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Freshman year was such an innocent time. You were new to campus, assured that your first roommate would be your best friend, and you were putting serious thought into declaring your pre-med track. Nothing was going to change, after all — why delay? The future was bright! You were going to graduate and launch a magnificent career, no doubt!

Now you’ve got your degree in sociology or economics or Turkic languages, and the hopeful twinkle you had when you first enrolled has dimmed a little bit. Each job you apply to — even entry-level positions — wants you to have some experience. It feels like a catch-22: to get your first job, you need experience, but without experience, you can’t get your first job.

It’s a mess, we know. But there are a few things you can do to get that toehold. So let’s actually talk about it — here’s how to get your first experience to launch a career.

Reality check number one: the degree’s great, but not enough

If you’re here, you likely already understand this, but we’re going to just come right out and say it. In previous generations, a bachelor’s degree might have landed you your first job. Now, it just won’t. 

In fact, when we asked over 1,000 decision makers, they weren’t too impressed by degrees. Just under a quarter of respondents said that this was an important qualification.

What actually matters to them, then? Know-how and proof that it has been put to use. Hard skills top the list of important qualities, followed by soft skills, and experience. 

And yikes, here we are again at the crux of this whole article — how should you get all that?

A caveat: your degree isn’t worthless

Before we jump into how to gain that experience, let’s just pause and take an anti-despair breather because, believe us, we’ve been there, and we know what it’s like to be spinning your wheels post-graduation.

We’ve been saying that your degree, in and of itself, won't be enough to land you a top-notch job. That’s true, and the data backs that up. But a degree has worth beyond its sole purported function as a key to unlock employment. Your time studying at any institution of higher education, regardless of your major, gave you tools and context that will inevitably make you a better worker.

Did you take a language class? Even if you didn’t become fluent, the knowledge you gained can help you interact with international teammates with an open mind. Did you have to give presentations along with a group of fellow students? You acquired capabilities in the process of building those talks, and that know-how is going to be deeply valuable in your professional life. We have a whole articleCan My Liberal Arts Degree Get Me a Job in Tech? that goes into more detail here as well.

So the degree isn’t useless. You’re just going to need a little bit more oomph when you start looking for jobs.

Get the experience that fuels a successful application

You get that extra push thanks to experience. And like a fly headbutting a lamp, we’re back at this topic once again, so let’s finally get into the actual, practical ways to build your portfolio and resume.

Work on personal projects

Not immediately joining the workforce after college can actually be an opportunity. Previously, you focused on your studies — papers, cramming for exams, etc, so your time was occupied. Now, those studies are no longer demanding your attention, and your schedule is open. Take advantage of this.

See, free time can be a blessing if you’ve had some project in your head that you’ve been curious about trying your hand at. With no studies or work breathing down your neck, you can immerse yourself in whatever project might have previously taken secondary importance. And when you truly commit to something like this, great things can come of it.

Take Andrew Millsaps’s storyRekindling His Curiosity for Tech After A Decade in Sales: Andrew Millsaps’s TripleTen Story for example. Fresh to tech, he knew he needed something tangible to convince a tech company his candidacy was worth the gamble, so he built a side project. It was a map of the United States color-coded by price per kilowatt hour of energy. It turned out to be the key element of his application.

When I was interviewing with the CEO, we actually pulled up the project and looked at it right there at the interview. And I remember thinking, Man, I'm glad I did that. Andrew Millsaps, TripleTen grad

If you have a project in mind already, something that keeps on coming back to you in the shower or on idle walks, take this as your sign. Got a bunch of free time? Start tinkering with the idea! By engaging in a personal project, you’ll demonstrate initiative, gain new skills, and earn an entry in your portfolio that recruiters will be able to cite as a good reason to move your application to the next round.

Like the sound of it, but coming up short with just what project you should launch? Here are some questions that can spark some inspiration:

  • Did you tangentially acquire/apply any skills in your studies that you would like to strengthen?
  • What one problem do you spend entirely too much time thinking about?
  • What is your community lacking?
  • How can you personally add to a field/subject you’re passionate about?
  • Can you take a hobby and develop it into something more?


Can’t get someone to pay you to do a job without experience backing up your bona-fides? Well maybe you can find someone to not pay you to do a job — otherwise (and less coarsely) known as volunteering.

Organizations looking for volunteers abound. Got a cause you’re passionate about? Let that be your guide as you look for chances to start gaining work experience. See something you want to get involved in, but you know nothing about it? Check in to see if there’s any way you can come in and lend a hand.

This volunteer work, while not lucrative, can still be valuable. For example, you will absolutely pick up practical skillsThe Most In-Demand Tech Skills That Will Get You Hired such as communication, project management, teamwork, and adaptability just by virtue of the work you’ll do day-in and day-out. After all, you’re going to be working with people. Acquiring skills is the natural result of that collaboration.

And it’s not just about refining and picking up workplace skills, either. Depending on the organization you join, you might even have the chance to refine and demonstrate new know-how. Consider this not-too-unrealistic hypothetical. 

Let’s say you volunteer at your local library and typically reshelve books, clean book trucks, process returns, and the like. But a fellow volunteer can’t make it to a class they were leading on computer literacy one day (let’s say because they’re busy having the time of their life hang gliding, so we don’t feel like we’re profiting from their misfortune). 

