It’s obviously a very well known joke. Whenever you search for a job, especially in the entry-level positions, you will find yourself with a hurdle of requirements, some of which may be preposterous.

Let me just list some for you college graduates, and you senior-level people who’ve forgotten so you can get the idea of what I’m talking about:

  • entry-level position
  • 3 years of prior experience required
  • obscure technology 1 proficiency
  • obscure tech 2 proficiency required

and so on. The last two are okay. Those are part of the field. You need to learn and most often than not, you can acknowledge that you don’t have proficiency but that you can easily and quickly get there.

What’s usually baffling is this “3 year experience” requirement on the most basic entry-level parts of a job. Think WordPress developer, nay less than that, a Junior WP Developer that’s required 3 years of experience and is paid crap money.

Why is it that employers think that someone with 3 years of experience would even go for a job like that? Yet, they put it down anyways. I’ve encountered this more often than I’d like. What’s even worse is when you see these entry-level positions, with their requirement, crap money, and a degree requirement! Imagine that, they went you 3 years out of college with a degree and pay you nothing (relatively nothing to the rest of the industry).

So what to do about it?

Well, I think there are two ways to tackle it.

The First

Ignore it. I do. I know I do. If I see “You need a decade of experience in PHP to apply” and it’s a job that no sensible person with a decade of PHP experience would take, I ignore it. It’s there as a buffer for someone who hasn’t been in the field before and doesn’t realize that half of the requirements a job puts down is complete and utter crap. At least when it comes to pre-senior jobs. Sometimes I brush it off as “HR did it”.

Just look at the jobs that ARE for senior positions, that ARE paid great money. What do you see there? More often than not, you’ll see lesser requirements that some of those entry-level jobs. “2-4 years of Web Development experience, Senior position, 6 figure pay, degree not required”. Not as menacing as “3-5 years of Web Dev experience, Jr position, under $15/hr, degree required”.

And I’m not kidding when I say that there are entry-level jobs with 5 years of prior experience “a must”.

Again, if you’re applying for entry-level, jump into it right away. Apply. Screw requirements. If you’re able to land an interview, walk in with all the knowledge you can, and nail it.

The Second

After some time being in the field, talking to other developers, CEOs, startup owners, and others, I’ve realized that these “incredible” requirements make sense. But in a different way than you’d think. You see, someone coming out straight from college with 0 years of experience is going to be a dud, a complete waste of time when it comes to working. It will take a ton for you to impress me or anyone who is hiring.

You need experience. You need that 3+ years to make that $40K. But it’s a different kind of experience. You see, if you’re in college, my #1 suggestion to you is work alongside it. However you can. Try to score low-paying freelance projects, try to score projects from Craigslist. Try to find people to collaborate with on pet projects, try to make connections. Make your own site, go through with a project, and not one for school.

That impresses people. If you go into your first full-time job interview and tell them “Hey, I have a degree!”, they’ll frown and throw you out. If you go in there and show that for the past 3 years you’ve been doing “Projects here and there”, “Freelanced as side income”, “Built and launched several products with other developers”, and the best of all, “Contracted with a company”, you’ll be golden. It doesn’t even matter how much you made. Maybe you made $30 per project as a freelancer and were able to pay for your starbucks outings in the past 3 years. Maybe you launched several small web apps that ultimately failed. I don’t care. It’s something.

Your thesis project, in theory, should be one of those additions but many ultimately rely on that being their representation. It really isn’t enough

Why is it this way?

So yes, why is it? Beside being a deterrent for people that have not had a job before, a filter for those ambitious enough to apply for a job out of their league, there is actually a point to it all. What do you get out of freelancing, pet projects, sparse contract work or whatever else?

  • Exposure to the “real world”. At school, you deal with teachers and classmates. In the “real world”, you’re dealing with money and clients. You’re leveling up from monopoly to stock trading. It’s a shock at first but if you’ve at least “dabbled” outside of school, you’ve already got a plus
  • Exposure to deadlines and projects. Another huge thing. Yes, you’ve had deadlines at school but that usually resulted in a grade when missed or things done poorly. Outside of that, you’re dealing with clients, and delivering a client a sub-par product is like a messy break-up, you just don’t want to be in the middle of that.
  • Ability to communicate. So up until now, you may have communicated with your teacher but communication with a company you contract for, a manager, or even other developers and designers is a bit different.
  • Chances are, you’ve been put in tough situations, have had to deal with unorthodox projects and have grown because of that.

These things are valued at entry-level jobs. Whenever a “new guy/new gal” comes in, especially straight from school, there’s always a certain feel of “I need help” that is accompanied by them. Needing and asking for help is fine, but when someone gets hired and they walk around like a lost puppy, it can slow everyone down. Having past experience, however feeble, will give you an edge and help you jump into work from day 1. Most of the time, jobs don’t have week-long orientations and a Senior who can guide you through what to do.

What did I do?

Well, I never graduated but have created great background for myself that ensures I’ll be well employed for a while. I developed sites for businesses here and there, mostly for favors and little money. I built a site for a haircut once, and designed one for a chiropractic adjustment. But when I started considering development as my main source of income, I had to get serious. Here’s what I did and how it helped me:

  • starting a blog with tutorials. The tutorials definitely helped me get the hang of some key concepts, and not only that but also the blog helped me focus on others parts of development such as presentation, portfolio creation, and focusing on a single project.
  • building and selling an application from scratch.
  • being contract per project with a media agency.

All three helped me get that initial experience on my resume and impress my employers, at least to get entry-level. By having projects ready show off and a client list, I was able to get the experience I needed.