Most employers require good work history and references, but you can’t have that without having had previous gigs. So, how are people supposed to get experience if every job requires it? That’s the million-dollar question.
The good news is that there are a few ways for you to get the experiences needed, as advised by experts.
Certified Career Strategist | Founder, careerified
Given the population I work with, I get this question a lot. Here are the common tips I share with my own clients:
Experience comes from a lot of places — not just paid work
When you add up the sum of your experience, include classes and courses, community involvement, extra-curricular activities; anything where you learned something or developed a skill counts. Then ask how that learning or that skill will help the next employer meet their goals.
When I was a teenager, I did a lot of community theatre. What I learned:
- Getting my part down and replicating it without notes
- Handling stress and high-pressure situations
- Thinking on my feet if I forgot lines
- Working as part of a team
- Public speaking
Get in the habit of saving copies of your course syllabuses
When in post-secondary studies, get in the habit of saving copies of your course syllabuses. There will be a section on the syllabus that outlines the course outcomes. It’s often a mix of transferable skills like communication and collaboration and technical skills related to the subject matter.
Related: The 28 Best Books on Communication
For a psychology course, for example, outcomes might include knowledge of areas of the brain or a foundation in various psychological theories. If you passed the course, you could list these skills on your resume.
Focus on transferable skills
Many people I work with in their early 20s think they have no experience because they have not worked in their field of study. But they may have had a variety of part-time and summer jobs.
We drastically underestimate skills like being able to handle difficult customers, managing time, and prioritizing tasks well. But every job requires these skills. Again, it’s about asking how those skills could be helpful to the next employer or how they might be useful in a different work environment.
Learn how to network
Building relationships with potential employers before you apply for jobs will get them to overlook things like no experience. Almost every job skill can be taught.
Related: Building Strong Work Relationships
For example, you can be trained on processes or software. What you have to bring is accountability, punctuality, and curiosity. If you show a potential employer that you are eager and teachable, they’ll be more likely to offer you a job even if you have only the tiniest bit of exposure to the field or even none at all.
You can get valid experience as an intern or volunteer
Even a few hours a week is enough to build skills and credentials. Figure out the kind of job you’d love to get, and then find someone who will let you apprentice for free for, say, three months. Maybe they’ll even hire you permanently if you do well.
I took a client who was returning to the workforce after ten years as a housewife/stay-at-home mom. She had significant volunteer experience, and my resume got her a job as Executive Director of a local human service agency — a position she held for many years.
Experience doesn’t have to be conventional
Nontraditional, even non-career experience can still be made to look relevant. I had a client who had taken off a year to travel around Latin America. I framed it as a self-directed learning experience that had elements of anthropology, history, life skills, etc.
I’ve had many clients who took time off to be caregivers for ill or special-needs family members, and I included that time as an experience block.
The resume doesn’t have to be chronological
Don’t lock yourself into the traditional chronological format if it’s not the best way to show off your skills. I’ve often broken up experience into relevant and other, so the important things float to the top.
I’ve also used functional resumes that focused more on skills and accomplishments than on where and how those were achieved.
Francis Angelo Reyes
Digital Analytics Consultant | Founder, Lupage Digital
Read books about the industry
Learning doesn’t stop in college. In most cases, books are more meaningful and have more wisdom than what you learn in college. Think of it as a curriculum that’s not given to you, and instead, you set out for yourself.
- Want to learn about tech start-ups? Read books on start-ups.
- Want to learn about digital marketing? Read digital marketing books.
- Want to learn about personal branding? Read personal branding books.
It shows your eagerness to learn. Reading books is a great way to answer questions like “What are your plans five years from now?” on interviews.
Acquire industry-specific certifications
The next level of showing your interest and passion is the get certifications. You can get certifications from websites like Linkedin or Udemy. Those are great, but industry-specific certifications are more effective.
Google certifications are great examples. It gives you common ground with the hiring manager that you know a lot about the industry. It’s plus points if, by chance, the hiring manager has taken the same certification. Similar to reading books, it also shows eagerness and passion.
Start a side project related to the industry you want to applying for
How to get experience without experience? Start a side project. Build a website. Start a blog and document everything you know about the industry you’re applying for a job. And starting a blog or personal website is so easy nowadays.
- Build apps on the side if you’re applying for a coding job.
- Blog about the stock market or cryptocurrency if you’re applying for a role in Finance.
This adds credibility and a little bit of expertise, even if you don’t have experience yet.
Don’t start a blog about what you ate on your birthday — write a blog about ideas related to the career you want to start in. Put yourself out there so that you’ll stand out from the pack. Just a CV is not enough anymore.
Founder and CEO, Work It Daily
The Harvard Business Review recently came out with a study indicating that only 29% of people that are hired these days have the exact qualifications for the job. That’s less than ⅓.
