to get over your lack of experience and land your first job

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While hiring has perked up over the past year, it’s still the old Catch-22 for the business grad: can’t get a job without experience, can’t get experience without a job. “As more companies invest in summer internship programs then leverage those interns for full-time positions, it leaves fewer entry-level opportunities for recent college job seekers,” says Ebony Thomas, director of campus and diversity recruiting for Prudential. Yet, the job search process has never been simpler thanks to the Internet. “It’s much easier for young job seekers to land a job now than it was 10 years ago,” Thomas says. After all, a quick Google search can help you find the name of a hiring manager, and you can zap a digital copy of your resume in seconds.

Of course, there is much more to getting a foot in the door. These Wall Street recruiting experts offer tips for getting past the "lack of experience" factor:

Keep studying

Hillary Fonseca, regional managing director of Randstad Finance & Accounting, urges young banker wannabes to network like crazy. But first, do your homework. “Reading books on the specific area of banking they want to go into and researching the companies of interest is a big ‘must do,’” Fonseca says. In other words, you have to walk the walk before you try to talk the talk at networking events and interviews. Keep up on the markets, research the careers and firms of people you meet. Being able to speak thoughtfully about your chosen industry illustrates commitment to your career goals – and it makes you a fun, memorable person to talk to.

Holly Paul, PricewaterhouseCoopers’ U.S. recruiting leader, can attest to this first-hand. “I get numerous e-mails from students saying something like, ‘I like your company. Here’s my resume. Do you have a job for me?’” Paul says. “This shows a lack of passion with no clear focus on what the student is looking for.”

Make the most of your resume

“For those with up to two years of work experience looking to work in investment banking, GPA is very important,” Fonseca says. MBAs should include their degree alongside their name at the top of their resume, while undergrads should showcase their grade point average, school and relevant coursework at the top of the document.

Be sure to highlight any activities and leadership roles you took in extracurricular actives and academic projects, says Paul. “Be sure you are comfortable and confident in explaining what you did in those roles, what you accomplished and how you made a difference and/or demonstrated leadership,” she says.

Be flexible

Thomas says it’s critical for young Wall Street wannabes to keep an open mind. “I have encountered many students and recent graduates that tell anyone within earshot that they only want to work in investment banking, or are only interested in one particular firm,” she says. “They are shutting themselves out of a plethora of recruiters who won’t even consider them if they are that single-minded. Recent grads must remember that there are many roads that lead to Wall Street, and sometimes the side streets are the best routes.” In this vein, Fonseca urges recent grads to consider accounting roles in investment banking firms, which often lead to analyst positions. “Many times these types of positions start as consulting roles and usually turn into permanent opportunities,” she says.

Show urgency

“For a generation that is constantly connected, it baffles me how long it will take a young candidate to respond to a voicemail or e-mail,” Thomas says. “When there is no response within 24 to 48 hours, the assumption is that you are not interested, and it’s on to the next candidate.”

Get out of the house

Without an internship or professional experience, the key is to network with a purpose,” Thomas says. Join a civic or community service organization. Hit the gym at 5 p.m. when it is full of suits who just left work, and form friendships. “The last thing you should be doing is sitting at your computer all day submitting resumes to a system that doesn't know you. Go socialize!”

Editor's note: We would like to add one final tip. Post your resume on financial job sites like eFinancialCareers.com.

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