Someone might tap you to cover for this teacher, and if you step up to the plate, this will be valuable experience you can absolutely include in your resume. Because you showed up and demonstrated your willingness to help, you now have a new entry in your resume that proves you have technical expertise, presentation skills, and communication skills that allow you to close the gap between people of numerous different backgrounds.

Libraries aren’t the only place to volunteer (although we are a fan of libraries and think if you’re considering volunteering for one, you should go for it). Here are some online resources that can help you find other opportunities:

  • Sites such as VolunteerMatch or Idealist
    These are akin to job sites, only for volunteering
  • Your college’s internal resources
    Most colleges have a database of where current and former students can volunteer
  • Reddit
    Go to the subreddit for your city and ask about local opportunities

Try out an internship

Well, here it is. You knew this was coming, and we needed to mention it. The fact that you were expecting this entry isn’t the only reason it is coming last, though. See, for many internships, you need to apply well in advance because they fill up so quickly. That makes this commonly recommended career-starter a bit harder to endorse. 

You can start a personal project at any time. Organizations trying to effect change are constantly looking for volunteers. But because the current understanding of career progression often includes a stint as an intern, these positions can sometimes be just as difficult to snag as a paid job.

Still, they might be worth a shot. While an internship and volunteering might resemble each other in many ways (if the internship is unpaid), there is a key difference: internships are unambiguously career-focused. Volunteering is always more catered toward advancing the cause you’re supporting.

So that means there’s just that bit of extra professional punch. During an internship, you’re often placed under the supervision of a seasoned professional who guides you as you gain skills and figure out how things work in the workplace. 

You tend to have specific goals to meet, time carved out for mentorship, and a predefined training path. In addition, when you go for an internship, the best idea is to find an opportunity in the field you hope to one day end up in. That gives you domain-specific knowledge as well.

If you’re committed to landing an internship, here are some ways to find one:

  • Check job boards such as Indeed and LinkedIn
    If you have a specific company you’re enthusiastic about, follow them on LinkedIn and regularly browse their career site
  • Ask at your college’s career center
    Colleges often have connections to companies looking for interns
  • Work your network
    Reach out to your professors, fellow alums, friends, and family to get your foot in the door

Reality check number two: money

The conversation about internships brings us to something we’ve been leaving unmentioned: money. See, unpaid internships can ask you to put in full-time hours for no pay. And to get one, you might need to be in a metropolitan area where these positions abound, such as New York City or Los Angeles.

Living in these cities isn’t free. And your student debt is coming due. If you want a one-bedroom apartment in these places, this is what those costs look like (based on these sources):

Those are the sort of monthly expenses it might be unrealistic for you to take on while you’re still not earning a salary. In fact, like most people in the United States, you might currently find yourself not in one of these cities. You might be working to make ends meet in whatever job you could find after graduation, but you might still be eager to land that good career you were promised as part of the higher education package.

Sure, you can spend your free time volunteering and working on personal projects. We mentioned them above, and we stand by those recommendations. But there is one method of gaining know-how and experience that is a guaranteed investmentHow to Break into Tech: The Guaranteed Way: a bootcamp.

How a bootcamp bridges the gap

A bootcamp is employment-focused. These institutions are all about giving students the get-hired skills that employers, as we mentioned, are actually looking for. Need hard skills? You’ll gain the coding or scripting chops that our industry-experienced experts know first-hand is valuable in the tech industry. Need soft skills? The whole bootcamp is catered to cultivating these person-to-person capabilities.

Oh, and need experience? The bootcamp’s structure, by design, gives you entries on a portfolio. Education is organized in sprints, two- to three-week periods in which you have to master a topic and deliver a project, but how and when you approach the tasks is up to you. So we’ll underline it: just by enrolling in the bootcamp and following its educational program, you’ll already have projects in your portfolio.

Fun fact: a good portfolio like the one you get at a bootcamp is what 59% of team leads said was the top quality that made candidates stand out.

The chances to build your experience through a bootcamp don’t end there, though. In addition to all that, bootcamps also offer externship opportunities. In an externship, you’ll join a team solving a specific problem for a real-life tech company. 

This could be building a model to automate the predictionExternship with TripleTen: Allcorrect Games of the next languages a video game localization company should focus on. It could be crafting the siteExternship with TripleTen: Arqlite for a company tackling the issue of unrecyclable plastic.

Regardless of the specific project you joined, this externship would be unassailable proof that you know what it’s like to apply your know-how in a business context and collaborate with a tech team. All of this, in combination, means you’d have projects on your portfolio and demonstrable experience on your resume before you even wrapped up your time with a bootcamp.

Discover stories from people just like you

You’re not the only one who decided to go for a bootcamp after completing their degree. Jordan WilheimRevitalizing a Promising Career: Jordan Wilheim’s TripleTen Story magnified his data capabilities after getting his master’s degree, and he launched a new, rewarding career. Likewise, Jake McCambleyTaking Therapy from the Outdoors to Tech: Jake McCambley’s TripleTen Story, after studying psychology, merged his passion with tech know-how to land a job with a company that matches people with the therapy they need.

And those are just two of our successful graduates. Dive into more student stories and see how TripleTen helps people gain the experience to fuel great careers.

IT career tips

Sign up for our newsletter to get future-proof advice from tech industry experts.

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What’s the tech career for you?

You’re looking to upgrade your job, but the options seem overwhelming. Don’t worry - take our free two-minute quiz to find out which of our bootcamps will help you achieve your goals.

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