So, I think there’s a big myth out there amongst job seekers that “I can’t even apply for the job unless I have the exact qualifications, the exact experience.” It’s just not possible!
There are just not enough people out there that have the exact experience. So I would urge all inexperienced job seekers not to get too hung up on the experience factor. But, if the job asks for ten years of experience and you have two, then you’re not a match.
But I think where I see this question and hear the most doubts are with recent grads with jobs asking for two or more years of experience when a job seeker only has one year or no experience.
You know what? It’s OK to apply for a job at that point.
At that juncture where companies are looking for people with lower levels of experience that you don’t even have, they’re more likely to choose someone with the right personality and the right aptitude for the job.
What does this mean? It means we need to know that you can work well with the other teammates. We need to know that you have the flexibility and wherewithal to adapt, learn, and grow on your own. Actually, (in HR) we find those skills to be more important than the experience, which supports Harvard Business Review’s study about the fact that only 29% have the exact skills for the job.
We can teach you the skills, you can get the experience on the job, but we need to know that you have the intrinsic motivation, or internal motivation, the motivation that you’ll want to get up and do that job every day and as a result work really hard to be the best and succeed.
Here are three things job seekers with little experience should know:
Don’t get hung up if the job is asking for a specific level of experience
The first thing I tell people is don’t get hung up on the fact the job is asking for a specific level of experience. If you’re a few years short, it’s OK. I would tell you that you should still apply.
The majority of jobs are obtained via some form of networking
The second thing that I’m going to tell you is that study after study shows that the majority of jobs are obtained via some form of networking. This doesn’t mean that you have to intimately know people who work at the company, but a lot of times, if you use tools like Linkedin, you can figure out that you may know someone who knows someone who works at the company.
It’s not someone you know directly, but you can probably get your resume and cover letter in front of the hiring manager just through that connection. This will help the chances of someone who doesn’t have the exact experience can at least get looked at and get some attention paid to them, and that’s really important because it can be hard to stand out and get past the applicant tracking system.
Write an attention-grabbing headline and tell the story
My final and most important tip for someone that lacks experience is a disruptive cover letter. It’s a technique that I have been teaching for over a decade. This is where you share a story about your intrinsic motivation, that internal desire to work for them.
It’s not about that you heard they were a great company to work for and have great benefits. It’s not about you telling them, “Hey, you’re the best at what you do.” It’s you explaining why you feel connected to their customers, their products, or services.
A cover letter like this may start with:
- “Dear Hiring Team,
I remember the first time that I used your product…”
- “Dear Hiring Team,
It was my grandmother that taught me the power of what you do…”
So, you get them with a really attention-grabbing headline and tell the story. You don’t want to regurgitate your resume and don’t need to explain why you don’t have the exact experience. Instead, you reveal your personal connection.
Storytelling is key; we live in a storytelling world. Social media has made it to the point where we want to be entertained, and we want our interests to be held. Most cover letters just aren’t very interesting, but disruptive cover letters where you tell your story—now that gets a recruiter’s attention to the point where they’re almost rooting for you.
They like you; they like your story. So, when they go and look at your resume, they may say, “well, she doesn’t have the exact experience, but gosh, I really love her story.”
I know multiple examples of job seekers with little experience scoring an interview just because of the story they told in their cover letter.
Head of People, Tidio
Sometimes job search indeed becomes a vicious circle for a new graduate: you are eager to learn, contribute your knowledge and skills, and work hard; however, companies are not so keen to hire you without 1-3 years of relevant experience.
Here is some advice on how to stand out as a candidate even if you do not possess any experience:
Networking is key
It’s a great trend that websites like Linkedin are becoming more and more popular with university students. By making valuable connections and interacting with professionals in your dream sphere, you build a personal network that can help you start a career.
Of course, it’s not as simple as reaching out to a connection and asking them to secure an interview for you. Rather than that, networking is an ever-present process:
- Show genuine interest in what the person does.
- Ask relevant questions about their company.
- Sign up for a so-called ‘informational interview‘ if you want to learn more about the job.
This way, when you apply for a position and get an interview, you will be already be informed about the company and what it does even though you don’t have any relevant experience.
No experience doesn’t mean no soft skills
Indeed, hard skills are mainly acquired hands-on in the workplace. However, your soft skills are your greatest asset when it comes to your first position. It’s crucial to emphasize them and highlight how they will dictate your success at work.
Qualities like emotional intelligence, curiosity, flexibility, teamwork, etc., can be gained in multiple avenues like school projects, sports teams, volunteering, and many more.
Think about this ‘transferrable experience’ of yours:
- What activities shaped you into who you are today?
- How can your past experiences help you in the workplace?
