As the age-old internet wisdom goes: you need experience to get a job, but you need a job to get experience. So, how is a person meant to navigate this Mobius strip of a reality?
Thankfully, there are steps you can take to land your first job as a graduate or successfully change careers as an experienced professional with little or no relevant experience. In this article, we’ll walk you through some beneficial tips and strategies to help you make your job search more effective (and hopefully shorter).
Let’s dive right in: this is how to get a job without experience!
When you’re a student or a recent graduate, it’s easy to trick yourself into believing that all the older adults in your life have been born working. It’s a bit like looking at your grandparents and getting the sense that they’ve always been old, rebelling against the idea that they were once babies too. But the truth is that every one of them has had to start somewhere. So, to answer the question: yes, jobseekers with no experience can and do find work.
While previous experience is certainly important, there are more things prospective employers care about. Your personality, attitude, skills and knowledge all come into play. In fact, many hiring managers move candidates along their recruitment process with an “attitude over aptitude” philosophy informing their decisions.
According to members of the Forbes Coaches Council, an organization made up of leading business and career coaches, there are several qualities and characteristics that are more important than experience in recruitment. Some examples are self-awareness, emotional intelligence, ambition and an explorer mindset.
A ResumeBuilder.com survey of 1,000 young participants has shown that about 20% of recent university graduates are working jobs that are unrelated to their major. This tells us that it’s not only possible to find work without a lot of experience, but it’s also possible to land a job without a lot of relevant knowledge, too. This is because many professions entail on-the-job training.
Let’s look at some examples of roles that are suitable for people with minimal experience:
- Customer service agent
- Sales representative
- Restaurant server
- Administrative assistant
- Delivery driver
- Flight attendant
- Construction laborer
- Veterinary assistant
- Real estate agent
- Data entry operator
No matter your situation, whether you’re fresh out of school or someone who’s worked for a while and is looking to switch career paths, it’s possible to present yourself as the ideal candidate and stand out from the competition.
Entering the job market for the first time or looking for work in a new industry gets challenging for the majority. However, there are ways to improve your chances of getting invited to an interview! Here is our guide for finding work with no prior experience:
1. Search for entry-level jobs
As their name suggests, entry-level jobs cater specifically to recent graduates and people with little to no relevant work experience. As such, it’s a good idea to narrow down your job search to these listings only, since applying to higher seniority positions will most likely prove fruitless. Although your skill set and background don’t have to meet the job requirements with 100% accuracy, you should still aim to match the criteria as much as possible.
If you’re going to use online job boards in your job search (and you should!), you can speed up the process of finding the right role by signing up for customized alerts. These will allow you to receive in-app or email notifications when a new entry-level position opens up in your area, so you can send in your cover letter and résumé early.
2. Tailor your résumé
Speaking of cover letters and résumés, one of the most common mistakes jobseekers make is not tailoring their application materials to the job listing. If you’ve never heard of this tactic before, it’s when you take specific keywords or phrases from the ad and incorporate them naturally into your résumé.
Let’s say you’ve come across an ad for an entry-level proofreader position. The listing will most probably mention skills and abilities like “attention to detail”, “time management” and “familiarity with word processing software”. These are the kinds of things you’ll want to include in your résumé: ones that show the prospective employer that you’d make an excellent fit for the role.
Skills-based résumés are ideal for people with limited work experience, as they put your skills at the forefront. We recommend that you use this type of résumé over a chronological one, and proofread it several times over before submitting it.
3. Perfect your cover letter
Much like your résumé, your cover letter needs to show the hiring manager that you’ve carefully read and understood their requirements. To craft an impactful cover letter, avoid repeating the information that you’ve included in your résumé; you’ll want to expand on what you’ve mentioned instead.
Start with a few words on who you are, what position you’re applying for and why the position caught your attention. Then, in the following paragraph, explain why you believe you’d make a good fit for the role. In other words, mention how your skills, knowledge and personal qualities can satisfy the employer’s needs for this position.
Finally, close off your cover letter with a call to action — that is: repeat your interest in the role and the company as a whole, and politely request an interview.
4. Emphasize your transferable skills
When you’re looking for your first “grown-up” job with limited work experience, it’s good to emphasize your transferable skills every chance you get. (Within reason, of course.)
Transferable skills refer to soft and technical skills that can come in handy in various contexts, whether that’s university, a volunteer position or an executive role. Some examples include interpersonal skills like teamwork and communication; general skills like organization and time management; and leadership skills like decision making and delegation.
