Every young job seeker faces the conundrum: you need experience to get a job, but you need a job to get experience. Seems like some sick Catch-22, right? Well, it is if you accept the idea at face value. Challenge the premise and you’ll find a way around this common stumbling block. Here are three […]
Every young job seeker faces the conundrum: you need experience to get a job, but you need a job to get experience. Seems like some sick Catch-22, right? Well, it is if you accept the idea at face value. Challenge the premise and you’ll find a way around this common stumbling block. Here are three ideas about how to do that:
1. Capitalize on Your Entry-Level Position
To get your dream job, or even a mid-level role, yes, you will need relevant (probably professional) experience. However, entry-level jobs don’t require much experience and they are a great way to position yourself within a target industry. For example, being an office assistant produces a paycheck (not to be dismissed), allows you to observe and learn about the job you really want, and can facilitate a relationship with the person hiring. Think like a spy here – all you need is an “in” and you can work your magic from the inside.
Once your foot is in the door, talk to everyone you can, ask lots of questions, and take up every task related or unrelated to your job. Once you become the person everyone knows will step up and do good work, people will want you on their team. Now you’re an insider who knows what the job requires, what personalities are in play, and how you can solve their needs.
Not many people take this approach because it requires accepting a menial job for little pay. Keep your eye on the prize though – getting in the door is a huge step toward your desired job, especially if your experience is light.
2. You Don’t Need a Job to Get Experience
There are myriad ways to get the experience needed for your ideal job, you just have to find them. For example, creating a side business is a great way to take your academic experience to the next level. Interacting with clients, pitching services, delivering products on time, and responding to customer inquiries are the kind of professional experiences you can’t get in a classroom. By starting a side business, you create the experience your resume is lacking and you’ll have concrete examples to reference when applying.
Does the job you want require specialized experience working with certain software? Try finding someone in your network who has those skills and is willing to teach you. Often it’s a matter of learning the basics and practicing in your free time to get better. Can’t find someone who can teach the skills you need? Check out an online course, book, or community college that might be able to give you those first layers of instruction. Once your skills improve, start reaching out to friends and family that might need those services and build a portfolio of pro bono work. Now you have the skills needed and a portfolio of work to display.
3. Volunteering is an Experience Shortcut
Volunteer work is another great way to beef up your resume with professional experience. You might have to start low on the totem pole, but most volunteer organizations are dying for help so you’ll be able to move up as quickly as you can take on other projects. In very little time you could be managing teams, looking at budgets, proposing marketing projects, raising funds, or ordering inventory – all fantastic professional experience.
Like any business, you’ll find that some volunteer organizations are poorly run, which means you’re even better positioned to make a large, quantifiable difference. If you see some gross inefficiency or mismanagement, take note of what’s wrong and either propose a fix or, whenever possible, just fix it.
When you begin volunteering, set goals and write them down. This ensures you’ll be working toward something specific the whole time, making the whole experience more beneficial. These goals could change after you’ve been there a while, especially as you start to notice what needs improving, but it’s good to have an idea of where you want to go from the outset.
Next, track your projects and related numbers, comparing how things looked before you got there with after you were involved. That way you have specific examples to reference during interviews or when applying. When an employer hears that your project increased the number of people fed at a food bank while lowering expenses, they’ll know they have a go-getter who means business.
Lack of experience can be the bane of a job applicant’s existence. Employers want to spend as little time training you as possible because, well, you’re expensive and they need you producing something to offset that expense. But your lack of experience will hold you back only as much as you let it. Fill in the holes with side projects, volunteer work, and whatever else it takes. Keep detailed notes of what you did and list that confidently on your resume. While others might get held up, you’ll stride right across that experience gap.
is Founder of , a free web app that helps you track and manage job and school applications. He also blogs regularly at .