Answering these questions will help you know yourself better and, of course, impress the recruiters.
Be excited to learn
Genuine interest in the company, the position, and the knowledge required for the job can take you a long way. No experience but passion for learning is much better than years of experience but no desire to broaden your horizons.
Always emphasize how much you have already learned and how you are looking forward to getting more knowledge. Of course, this only works if you apply for a position you are truly passionate about. If you cannot make yourself care enough, it’s a sign that you might want to look in a different direction.
Don’t give up after an unsuccessful attempt
A job application process, even an unsuccessful one, is already an experience in itself. The more you do it, the more you learn how to nail it.
Think about it as a marathon, not as a sprint. Consistent effort will lead you to a grand prize that is landing your dream job. Thus, keep trying and learning with every application you send.
Career Developer | Founder of Positive Life Choice Psychology™ | Author, “Career Choreography“
Get into the game at any level you can and play your way to the position you aspire to attain
I have always been a huge proponent of the idea that if I just get into the tournament, I can lift my game and play my way to where I aspire to be. By using this model as your guide, even if you have to enter a company at the lowest level, which doesn’t require much or any experience — go for it!
For example, many decades ago, my dad started as an overnight stock boy in a major department store chain. He gained great experience and knowledge, proved himself and his great value to his company, and he grew to be Executive Vice President of the chain of stores!
Years ago, I worked for the William Morris Agency, which, at the time, was clearly the most successful and well-respected theatrical agency in the world.
The President of William Morris was Sam Weisbord, who started in the mailroom. Sam took great pride in telling all trainees that he gained the requisite knowledge and experience he initially needed by starting in the mailroom and then learning and growing as he rose up the ranks to eventually run the agency.
There are innumerable stories of talented and hungry individuals taking entry-level jobs just to get in the game and garner experience so that they could ascend to great heights in their company and in their industry or profession.
Cream and talent rise to the top! Get into the game at any level you can, and with great passion, focus, intelligence, and creativity, get your experience and knowledge and play your way to the position you aspire to attain.
Prove to the employer that you and your potential are worth investing in
As an owner of one of this country’s most successful and well-respected news and hosting talent agencies, I frequently interview individuals for jobs. Although I highly value candidates with experience, I’ve often opted to hire individuals with no or little experience because I recognized their great potential for growth in my company.
My thought about this is: We can teach and train people and bring them up to speed, but you can’t teach innate abilities, such as great people skills, hunger, passion, creativity, foresight, and the like.
So, if you lack experience, your goal is to get an interview and thoroughly prepare for it:
- Do your homework.
- Know as much as you can about the company and, if possible, the person who you’re interviewing with.
- Come in with creative ideas for the company.
- Know and articulate what skill sets, work, educational, and life experiences have prepared you for the job you’re interviewing for.
- Explain what makes you special and how you can and will add great value to the company you’re interviewing with.
- Dress for success.
Always remember that a potential employer believes that how you represent yourself in an interview with them is how you will represent their company if they hire you. So be well prepared for all interviews.
The takeaway here is this: If you don’t have the requisite experience for a particular job that you’re seeking, then prove to the employer/interviewer that they should overlook your lack of experience, because you and your potential are worth investing in by taking the time and allocating the resources to train you.
The above two paths are highly effective ways to overcome the fact that you may not have the required experience to secure a particular job. Best of luck in identifying, securing, and thriving in the right job for you!
Career Transformation Specialist | Interview and Resume Expert | Co-Founder, Sweet but Fearless
Your experience in community volunteer work, school clubs, organizations, and internships is all relevant
It can be daunting and nerve-wracking to write your first resume and interview for your first career job. You may feel you do not have a lot of experience, but you do.
You have experience; it is just in different places that you need to uncover and articulate. Remember, companies are looking to hire someone; that someone is you.
Your experience in:
- Community volunteer work
- School clubs and organizations
These are all relevant and can be leveraged to showcase your skills and accomplishments.
Lean towards accomplishments in your resume
Add specifics in your resume and lean towards accomplishments, not roles, so you can highlight how you think, act, and respond. Your cover letter is your story, and you can weave in your key accomplishments that correlate to the job description you are seeking.
Here are my tips:
- Don’t lead with “I do not have experience.” Instead, lead with “my experience is…” and let the recruiter ask any clarifying questions.
- Search LinkedIn and other sites, Indeed, etc., for resumes that fit the job you are applying for. You can get an idea of what others are doing and how your skills and accomplishments can be tied in.
- Most entry-level jobs want to know that you are dependable, coachable, and honest. Make sure your resume has those words in there or in your recommendations.
You have experience. It is in all you have done throughout your life; vacations, volunteering, community work — all these interactions provide stories and experiences.
