What Can I Do if I Don’t Have Job Experience?

So what is all the fuss over experience – and why do employers set it as a requirement for various positions they wish to fill?

How do I get experience – and even more importantly, how can I break into a field if I don’t have traditional experience in that field? 

Why do employers ask for experience when they hire?

If you are changing careers or coming out of school, these questions are likely on your mind. So let’s look first at what employers are really asking for when they experience.

One thing we know about learning is that actively participating in an experience is the ultimate teacher. You may learn about things, but until you actually do the tasks necessary to accomplish something, your ability has limits. We also know that many mistakes happen early while the person is in a learning curve. So employers use experience as a general indicator of a candidate’s ability to do a job.

Given those realities, when employers ask for experience, what they really want is:

  • To feel comfortable that the candidate knows how to do the job and can get “up to speed” fairly quickly
  • To see that you have demonstrated skills relevant to the job.

Employers are not interested only in you performing the job task, they also want to see evidence of those “soft” skills that are needed to succeed:

  • To avoid having to do expensive up-front training
  • To avoid the “beginner’s” mistakes

If you can convince the employer of your ability to do the job, your lack of experience will likely not be an issue.

So how do I convince the employer?

It’s about skills. Every job requires several skill sets. And skills are transferrable! So start by identifying the skills the job is likely to require and then take a look at the skills you have. If there is a reasonable match, you may be a good candidate for the job – even if you have never held a similar position.

Here are some of the traditional ways of getting experience – think beyond your job titles.

  • Other jobs. Take a lower paying job that requires you to use the skill set you want to develop for a higher position. Never take the attitude that you are “too good” for any job. That may cause you to lose out on valuable learning experiences.
  • Volunteer. Volunteer experience can provide skill levels every bit as valuable as paid work – and in addition, volunteering demonstrates your character in a way that employers are likely to find attractive in an employee.
  • Career Services. Take advantage of services offered at your school or at the Idaho Department of Labor.
  • Internships. Often businesses are willing to provide experience and training.
  • Military. If you are considering the military, you will, of course, consider the commitment involved – but these are great organizations in which to participate – and you will come out with a wide variety of skill sets.
  •  Student Leadership Opportunities. As a student you have many opportunities to take a leadership role in your school’s activities. Take advantage of the chances available to develop your leadership skills.
  • Clubs and Organizations. Participating in club activities allows you to put your skills to work on a regular basis and develop many new skills.
  • Work as a Temp. Working as a temp in various organizations is really a unique opportunity to both develop a wide range of skills and sample different organizations or types of organizations. It is likely to help you understand what kinds of organizations are a” good fit” for you.

The list above identifies some of the traditional sources of experience. Here are some of the more creative ways:

  • Work with an Expert/ Job Shadow.  If you can locate someone who does the kind of job you want and obtain a mentor even for one day, you will learn a lot. Hone your observation skills, watch what they do and how they do it, ask intelligent questions,  learn the lingo.
  • Develop Your Inner Entrepreneur. Develop your own idea. Plan and conduct a project either to make extra money or to provide assistance to others. Create your own experience if others will not provide if for you.
  • Participate in Field Studies/ Conduct Research. Have you been a participant in field studies or done research as a part of your education.What skills did you develop as a result?
  • Learn from a Coach. Have you participated in a team sport or any organized activities?What skills did you develop through those kinds of activities?
  •  Informational Interviews. These interviews are conducted with someone doing the kind of job you are targeting. Ask him what tasks he does, what skills he needs, how he got started. Which of those skills do you have?
  • Take Lessons. Have you studied music, dance, taken golf lessons, marched in the band, learned to ice skate? What skills were involved in learning and participating in those activities?

What should I do about my resume if I have no work experience?

Think about it – everyone has to start somewhere. The purpose of putting your work experience on your resume is to provide a potential employer with a level of confidence that you will be able to perform the tasks required in a job with. Experience proves your competence. However, another viable approach is to point out your potential. Here are some ways you can show potential:

  • Show a Genuine Interest in the Field. If you have never joined a club or organization related to the field you want to work in – do that now. Volunteer to do tasks related to your field. Point out the courses you have taken related to the field. Read journals, articles and web pages related to your field.
  • Demonstrate a Clear Direction on Your Resume. It is important that your resume shows what you are looking for. Tailor your resume to the position for which you area applying. Don’t send out generic resumes designed for broad categories. You can show direction by writing a short and clear objective statement. Identify the job you are seeking.
  • Use Youth to Your Advantage. It is true that you may be competing for a job with experienced professionals. Give the employer a reason to consider a “new professional.” Those experienced workers may have more demands on their time and energy. Highlight your flexibility. And highlight the skills you have that relate to the most current technology. Individuals who have been in the workforce for several years may not be as knowledgeable as you are about current trends and technologies. Use any courses  that may make you stand out. Employees with a global perspective are particularly desired in today’s workplace.

Remember, it’s not about you – it’s about them.  Focus on the job and show that you are a good match. In many cases employers will want to hire “new professionals” – those with little experience but with potential. These new employees are often able to learn quickly, gain new skills and adjust to new work environments – all qualities that are attractive to an employer.