- Entry-level jobs have become more competitive in recent years, with many requiring at least two years of experience.
- Gaining career clarity, networking, and focusing on upskilling are all critical to moving beyond entry-level jobs.
- Here are a few tips for using entry-level jobs as stepping stones to higher-level positions.
Most early job seekers, recent grads, and young professionals are familiar with the sharp pang of frustration when they realize the entry-level job description they’ve been enthusiastically scrolling through actually asks for at least two years of job experience.
Huh? Isn’t this entry-level? Are these types of positions for people with no experience at all?
The common roadblock has given rise to plenty of viral posts and passionate venting about employers’ unreasonable expectations. In fact, Indeed’s Career Guide says most entry-level jobs require two to five years of previous experience.
This mismatch leaves candidates with a few burning questions: What do employers actually mean when they say entry-level? What counts as job experience? And how can you successfully land or move up from these early-stage positions?
What exactly is entry-level?
As it turns out, “entry-level” is a job search term that’s just about as vague as saying a salary is “competitive” or a benefits package is “generous.”
“Across companies, types of roles or career paths, or types of industries, it will vary in terms of what a certain role title really means,” agrees Rachel Serwetz, CEO and Career Coach at WOKEN.
At some companies, “entry-level” might mean there are roles that are available to people who have no relevant job experience but are eager to learn. At others, it might require a year or two of related experience and skills. Neither of those is right or wrong — they’re just different.
In short, the easiest way to think about entry-level is as the lowest job level available at an organization (aside from internships or other student-targeted opportunities). Companies use the entry-level label to flag the positions that require the least amount of skills and proficiency.
The evolution of entry-level positions
If you feel like entry-level jobs have been steadily disappearing, you’re not wrong. Our Economic Research team found that the number of open jobs on Glassdoor that contained “entry-level” or “new grad” in the job title dropped a whopping 68% between 2019 and 2020.
If this has you wondering where all of the entry-level roles have gone there are many reasons why they’re disappearing:
- Shifting hiring practices: Employers have struggled to retain their current employees — a challenge that was only accelerated by the pandemic. Many have had to shift their focus away from entry-level positions and toward the skills, experience, and institutional knowledge of more experienced candidates.
- Internships: Some experts say that the internship has replaced the entry-level position as the way for early talent to get their foot in the door. In a survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, internships were the most influential factor when employers had to decide between two otherwise equally qualified candidates.
- Automation and technology: Technology is on the rise, and many employers have found ways to automate or even entirely eliminate the grunt work that was previously assigned to entry-level employees. Now bots and AI tools can do what early-career workers used to — and they’re usually faster and cheaper, too.
3 tips to move beyond entry-level jobs
When you do land an entry-level position, it’s intended to be a starting point — a stepping stone that helps you eventually move on to higher, more experienced job levels. With one to three years of experience under your belt (again, there’s no hard and fast rule here), you’re likely ready to climb to the next rung. Here’s how to shake your entry-level mindset and take that next step, whether it’s with your current company or somewhere new.
1. Gain career clarity
Before you can move forward, you need to know where exactly you want to go. “Career clarity is an underestimated tool,” explains Serwetz. “Be sure you deeply understand and feel clear and confident in which path is your best fit forward.”
2. Network, network, and network some more
When you know where you’re headed, it’s smart to connect with other professionals who have been there before or are there right now.
Look for people who work in your target roles and ask them if they’d be willing to answer a few questions. “Find professionals who are within one to five years of your current experience level so they are close enough to your stage to give you accurate information,” Serwetz says, noting that many people aim too high when networking.
Ask questions about how they broke into their industry or career, what skills are most important to their success, and if they’ve seen any patterns in terms of what hiring managers look for when recruiting for those types of roles. You could also connect with hiring managers directly to get insights about what stands out to them.
These conversations give you reliable and realistic insights you can use to tailor your career moves while also helping you build an even bigger and stronger professional network. As Serwetz says, “Instead of how many applications you can submit, think about how many people you can meet in a given week.”
3. Focus on upskilling
Advancing your career isn’t just about putting in your time. You need to improve your skills (known as “upskilling”) too.
The key is to focus on building the skills that will be most impactful in your desired career — and those were hopefully illuminated during the above conversations. “By performing research, networking, and reflection, you can ensure that your next upskilling opportunity is highly intentional and worth your time,” explains Serwetz.
When you know the skill gaps you need to address, it’s time to take action through courses, training, projects, and other opportunities to learn, grow, practice, and move toward your next role feeling prepared and confident.
Entry-level: An entry point, not an eternity
Entry-level jobs are a point of contention in the job search — and understandably so. Job seekers are frustrated that these positions often come with a laundry list of requirements while masquerading as opportunities accessible to anyone.
But employers aren’t necessarily trying to pull a fast one. The term “entry-level” can carry different meanings depending on the industry and employer. It’s used to indicate the lowest level of experience within the company — not exactly no experience.
All of that murkiness can make it increasingly difficult to find and eventually move up from an entry-level job. Fortunately, with a little bit of strategy and intention, you can better set yourself up to leverage an entry-level role for exactly what it is: a door, not a dead end.