Jaynine Howard, USMC (Ret), PhD
Career Strategist | Owner, JJ Howard & Associates
Begin networking in your dream career field and seek intern or volunteer opportunities
Almost everyone had reviewed job announcements and thought, “How am I supposed to have experience when I just graduated?” The answer is simple – volunteer.
When students choose their major and have a dream career or job in mind, they need to begin networking with those working in the field and seek intern or volunteer opportunities.
Below are tips to maximize the internship or volunteer opportunity:
- Review job announcements and know what skills employers want in an ideal candidate. Focus on the keywords and soft skills too.
- Draft a list of skills you desire to gain through your volunteer opportunity.
- Seek volunteer opportunities that will help you gain the skills you need to be marketable.
- Work with your volunteer coordinator to gain the skills needed to be employable. Document exactly what you are doing each week. These will become bullets on your resume.
- Network and maintain positive working relationships with those in your field and those you meet while volunteering. Connect with them on LinkedIn.
- Create a LinkedIn profile and keep it updated. Ask those you volunteer coordinator/supervisor for a recommendation.
- Attend training sessions that are offered through your volunteer agency. Document those sessions.
- Review what you are doing and learning through your volunteer work. Customer service is one skill that will be welcomed at any organization. Don’t dismiss answering the phones, greeting clients, and making copies. However, also stay focused on the key skills you will need to be marketable.
- Use the volunteer experience to help you narrow the type of job you will like and identify the areas you know you will not want to work.
Human Resources Leader & Certified Mediator, Michael Trust Consulting
Intern, volunteer, get a part-time job, or find someone willing to mentor you
This is like the old adage, “what comes first, the chicken or the egg?” How to get experience when you need experience to get experience? It’s a great and common question that’s easily answered:
- Get a part-time job
- Find someone in an organization that is willing to mentor you and vouch for you
Use these experiences to gain the experience that you need for the role that you want.
It’s rare to land a role just out of school (at any level) unless you’re coming out of professional school (law, medicine, psychology, social work, physical therapy, occupational therapy, clinical laboratory scientist/technologist, etc.), which have their own pipelines and networking opportunities that usually feed into a “first” role.
In these examples, note that other than law, these areas have residency or internship requirements for licensure, which often are used as a stepping stone into a first role.
Law graduates often have summer internships or judicial clerkships that function in the same ways, although they are not required for licensure. Coming out of high school or an undergraduate program, or a graduate or professional program that doesn’t have these types of “feeder” situations, recruiters are going to look for what you did while you were in school – other than school.
This means work-related activities. While many people laugh about it, working in fast food actually teaches great skills that are easily transferable to other fields, as an example.
Try to find a part-time job or volunteer in an area in which you wish to work:
- Build your network
- Showcase what you can do and how you can easily learn
- Be noticed
This is how you build the experience to get the experience that you need to get that first role.
Founder and Senior Partner, The Negotiator Guru
This is a huge problem that every working professional eventually faces while on their career journey. I’m a technology negotiator, and I’ve employed some of the tactics below to get some of my “dream” jobs.
Don’t dismay if the job you have your heart set on requires more experience than what you’ve got. For the most part, the amount of experience posted on a position is supposed to weed out erroneous candidates. HR personnel filter and then send your resume further down the chain of command.
If you really do have what it takes, you can get past the gatekeeper and communicate your ability to the real decision-maker for the role. Here’s how to do it:
Bypass HR and go straight to BDM
Don’t just submit your application via the company’s online portal. It won’t make it very far. If you can get in contact with the manager of the position via email, not the HR manager, you’ll get the most traction.
You might have to do some digging to figure out who that is, but it’ll be worth it. Some company websites display names & titles for top employees, so finding out sometimes is fairly easy.
Leverage LinkedIn premium
You’ll be able to search, find and contact the manager of your position with Linkedin Premium. The search parameters allow you to view everyone with “manager” at a specified company. Find the manager that matches your department and send them an inbox response regarding the job.
There are also methods you can use to extract the manager’s email from LinkedIn, if you are that serious about the job!
Show them something you’ve done
Talking about your experience won’t prove much to the manager. Let your work do the talking for you. If you’ve got something tangible that they can see, then you have a fighting chance! Show them you have the required skillsets.
Send deliverables to the manager of a previous project, so they can see your skills put in action. Whatever those deliverables may be, like spreadsheets, diagrams, models, or media. In the tech field, it could be a snippet of programming code written by you, the programmer, that can be executed to prove you have the necessary skills to excel at the role.
Founder, High Bridge Management Academy
Earn “experience miles” that will assist you in helping your career take off
If you want to get a foot in the door, you have to be willing to walk the talk. Some of this advice are things you can do on your own before you get an interview; others are things you can do in the interview itself.
