How do you get a job with no experience?
You have finally decided what career path you want to take. But every job requires experience. And you can’t get experience without a job.
I know how it feels.
Currently, I am on my fourth career change. Yup, fourth. It’s not that I am indecisive. But as my life has evolved, so has what I want.
Gone are my training, project management and secondary school teaching days. Gone are the days where I’m priming myself for the next rung of the career ladder.
These days, I think about what lifestyle I want. And work backwards from that.
I make it happen by having a portfolio career. I’m a freelance writer, educator and musician. And it works.
So, how did I get new jobs without any experience?
I’ve worked with clients who want to make a career change, but don’t know what to switch to.
I’ve also worked with clients who do know what they want but have no idea how to go about it.
The thing they all had in common is that they underestimated their existing skills set.
Step 1: Believe in yourself.
1. Think About Transferable Skills
Transferable skills. We all have them.
When I qualified from university, I had no professional experience to shout about.
But I did get all my assignments in on time. That proved that I could meet hard deadlines. I had malaria two weeks before my final exams. I still took them. That demonstrated my resilience. Achieving top marks in group projects showcased my team working skills.
Regardless of your professional history, you have transferable skills.
Shine a spotlight on them.
A great way to do this is to draw up a table like the one below.
On the left, list all of the typical requirements of a job vacancy. Be as detailed as possible.
On the right, map your experience to them. No-one but you will look at this. So stretch if you need to.
If some boxes on the right-hand side column are blank, don’t worry. Use your inexperience to show your motivation to learn. If you can prove that you are a fast learner, then say it.
2. Be Proactive About Getting Experience
You may not get well-paid experience (you might not even get paid), but you can seek opportunities to gain some.
But a word of advice. If you are going for a career change, don’t quit your old job before having a plan.
One of my clients, Rosalind had been a teacher for over twenty-five years. She wanted a career change into adult education. But she had no experience. And she had a mortgage to pay.
Together, we looked for local adult education centres.
She got in touch with them and asked whether she could volunteer for a couple of evenings a week. Of course, they said yes.
Rosalind gained relevant experience without putting herself or family at risk.
Plus, her teaching experience was an asset to the adult education centre. Simply through volunteering, she established contacts who could recommend her and provide references.
If you are not sure what career to switch to, try taking some career tests.
Here are some free online tools:
- Sokanu – career matching through quick-fire questions. Warning: takes a while.
- Career-Test – a quick series of multiple choice questions.
- Prospects – their career planner and job match tools use your skills and motivations.
If you are in a position where you do not need to earn, look for apprenticeships and internships.
Internships are offered by some companies. They offer an insight into the main components of a job. Usually, they are not paid positions.
Apprenticeships tend to be longer term than internships. Usually, the company who employs you will pay you and train you according to their guidelines.
3. Start Networking
Networking isn’t just for entrepreneurs. And it isn’t about schmoozing.
Sometimes, who you know can be just as valuable as what you know.
I found a great way of transitioning into my freelance career, was by building a professional network of like-minded people on LinkedIn.
Don’t leave your past behind though. Ask for recommendations from previous employers, colleagues and teachers. You could even ask for recommendations from family and friends. A testimonial can go a long way.
Social media can be an effective way of building your professional network. Join Facebook groups. Follow influential Twitterers.
Another great tip is to sign up for some forums. Sharing your trials and tribulations with others could result in gaining some useful tips. And contacts.
An example of a forum is Overclockers UK. You can see on this thread, people are discussing their career-change journeys.
4. Balance Ambition With Realism
There’s nothing wrong with being ambitious. But if you don’t have any experience, then aim realistically.
Note, that I use the word realistically. Not low.
Being realistic about your goals isn’t the same as aiming low.
For instance, when I switched from IT Training to Project Management, it was a big jump. But not an unrealistic one. I had managed training projects. So project management was a natural extension of my skills.
Your aim right now is to gain experience. Even if you don’t start your dream job, you need to invest your time in getting there.
What if you are not sure what level you should be aiming for?
The skills matching process I showed you in the Transferable Skills section should help.
Find a range of jobs and do this exercise with each one. You will soon see which ones you are over-qualified for, under-qualified for, and which ones are just right.
Making some speculative applications is also a useful way of trying your luck at getting jobs with no experience.
What I mean by this, is find companies you would like to work for. Even if they do not have suitable vacancies, write to them. You never know, if they like you, they might create a job for you.
Here’s a five-step method to make a speculative application:
- List some companies that interest you.
- Create a tailored CV and cover letter.
- Find out who the hiring manager is and address him/her personally in your letter.
- Ask whether there are any entry-level positions available.
- Follow up by calling them to check that they received your application.
You might find that you get very few responses. But even if you do not get a job out of it, you should get useful feedback.
5. Is Applying Anyway A Waste or Investment Of Time?
I’ve talked about ways to gain experience and making speculative applications.
But the golden question I want to ask you is this. If you find a job where the competition is high, should you apply? What about if you find one that requires different experience to yours?
I wouldn’t advise applying to every single job you come across. Given the time it takes to prepare a tailored application, this could be a waste of time.
Also, you risk damaging your personal brand. What do I mean by this?
Well, your applications might land on the laps of the same recruiters. Or even employers. If they are bombarded by applications to unsuitable jobs for you, they’ll remember you – for the wrong reason.
Think of it as a form of spamming.
But, what if you come across an entry-level position but don’t meet all the requirements?
I’d go for it anyway.
You see, any employer looking to hire someone at that level, won’t be expecting vast amounts of experience.
So if you apply for an entry-level position, chances are that the competition won’t be as fierce. Which increases your chance of success. Also, they will want someone who is adaptable and ready to learn.
6. You Are A Leader
You may not have been a manager or supervisor in your past life.
But you do have leadership skills.
Whether you have set personal goals, met deadlines for large projects or project managed a house move, you can demonstrate leadership skills.
The very fact that you are working hard to enter a new career demonstrates self-leadership.
Shout about it!
Don’t just mention what qualification you attained. Write about how it impacted your professional development. Talk about how it helped you develop as a person.
Be proud of being curious about new jobs – it shows you are open to change. A crucial trait for entering a new career.
7. Arm Yourself With Skills And Qualifications
Nowadays there are many online paths you can take to retrain or refresh existing skills.
Lynda.com is a great website. It hosts a huge library of training courses. Some of them are certified. Once you have completed them, you can add them to your LinkedIn profile.
If your chosen career path allows it, try to gain some freelance experience. After all, showing an employer what you can do, is more effective than telling them.