To get experience, you need a good job. To get a good job, you usually need…experience. If you don’t have either one of those right now, that’s a pretty major Catch-22, no?
Before you get caught in a vicious cycle of despair over the unfairness of that conundrum, don’t panic—it is definitely possible to get a job without experience. Everyone (seriously, everyone!) has to start somewhere. No one just wakes up one day as a mid-level manager with stock options and a 401(k). Let’s talk about ways to get up and running on your career path without having tons of experience yet.
2. The Resume
3 Ways to Prepare for the No-Experience-Yet Job Hunt
Before you start your job hunt for that entry-level position or a new-to-you career, there are things you can do to set yourself up for success, long before you even submit a resume or application.
1. Know your industry.
A little research goes a long way when you’re just starting out. Google the heck out of your target industry. Get a sense for what kind of company you want to work for, and what those companies are like. It’s important to look at their official websites, but also look for news, online forums, and other information that comes up as well. The corporate site can give you the official line on a company’s mission, goals, and culture, but the other sites can cut through the mist of heavy branding and give you a clearer sense of what it might be like to actually work for that company.
Digging around is also a good way to get a read on how healthy your industry is. For example, if you have your heart set on becoming a graphic designer for an advertising company, but you’re uncovering a lot of stories about how big ad agencies are not doing so hot, revenue-wise, then you might want to step back and reset your expectations about the number of jobs that may be available.
2. Find your people.
Networking is one of the best (if not THE best) ways to get the inside scoop on job openings or companies. Still, like with jobs in general, it’s hard to get networked in your field if you haven’t really worked in it yet. Here’s where you need to be bold and proactive. You may not be starting from nothing here—if you’ve graduated recently, chances are your alma mater has an alumni networking group, or maybe even career mentors that you can email/talk to.
And there’s always social media. You don’t need experience to start fleshing out your LinkedIn profile with groups related to the industry and job you want. Start following prominent people in your field, and try to stay on top of the conversations happening around them.
There’s always the good old-fashioned version of networking, where you find meetup events or open houses and show up on time, looking spiffy with a seltzer in hand and a nametag on your chest. If your field doesn’t have any special networking groups or events, there are plenty of sites that can help you find your career tribe. They can help link you up with the right people, in a room for cheese cubes and pleasant professional conversation with like-minded people:
- Meetup – Not just for Harry Potter enthusiasts and extreme knitters, Meetup brings people together professionally in addition to socially. And if you’re looking for a group that shares your passion for kayaking AND graphic design, then you might be in luck!
- Eventbrite – Like Meetup, Eventbrite is focused entirely on user-created events, and lets you search by keyword and location to find career-related events in your area.
- NetParty – Heavy on the “party,” this is one of the most popular networking sites for young professionals.
- Mediabistro – A portal for all things media-career-related, featuring a constantly updated job board and a heavy schedule of events and networking opportunities.
- Dames Bond – One of the premier career networking sites for women, according to Forbes.
3. Be ready to start from the bottom.
You’re probably looking for a full-time job in your chosen field, but sometimes that can be tough at the start. If that door feels stuck, look for windows. A lot of companies hire temporary or part-time employees on a project basis, or as a trial before hiring them full-time. An easy way to broaden your job search is to search for contract/freelance jobs and part-time jobs in addition to full-time positions. By doing so, you can come across really great opportunities that would have been shut out by checking the “full-time” or “permanent” box on the search form. This first job may not be The One That Makes Your Career, but it doesn’t really need to be. Ideally, you want something that will help you build your bona fides, which you can use on the path to the job you really, really want.
Don’t think that landing anything but a full-time job in your chosen career path is a distraction from or a sacrifice of your short-term career goals. In reality, you’re building a better resume, and repositioning yourself as someone with more experience than you brought in.
I’ll be honest: the resume is the trickiest part of the job hunt when you don’t yet have a lot of experience under your belt. Resume readers (of the human or computer variety) are big on keywords and bullet points. And if your resume is little more than your name, address, education, and high school summer jobs right now, you need to bulk it up, or risk being skipped over completely by someone (or some machine) who doesn’t understand how awesome you are, and how much you’ll bring to the table.
The traditional resume format, the old standby “reverse chronological” (which lists your experience, moving backward through your career) can be very unforgiving to someone who is just starting out, or who is looking to change careers. We’ve got you covered on how to write a resume, but first you need to figure out the best format for what you want to emphasize.
Without experience, your best friend might be the skills-based resume, where instead of listing your jobs and experience first, your skills are front and center. Business Insider has a handy sample to show how a candidate with limited experience can frame those skills and building blocks in a cohesive resume:
The most important thing to remember is that although you might not have a ton of career-specific experience yet, you definitely have skills. Be sure to pull anything you can use into your resume—skills, volunteer experience, internships, etc. Even if they’re not directly related to the job you want, each one contributed to your overall skill set. You want to be able to show that you have the tools to get the job done, even if you’re not super-experienced.
So someone saw your resume, and saw that you have great potential for this job. Next battle: the interview. Let’s say you’ve done your homework on the company; you’ve dry-cleaned your best suit; you’ve practiced your handshake and your most confident “hire me” smile in the mirror; you have a list of questions ready to go. All that good work could be for naught if you get in there and are hit with one simple question that gives you pause: “Why should we hire you?” If you’re short on work experience, that question can be a very tough one, since you can’t fall back on a statement like, “Well, with my years of experience working with widgets, I know that I can increase sales by a significant amount.”
To get around that awkward moment and avoid looking like a deer in headlights, come prepared with anecdotes that show how you solved situations like you’d face on the job, and bullet points about your skills. Know what skills you have that will directly apply to the job you’re applying for, and practice those ahead of the interview so that you can whip them out with cool confidence on the spot.
For example, if you’re asked why you should be hired as a marketing assistant, talk about the time you spent organizing social media and word-of-mouth for your club’s fundraiser in college. If you want to show your people skills, tell the interviewer about a time you brought people together to get a project done. The interviewer will already know (having your resume right in front of them) that you don’t have the most job experience. What they need to know in the interview is that you will take the experience and skills you already have, and be able to thrive in this new job. If you can sell it, they can buy it.
Wrapping It Up
Moral of the story here: if you don’t have experience, don’t panic. Getting that entry-level or first job in the field can be daunting, but you already have lots of great tools at your disposal to package yourself. Once you build your network, your resume, and your confidence, you’re in a much better place to go out there and get the job.