Impress your Interviewer with these 5 Easy Steps:
Check your mindset at the door
Fear of failure can kill your career before it even gets going. Act as if you have nothing to lose, focusing on the positives of what you do know and have studied – rather than the negatives around all the competition that is out there or your lack of work experience.
Focus on their fears, not yours
Research the company you’re applying to work for, and learn something about their competition and what they are afraid of.
Use your spare time to read in-depth online articles and industry-related books – anything that provides you with ammunition that takes the heat off you and allows you to put the focus on why they need you.
Show off your skills
You can research an informed opinion and then show the interviewer why hiring you would be an asset. Experience can be earned, but the right attitude can’t be.
If you impress with a killer ‘can do’ attitude out of the gates, you’ll be selling yourself in the most authentic of ways. Imagine that you’re catching up with your best friend for coffee and telling them about last night’s escapades.
You don’t want to be too casual about it, but you do want to exude a natural confidence that will make your interviewer think, “wow, I’d love to have this person working for us!”
Stay calm, stay on message
Towards the end of the interview, demonstrate your ability to listen. Ask an informed question that again challenges the interviewer rather than you.
- Not: How much money am I going to make working here? That’s not a good idea.
- More along the lines of: What would you be expecting from me on a daily basis, so that I may be suitably challenged working here, and so be able to deliver the best results possible?
Demonstrate that you’re not desperate for the job and that you’re a hireable asset that will go somewhere else if the fit isn’t right. It’s a bit like going on a first date: you have to play it cool all the way until you lean in for the goodbye kiss. In this case, though, don’t lean in for that kiss!
Take care of the little things in between
Positive manifestation is the result of seeing opportunities wherever you go and making the most of whatever time you have. The PA who greets you may be the boss’s child – greet them warmly.
Dress sharp, be on time and smile at everyone you meet. This may not be your next job – but it is your next networking opportunity.
Be prepared by applying for jobs you may not get – it’s all about putting your energy out there and developing the thick skin of experience. If all else fails, ask for an unpaid internship somewhere if money is the sticking point.
Once you have a foot in the door, you’ll be well placed to “wow” them with your enthusiasm and work skills later one.
Like with most things in life, showing up is half the battle. Every time you show up – whether that’s reading an industry-related article rather than scrolling through your social media feed or going to an interview for a job you’re unlikely to get – you’re earning yourself ‘experience miles’ that will assist you in helping your career take off when the universe tells you that the time is right.
As a student intern myself, I understand the struggles of applying for roles without experience, making it harder to land an internship or new graduate role. I have successfully landed multiple jobs successfully in the fin-ed and consulting industry during the pandemic.
Here are some tips that helped me get multiple offers:
Don’t discard your volunteer experience
Even if you have no prior professional experience, you may be able to demonstrate accomplishments and transferrable abilities by volunteering, participating in school activities, or engaging in relevant class projects.
As long as these experiences help you communicate the skills for the job you are applying for, these are good opportunities to include on your resume.
Build your own experience
More often than not, using the wide available resources on the internet, you can build short-term projects that use the skills in your chosen career or industry. This could be a pro bono project for a small business in your neighborhood, a GitHub project, or even a hackathon project along with a few members.
All these are great ways to practice your skills as well as show initiative and leadership skills to future employers.
Go the extra mile to stand out
More than 80% of the job market is hidden. Without building a strong professional network to help you during your job search, you might be at a major disadvantage. Use this network when looking for opportunities like your first internship or job.
I would also recommend crafting a well-thought-out cover letter that bridges your future aspirations and your current skills for the employer.
There are lots of other ways to stand out; I personally created a video for a position I was aiming at telling them why I am a good fit for the position – this video did wonders in helping me get noticed and was even passed to the Managing Director of the firm!
The job descriptions are a “wish-list” of the employer, and they do not expect most candidates to meet all the requirements. Typically, if you meet 70-80% of the job description, you are a good candidate and should consider applying.
Don’t self reject before the firm rejects you.
Founder and COO, Jump
Check out startups
Startups are a great place to start. They don’t always require experience, but they are looking for young and eager-to-learn individuals. Most of the time, these positions will be unpaid, but you’ll learn a lot, and it’s something you can add to your CV, which is always a big plus.
There are specific sites dedicated to only startups like Otta, or you can also find job posts on university boards. Lastly, selecting an entry-level or intern title can show you lots of job opportunities for non-experienced graduates or university students.
Look for jobs abroad
Now that most jobs are remote and many are thinking of keeping it that way, you can search for jobs all over the world. Don’t limit yourself to one city; just make sure the position is remote. If you are fluent in another language aside from English, that’s a huge plus and opens even more countries to expand your job search to.
