How to gain experience when you have no experience

Jun. 11, 2019

How to Gain Experience When You Have No Experience

It’s the catch-22 that plagues almost every person on a serious job hunt: “I need experience to get a job, but how can I get experience if no one will hire me?”

Whether you’re fresh out of college, changing careers, or looking to move up the corporate ladder, it can be difficult to catch a break, especially when you’re up against experienced candidates. Don’t let this get you down; most professionals have been in your shoes at some point or another. Instead, focus on new ways you can position yourself as the better candidate.

Here are five ways to appeal to employers when you don’t have all the qualifications for the job.

1. Be realistic about your capabilities

First things first, make sure you aren’t trying to bite off more than you can chew. If you’re new to the workforce and trying to apply for a management role, we can confidently tell you that you won’t be hearing back from employers—no matter how shiny and new your college degree is.

It’s important to be positive about the skills you bring to the table, but being unrealistic about the jobs you can successfully fill will waste your time and annoy hiring managers.

Our biggest piece of advice: Never be afraid to take an entry-level position if it’s a stepping stone to a bright career.

2. Highlight transferable skills using a t-format cover letter

Even if you don’t have all the qualifications for a particular position, you likely have an assortment of transferable skills that will be useful for the role.

Look closely at the job description and identify which transferable skills the employer is seeking and how your skills compare. Using a two-column, or t-format, cover letter, list the qualifications stated in the job ad in the left column, and your experience and talents which meet those qualifications in the right column. This helps to keep the focus on what skills you do have and not on what skills you don’t. Here’s an example.

3. Add internship and volunteer work to your resume

Employment is not the only type of experience that makes or breaks a candidate. Pursue internships with companies in your industry or volunteer with an organization that allows you to build skills and experience relevant to your field.

“As a recruiter, I see a large handful of applicants who come in having only worked at their college or in a volunteer setting,” says ALTRES Personnel Manager Lisa Kodama. “That’s totally alright!”

“I like seeing these candidates; it still shows a good level of commitment and work ethic,” Kodama explains. “The key is getting relevant experience in your field of interest that will allow you to utilize the skills you’ve built.”

Employers like to see job seekers that are serious about their career and industry. And who knows, you may even make valuable connections with individuals who could help you in your job search.

Related: How to Build Skills Outside the 9 to 5

4. Demonstrate your willingness to learn

Believe it or not, employers value trainability just as much as hard skills. However, when you’re up against qualified candidates, simply asserting your willingness to learn may not be enough to convince the hiring manager.

The best way to demonstrate willingness to learn is to show evidence. Enroll in educational courses, join a trade group, and if your field requires certain licensing, sign up for certification classes. By continuing to learn about the industry, you’re proving to potential employers that you take your career seriously.

5. Tap into your connections

You’d be surprised how many people get their first job through a friend of a friend or a second cousin who knows of a job opening. Sometimes it really is all about who you know. But don’t expect an opportunity to fall into your lap. No one will know you’re searching for a job unless you put yourself out there!

Let your friends and family know that you’re looking for an opportunity and be specific about what it is you’re interested in. There is always the chance that the opportunity you’ve been looking for is in the hands of your best friend’s auntie, and all you had to do was ask!

We know that it can be frustrating, but keep in mind that the requirements listed on a job ad are sometimes just the employer’s wish list. It can be difficult to find someone who checks all the boxes so even if you don’t meet every requirement, don’t hesitate to go for it! Good luck!

If you’re serious about looking for a job, check out some of our other resources that you may find helpful:


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