These are skills that, a lot of the time, young people develop in school or during their extracurriculars. So, have a think about which of these skills you’ve developed over the years, and communicate them in your application materials (and during the interview, too, when you get to attend one). Just make sure you’re presenting them in a way that relates back to the job requirements so you give the hiring manager an idea of how your skill set can be of use to the company.
5. Tap into your network
“It’s not what you know but who you know,” goes the saying. And while people certainly can land roles in companies where they have no connections, it helps to have someone put in a good word for you.
Alumni events are a good place to start as a recent university graduate, and so are career fairs — so, keep an eye out for any events in your area. LinkedIn is also an excellent platform to utilize when looking to make connections; just make sure to personalize your messages and actually interact with the people you add instead of sending out requests and never speaking with anyone.
Another great bit of advice is one shared by career expert Byron Slosar in an interview with CNBC Make It. He said: “Not every networking opportunity will present itself as a career opportunity.” In other words, sometimes you’ll meet people in unlikely places, like on the plane or at Starbucks, who can turn out to be great contacts that can help in your job search.
6. Develop your skill set in your free time
Reading books, downloading educational apps and watching online tutorials are all great ways to enhance your skills and knowledge. Although you’ve almost made a full-time job out of searching for work, it’s important to set time aside both to rest your mind and also to take steps towards boosting your candidate profile as much as possible.
Consider your target job roles. What do they typically entail? Is it excellent verbal communication, mathematical aptitude, conflict resolution or another ability you could benefit from brushing up on? With countless affordable and free resources online (including our very own blog!) you’ll be able to quickly learn anything you choose to.
7. Sign up for a course
I know what you’re thinking: “I just finished university. I never want to open another book in my life.” While it makes sense that you’re in need of a break, teaching yourself a new language or basic programming, for example, can prove useful down the line. Plus, it will give you something to keep your mind occupied with while waiting to hear back about the dozens of applications you sent out.
Pay attention to see what requirements appear most often on the job listings that interest you. Perhaps most of them require candidates to know how to use Photoshop, Facebook Ads Manager, Excel or some other software. Then, search for a course or certification program that suits your budget and proficiency level, and add a new skill to your toolkit.
Doing so will demonstrate initiative to your prospective employers, as well as a curious mind. And, according to a report by SAS Institute, 72% of managers globally consider curiosity to be a very valuable trait in staff members.
8. Do some voluntary work
Volunteering online or in your local community can sharpen your existing skills and allow you to acquire new ones. Plus, it can help you make new acquaintances who might just be able to help you find part-time or full-time work that interests you!
Besides increasing your employability, volunteering is also bound to have a positive impact on your mental and physical health. According to the University of Maryland Medical System, selfless work reduces your risk for anxiety and depression as it releases feel-good hormones like dopamine. So, if you’ve been feeling stressed about looking for work with no experience, volunteering can help you stay afloat.
9. Build your confidence
It makes sense that the longer you practice something, the more confident you become at it, right? So, it’s only logical that people who lack experience in a particular field often feel like they don’t have what it takes to kickstart their career successfully.
While you shouldn’t underestimate how fierce the competition can be and how long it can take to get hired in some cases, you shouldn’t underestimate yourself either. After all, if you don’t believe that you have what it takes to become a successful anything (whether that’s an animator, a tutor, a paralegal or anything in between), the hiring manager will pick up on that and their faith in you will diminish, too.
10. Be patient
Depending on where you live and what industry you’re looking to break into, it can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to get hired after graduating from college. The University of Washington reports that the average graduate needs three to six months to secure employment once completing their studies, and that more than 50% of all graduates are either unemployed or in roles that require no degree.
Although several months is a long time to wait, it can be reassuring to know that it’s not you; it’s the job market. So, as you keep practicing writing cover letters and attending interviews, consider taking another short course or finding a volunteer position to further enrich your skill set and expand your knowledge to boost your chances of being offered a position.
Business.com conducted an experiment in early 2023. It tracked its interns’ job applications and found that a good 90% of them failed to even trigger any form of response from employers. While this can be gut-wrenching to read when you’re struggling to get any responses back yourself, it’s helpful to have realistic expectations of the job searching process so that you don’t end up beating yourself up about things moving along slowly.
To summarize, when looking for work with no experience:
- Use a skills-based résumé to highlight your transferable skills and personal qualities.
- Always tailor your résumé by including terms from the job listing itself into your document.
- Practice, practice, practice — whether that’s answering common interview questions or using an educational app to enhance a particular skill.
- Invest in building your professional network. This will benefit your career, regardless of what stage you’re at.
- Be patient. Finding work with no experience takes time!
Can you think of any other useful tips for jobseekers with limited work experience? Share them with us in the comments section below.
Originally published on November 21, 2018.