However, if you only speak English, many companies abroad are looking for native English speakers to help with international business. The key is not to be scared to broaden your search and to read the job descriptions!
Reach out to companies on all platforms
Reaching out to companies on LinkedIn, email, or Instagram (depending on what role and company you want to work for) won’t hurt, and you might actually find something available. When it comes to startups, you can also find job openings on Facebook, Instagram, university group chats.
Talk to your classmates, friends, acquaintances, everyone to see if they know about a potential role for you. You need to be proactive, try everything and look everywhere, so don’t be scared to be persistent!
Think about the big picture
Many times when we are starting out, we are set with one specific role we want to work in. What we don’t realize is that there is always room to grow within the company. If you want to work in fashion marketing but can’t find anything, you can also start considering sales assistants, personal assistants, etc.
Yes, they’re not exactly what you want to do, but they can be a starting point. During the interview, tell them about your ambitions and ask where this role can take you. Don’t shy away from opportunities.
Tamara Marie Johnson
Senior Marketing & Communications Specialist
Naturally, this problem affects young people who are just starting out and trying to land their first job. But it affects experienced professionals who are looking to climb the corporate ladder as well.
For example, how is a Senior Recruiter supposed to move up to Head of Recruiting when that role requires several years of experience leading a team? Here are three great ways to gain the experience you need.
Create your own opportunity
Let’s continue with the above example. You’re that Senior Recruiter who’s gunning for a Head-of title. Why not start a non-profit organization that helps other non-profit organizations and charities recruit personnel?
And to gain valuable experience leading a team, you could hire other recruiters to work for you.
Take a class
Consider taking a class revolving around your missing experience. For example, a class on leadership styles involving role-playing will ensure you get theoretical knowledge and a little bit of practical experience.
This is a particularly good option for anyone who feels like an additional certificate or diploma might boost their confidence in job interviews.
As an employee, you may not be able to advance your career if you don’t check certain experience boxes. But organizations looking for volunteers will be a lot more forgiving. So go ahead and apply to unpaid positions a level or two above your current role.
Once you’ve gained some experience, paid positions at these levels will start opening up for you too.
HR Business Partner, Zety
If you’re an entry-level candidate and you don’t have any experience under your belt, there are several things you can do.
Consider getting a remote internship
For one, consider getting a (remote) internship. Most of them are paid these days and provide fresh college graduates with the tangible work experience they can later put on a resume as well as a ton of hard and soft skills most employers value.
Another benefit of doing an internship is that it’ll likely provide you a good sense of whether your desired field of work is a good fit for you.
Engage in freelance work
If doing an internship isn’t an option for one reason or another, you can engage in freelance work. There are platforms like Fiverr, for example, that let you build a portfolio of clients, learn a ton of new skills, make some decent money, and importantly gain that valuable experience for your resume.
Elene Cafasso, MCC
Leadership Development Expert | Executive Coach | President, Enerpace, Inc. Executive Coaching
The best way to get experience is through internships, project work, and volunteering
Internships are normally found through an educational institution. However, if you have your heart set on a position at your dream company, check out their website or call HR and see what’s possible. If you’re not currently in school, your best way is to network with the company through your alumni network.
If you can arrange even a 15-minute conversation with a current employee. They’ll be able to tell you more about what’s available and perhaps introduce you to someone in the area you want to gain experience in.
The more informational interviews you can get in your area of interest, the better. Focus your questions on how they got experience and what skills/competencies are most important in their role.
Ideally, you’ll be able to connect the dots between what you have done and what you do have to lay out how you do indeed qualify for the position. If not, you’ll know what you need to get elsewhere to be able to repurpose your new skills into your desired position.
VP of Strategy and Coaching Services, Intoo
Consider all of your experience, not just the exact experience required
How you go about getting experience to make yourself attractive to hiring managers depends on where you are in your career. If you’re starting out, internships, externships, and mentorships can help you get experience.
If you recently graduated but have decided to switch career paths or for various reasons don’t have work or intern experience in the area of the role you’re applying for, identify the ways in which you learned and contributed in every position, whether relevant or not.
Maybe you have some project-based experience as part of your coursework towards your degree, or your participation in school clubs/memberships required applicable skills.
If you’re farther along in your career, depending on the field, you could take classes, either online or in person, to further your knowledge in the desired area.
The other thing you should do is carefully look at your experience. Are you looking at the job posting and taking it too literally? Chances are you have transferable skills.
Look at LinkedIn profiles of those in the types of roles you’d ultimately like to have and find common ground with your experience. Find a way to describe your own experience in a way that relates to the work you wish to do. Bolster that experience with classes or “minternships”—essentially non-credit internships—which many mid-career professionals are doing in order to switch paths.
