At the start of your career or following a career change, it can feel like a Catch-22 situation: You can’t get hired without experience, but you can’t get experience without being hired.
Perseverance at this stage of your career is crucial. Very few people are in the position to do unpaid internships for months on end to get their foot in the door. Instead, many candidates are forced to look for temporary roles in other fields to make ends meet or simply to give up on their chosen career entirely.
So, what is the key to getting jobs with no experience? Luck certainly plays a part and personal connections can be hugely valuable, but what else can you do?
- Target realistic roles
If you don’t have relevant experience in your chosen field, the reality is that you’ll have to apply for roles right at the bottom of the ladder and work your way up. There’s certainly no shame in targeting entry-level and junior roles, which can both be character building and a great way to develop a knowledge of the role that new entrants at a higher level may not have. That will stand you in good stead as you work your way up through the organisation.
- Send out speculative applications
Are you targeting advertised roles but having no luck? Then try going straight to the employers that you’d love to work for. Sending out speculative applications can be an effective way to bypass the recruiters and get your CV in front of the people that matter. Even if you don’t have relevant experience, by showcasing the skills you do have effectively, you could create a positive first impression that will get you hired.
There’s a good chance that your application will go unanswered or that you’ll receive a ‘thanks but no thanks’ rejection letter, but don’t be deterred. Always research who the best person to write to is, link your strengths to the company’s requirements, explain why you’d love to work for the organisation and add that you’d be happy to consider work experience if there are no entry-level positions available.
- Emphasise the skills you do have
Don’t get hung up on the experience you don’t have. Instead, focus your CV or application on the skills and character traits that make you a great fit for the role. Soft skills such as communication, team working and attention to detail are transferable and are highly valued by all sorts of employers. If you lack experience in your chosen field then it’s important to acknowledge that, but use it an opportunity to demonstrate your passion for the role and your motivation to learn, as illustrated by the volunteering work, work placements and internships you’ve done.
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Before you decide you don’t have the experience that’s being asked for, make sure that’s true. While you may not have performed the exact task before, there’s a good chance you’ve done something similar in previous roles or while at university or college. Draw links between the relevant experience you have and the experience being asked for and include it in your application.
- Look for internships, work experience and volunteering opportunities
Some industries are so competitive that, even to get an entry-level position, you might have to consider working for free. Volunteering, work experience and internships (paid and otherwise) are all excellent opportunities to gain first-hand knowledge of a job or organisation and build useful contacts that could lead to a paid position.
Internships and work experience opportunities in many small and medium-sized enterprises may not be advertised, so it’s well worth sending speculative enquiries to organisations you’d like to work for. Larger organisations are more likely to have formal internship and work experience programmes you can apply for, so take a look at their websites to see what’s available.
- Search for jobs with no experience needed
There are positions in most industries and sectors where previous experience in a similar role will not be required. Simply running an internet search for ‘jobs with no experience required’ will return hundreds of results from legitimate job sites. Currently, there are 27 apprenticeships, 170 entry-level positions and 283 graduate roles advertised on Guardian Jobs. That includes everything from office administrators to support workers with the British Red Cross and apprentice data analysts.
- Develop your networks
The idea of who you know potentially being more important than what you know might not sit particularly well with you, but the reality is that a recommendation from a personal contact can go a long way.
Employers are more likely to overlook a gap in your experience if you are recommended by someone they know and trust. Attending careers fairs, networking events and contacting people you know, and even people you don’t know who work in your chosen industry, can be a great way to build those connections and potentially find a way in.
Stay busy and resilient
Trying to find a job with little or no experience isn’t easy, but rest assured that it’s something everyone has gone through. It’s all too easy to take the rejection personally and to retreat into yourself, but by volunteering, participating in community activities, being social and getting out in the world, opportunities will present themselves and you will find the right role for you.
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