How to Get Hired if You Don’t Have Experience

A reader writes….   In my search for a job, I’ve found that most employers want some sort of work reference or are interested in hearing about my “experience” on the job.  How do you get your foot in the door with a company if you don’t have experience?

Dear “Inexperienced,”

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could be like “Samantha” from the classic TV show Bewitched and simply wriggle your nose and “POOF” all of your problems could be solved?  Unfortunately, in the real world, challenges don’t get resolved like in a 30-minute sitcom. In reality, companies want to see references from past employers, and resumes need to be packed with skills and/or related EXPERIENCE.  Sigh.

For those of you fresh out of college or in the midst of a career change, this becomes an issue.  But fear not my inexperienced friends… there ARE ways to get around this!

1.  What can you do for them.  When composing a cover letter,  writing a resume, or even answering interview questions, it’s important that you highlight your strengths, but rather than emphasizing, “I can do this,” or “I am good at that…” focus on the job itself and how you’re a good match for the COMPANY’S needs.  Remember, as much as we’d like to think businesses “care” about us….  What they really want to know is what you can do for them.  Specifically, if you say something like, “I want to learn” (seems pretty innocent, right?), businesses may shy away from you because they’d rather consider someone who will roll up their sleeves and actively contribute to their goals.  Now, that’s not to say you can’t share that you’re a “fast learner” – just be ready to offer concrete examples.

2. Do your homework. Maybe you haven’t worked in a particular industry (or anywhere for that matter), but you have a solid interest in a certain business niche.  Using today’s social media outlets, there are ample opportunities to get involved with industry experts online.  For example, you’ll find various discussion boards on sites like LinkedIn where you can post comments or articles on a subject.  Contributing constructive content on certain subjects – then sharing that information with a potential employer – shows your passion and interest in what they do. You’re clearly demonstrating that you’ve researched their business (or industry), are well versed on key topics, and can offer input or even solutions… even though you haven’t officially started working in the field yet.  This would be impressive to me if I were doing the hiring!

 3.  Internships. Though sometimes not glamorous and often unpaid… internships or volunteer work in a related field are a great way to build up your resume.  When I was in college, I knew that my minimum wage job at a local restaurant wasn’t going to land me a career right after graduation.  I needed to sign up for as many internships as possible – some even gave me college credit.  From volunteering my time in fast-paced government offices to dreading the long (boring) hours at a small non-profit organization…  I did it and it paid off.  Suddenly, my friends who chose to party every chance they had wished they had something to include in their so-called “resume.” I at least had 3 or 4 “experiences” with references that I could include.

4.  Consider trying out some temp jobs.  More than ever, companies are turning to temporary staffing firms to help them fill their open positions.  In many cases, jobs that start off as “temporary” evolve into full-time permanent placements – what a great way to get your foot in the door at a specific company or in a specific industry! Be warned (but not discouraged) that most temporary staffing agencies ALSO require at least two employment references.  This is where internships, food service jobs, or anything retail plays a key role.  While these positions may or may not be relevant to your ultimate career choice… they are essential indicators of your work ethic and performance on the job.  If you haven’t already,  apply online at Select Staffing – it’s FREE and could be your ticket to employment!

5.  Don’t get caught up in the detail.  Just because a job posting may include a huge laundry list of requirements or desired qualifications, it doesn’t mean the employer expects to find someone who resembles each and every point.  More often than not, a job posting is simply outlining what’s considered to be the “dream candidate” for the position.   Now, if it specifically says, “Must have ‘x’ number of years working in a specific trade or industry,” then the job may not be a good fit for you at this time.  Remember, if you’re starting “fresh” in a new industry or field… you need to be ready to accept an entry-level position.  On the other hand, it’s true that certain “requirements” or skills can be taught – but finding the right personality or behavioral traits is sometimes more important.  People want to work with others they can get along with.

My concluding thoughts:  be honest, stay positive, be resourceful, and DON’T give up!

If anyone has additional comments or suggestions, please post them here.  We’d LOVE to hear from you!


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  14. dodong
    May 26, 2013 @ 09:55:31

    Dang! im in the same boat. the only job “experience” i have is a nursing volunteer work in a hospital. ive been unemployed for 3 years due to bad luck and the dirty bureaucracy in the govt. (i live in a 3rd world country btw) Iv’e applied for several govt jobs but i’d always flunk coz i never knew someone in the “inside”. Iv’e had health problems and a major surgery which made me miss a lot of opportunities. Anyways now that i am applying for jobs i obviously CANNOT in any way tell the interviewers about my awful and pathetic life story just like what i did here. i just can’t find the right answers to the repetitive (and often annoying) questions of these people.
    Where then shall i gain experience if no one would give me a chance to gain one? THey just won’t believe me when i say i can do this and that for them (even a gazzilion times better than other people) just coz i dont have a piece of paper to back it up. DANG! such has taken my entire sense of self worth away.


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    I think most of us would feel that it was too dangerous to proceed.
    The butcher would always give you some idea of one of America’s greatest heroes.


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Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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