Use your personal and professional networks to discover your connections in your desired industry, and offer to take on these on-the-job studies to open doors and gain experience.
Looking for gig work in your new field is also a great way to make inroads with a company or industry. It’s a way to work on a project for a limited time, get to know the ins and outs of a position, and have the experience to put on your resume. And be willing to make a lateral move.
Finally, don’t let a job description that says it requires a couple of years of experience deter you from applying. You may have something distinct to offer that the hiring manager may not have considered, but that makes you a standout for the role.
You need to recognize your own value first so that you can communicate it to future employers. Chances are you have something to offer, even if it’s not the very thing they’ve asked for.
Executive Director of Career & Connection Institute, Gordon College
Get experience via internships
This is exactly why we encourage our students to get experience via internships. Hiring managers want to de-risk — they prefer to hire someone who has done the job before, even more so when they have done it at their firm.
Hence, why so many people who do well in internships get offers to work at their firm. For a company, it’s “try before you buy.” The key to landing a job is via an internship, and the more, the better.
CEO, Best Value Schools
Internships and apprenticeships are two of the best ways to gain experience
Both types of employment give you valuable hands-on experience and are a great way to build your resume. To find internships and apprenticeships, look on LinkedIn and job boards and ask your network.
You should also reach out to your school’s career center or alumni groups. Another option is to speak with your professors and ask if they know of any opportunities from their network.
Don’t limit yourself to just one internship or apprenticeship
Working more than one internship or apprenticeship will help you gain more robust experience and help you learn and develop a wider range of skills. Multiple positions also look good on a resume, showing varied experience and making you a more attractive candidate.
Take advantage of campus jobs
If you’re still in college, take advantage of campus jobs. There are many on-campus jobs ranging from working in the dining hall or campus store to tutoring or becoming a TA.
Not all experience comes from formal jobs
Any and all experience is experience, from working as a cashier in a small pizza place to being a Teacher’s Assistant or selling handmade items online. You learn transferrable skills from doing any kind of work, so highlight those on a job application.
Don’t feel ashamed of any positions you’ve held – all work provides experience and is valuable to include on a resume.
Volunteering can help you develop the abilities you’ll need to get a paying job
You can start your career without any job experience by keeping in mind that you will not be volunteering as a profession. Rather, you will be volunteering as a step toward your career.
Volunteering can help you develop the abilities you’ll need to get a paying job doing what you really want to accomplish. Volunteer work experience is valued by hiring managers, so don’t overlook the benefits of volunteering as a step in your career path.
Head of People, PhotoAiD
Sell yourself well and self-educate yourself in the areas that interest you the most
Before I started working for Photo AiD, like many other recent graduates today, I faced an enormous barrier while entering the job market. It is a great paradox: you can not get a job without experience, but you can not have professional experience without a proper job.
It is a typical and discouraging vicious circle that seems almost impossible to overcome.
It was on a summer evening, during a gathering with friends, when the idea of teaching language classes crossed my mind. I knew many people who wanted to travel or study abroad, and they did not know how to speak English. So I decided that I could help them, and to get some experience.
I spent a couple of years like that, each student different from the last. I even taught thirty hours a week, which allowed me to save some money.
But when it comes to teaching, many centers ask you to have certificates or proof of your knowledge and skills. Here, the art of writing your CV comes in. Consider the main interests on the job offer, and start building up your CV from there. Depending on the position you want, employ the main keywords used in the niche areas of the jobs you would like to apply for.
Use them within the “Interests” section instead of your hobbies, and specify as much as possible the “Skills” part.
Perhaps you can introduce a short bio at the beginning of your Resume? There are at least a few ways to show off knowledge on the niche areas without proving to have experience. At least that is what I did. I spent weeks working on my CV and got my first interview shortly after. Lucky? I don’t think so.
Here’s my first piece of advice is: Sell yourself well.
I managed to have a good track record in teaching because I spent time self-educating and strove to improve my knowledge. So my second piece of advice is, self-educate yourself in the areas that interest you the most. In this way, those who will read your CV will perceive that you always want to go beyond and that you have an eagerness for curiosity, making a good first impression on you.
And that’s how I got my first job without having any outstanding experience. As time went by, and due to life changes, I realized that my path was to build my start-up. And so it happened. Today we have a passionate way ahead of us, and I thank in part those people who placed their trust in me.
I didn’t want to say goodbye without giving two more pieces of advice:
- Patience. Don’t let all the “no” of the companies knock you down. When you least expect it, that email will arrive with the opportunity you are looking for.
- Remember that you also have to live. Try to position yourself in front of those jobs or internships that are unpaid. Just because you don’t have experience doesn’t mean you have to work for free.
Head of Content, Storydoc
Be proactive — do something to prove you’re motivated and engaged
I landed my first content marketing gig only because I wanted it so badly. I thought I had solid writing skills but no real portfolio or past jobs that could have proven it. And I found the offer I knew was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
I knew my resume (totally empty back then) wouldn’t get any attention. I had no relevant writing samples to share with the hiring manager, so I created one from scratch.
In my application, I addressed my lack of experience openly, but I also explained what I thought made me a good fit for the company and said I would be more than happy to do any recruitment tasks necessary.
And now, here’s the trick: I also provided instant value.
I included a sample post for the company’s blog I thought was super relevant to their audience. “To help you get a feel for what I might bring to your content team, here’s a sample post for your blog: free of charge!” I wrote.
The next day, I received one of the shortest recruitment emails I ever got: “When can we schedule an interview?” That was all it took to get my foot in the door.
Fun fact: They never, ever used that blog post. It was flawed in many aspects and not in line with the content strategy. Still, it made them interested enough to have a chat with me and, later on, offer me an entry-level position I gladly accepted.
The lesson: people will notice the proverbial “extra mile.”
You don’t need to have the experience to get experience. Sometimes showing genuine motivation is enough to grab the attention of hiring decision-makers. As long as you do something to prove you’re motivated and engaged.
Desperate messages along the lines of “If I get this job, I will work harder than I ever have,” or “if you just give me a chance, I’ll turn out the most valuable employee” won’t work. A tiny bit of thoughtful, well thought-out effort just might.
Community Manager, LiveCareer
Highlight your transferable skills
Many fresh graduates ask themselves how to get experience if they need the experience to land their first job. It’s a dilemma that most of us face, especially at the beginning of our career path.
However, there is a way to catch the recruiter’s attention and get this first job even if you don’t have any international experience or have never worked for one of the Big Four companies.
My advice is to take the time to reflect on valuable experiences that you have gained during your life and see how they impacted who you are today.
As a former tennis player and college athlete, I always tried to highlight what I have learned thanks to sports and how these transferable skills can benefit my future employer. For example, I talked about my inner drive to get an athletic scholarship in the US and move from Poland to study in Washington DC.
Many recruiters were impressed with my work ethic and perseverance and often valued my unique path enough to offer me a job even if I didn’t fulfill all their official requirements.
From my experience, it’s always good to back up your words with specific examples of your skills and strengths. That way, your employer will see that you can implement them in your daily life and use them in your new position.
Also, never forget about who you are. Your story can often be more inspiring to the hiring manager than an excellent GPA or internship at one of the prestigious corporations.
Community Manager, MyPerfectResume
You can start gaining experience even at school
A great way to do this is by enlisting to school clubs, volunteer work, internships, and even take extracurricular courses in the field you are interested in working.
Don’t let your lack of work experience hold you back from applying for the job you want. Instead, list in your CV all the internships, volunteer work, and even the courses you completed; remember only to list the experience related to the job offer and highlight the qualities that make you a good candidate.
Even if you don’t have work experience, it’s just as important to make the recruiters notice your soft skills. Suppose you, for example, were the president of a club in your university. In that case, you might want to highlight skills in your CV and Cover Letter such as:
Also, remember to emphasize your strengths in your cover letter. A great tip is to use the same words and phrases as those from the job description and use real-life examples that clearly illustrate how/when you used these skills.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is it difficult to get a job without experience?
Finding a job without experience can be difficult, especially in a competitive job market. Here are some reasons why:
– Many employers require applicants to have a certain amount of work experience.
– Some jobs require specific skills and knowledge you may not have as a fresh university graduate.
– Employers are looking for people who can hit the ground running and contribute to the company’s success from day one.
– Without work experience, employers may view you as a risky candidate who may require significant time and money to train.
How much work experience should I aim for?
There is no magic number to aim for; the key is to seek opportunities that will benefit your career. Here are some guidelines:
– At least six months to a year of work experience will put you in a good position when seeking additional employment opportunities.
– Some industries and positions may require more experience or additional certifications, so be sure to research the specific requirements in your desired field.
– Unleash your passion, get into new areas, and work to develop your skills to increase your chances of landing a job.
What should I do if I’ve difficulty gaining work experience?
If you have a hard time gaining work experience, consider these strategies:
Rethink your approach: Take a step back and analyze the methods you use to gain work experience. Identify areas that can be improved and adjust your strategy accordingly.
Seek feedback: Ask mentors, peers, or professionals in your desired field for feedback. Use their insights to refine your approach and focus on areas you can improve.
Expand your network: Attend networking events, join industry-specific groups, and interact with professionals to explore new opportunities and gain insights.
Consider additional training or certifications: Attend relevant courses, workshops, or certifications to enhance your skills and better market yourself to potential employers.
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