How Do I Get a Job Without Experience?

Last Updated on September 14, 2023 by Robert Porter

Hello everyone! Today, I'm excited to present valuable career insights from Sarah Landrum. Sarah is not only a renowned freelance writer and career blogger, but she's also the brains behind Punched Clocks, a leading blog dedicated to career satisfaction and achievement.

One piece of advice from Sarah that truly resonates with me is her perspective on how employers interpret "experience". Don't miss out on her insights!

Sarah Landrum
This is Sarah, founder of Punched Clocks.

How to Overcome the Experience Gap

The New York Times recently highlighted the challenges facing young professionals today. With rising college debts and declining median pay and net worth, millennials constitute a significant portion of the unemployed. Furthermore, the notion of an "entry-level" job is changing, as most now demand 2-3 years of prior experience.

This places recent graduates in a vexing paradox: they need experience to get hired, but can't gain that experience without a job. So, how can you navigate this dilemma and bridge the gap between your resume and your true potential?

Education Is Not Experience

The disparity between the skills of recent graduates and what employers expect has become a prominent issue. Recent studies indicate that a significant number of employers believe new graduates lack marketplace-ready skills.

While there's ongoing debate about the cause — be it the education system's shortcomings or inflated employer expectations — the takeaway is clear: a degree alone doesn't hold the prestige it once did.

Given this, focusing predominantly on academic achievements in your resume might not be the best strategy. When job hunting, present your academic milestones concisely: your institution, your performance, and your key learnings.

Find Your Own Experience

A study by the Chronicle of Higher Education involving over 50,000 employers revealed a striking trend: managers value practical experiences like internships, part-time jobs during college, and volunteer work more than they do the relevance of coursework, college GPA, or even the prestige of the institution.

However, valuing experience over academic achievements doesn't imply you need to work numerous unpaid positions to gain credibility.

What's crucial is showcasing your skills beyond just holding a degree. This could be through job experiences, volunteering, military service, or even initiatives like launching a Kickstarter campaign.

Often, the key to securing your ideal position might be the "show-don't-tell" approach. If you wish to be hired for a particular role, demonstrate your capability by venturing into it independently.

For instance, aiming for a social work position? Consider volunteering at a shelter or mentoring as a Big Brother or Sister. Eyeing a PR specialist role? Build and flaunt your personal brand on platforms like Twitter. And for aspiring writers, maintaining an active blog with fresh content can be your ticket in. Because, ultimately…

Remember: Skills Pay the Bills

Here's a crucial insight: when employers ask for "experience", they're essentially seeking "skills". They're keen to understand if you have the necessary competencies for the job and, importantly, tangible achievements to back that up.

If your resume doesn’t showcase direct job-related experience, pivot to highlighting your skill set. Begin with a general category (e.g., "graphic design") and then delve into specifics (e.g., "Proficient in Adobe Photoshop, Flash, AIR").

In addition, prioritize showcasing vital soft skills like leadership and critical thinking. Research indicates that employers often value these as much as technical skills, if not more.

Your primary aim? Emphasize your top attributes and validate them with real-world examples. Claim to be a "dedicated professional"? Substantiate it. Mentioning accolades like being the 'Employee of the Month' at Wal-Mart might not land you a marketing role directly, but when cited to demonstrate your dedication or commitment, it carries weight.

This brings us to the next important aspect…

Practice Creative Contextualization

Misrepresenting facts on a resume is a grave mistake, and embellishing isn't far behind. While fabrications can swiftly lead you to the door, a creative presentation of genuine experiences can be your ticket inside.

If there are areas on your resume that seem sparse, evaluate all your experiences - memberships in clubs, attended events, and even weekend passions. Ask yourself, "How does this activity shape my capabilities, and how can I frame it relevantly for a job?"

Take soccer, for instance. At face value, it may seem unrelated to IT. Yet, if you've coached a team or coordinated a local league, that can be portrayed as a testament to your leadership skills.

Still skeptical? Consider Stephen Gillett, a level 70 paladin and guild-leader in World of Warcraft. He confidently incorporated his gaming leadership into his resume, a decision he believes helped him secure the Chief Information Officer role at Starbucks.

Ignore the Requirements

My top recommendation for navigating the experience gap is straightforward: don't fixate on it. Always bear in mind that job listings are penned by individuals, and rarely by someone who actually performs that role.

So, when you see "1-2 years’ experience preferred" for an entry-level marketing role, it's not a stringent criterion to deter someone with just 9 months of experience. Instead, it's a general guideline meant to outline a desired candidate profile. You don't have to align perfectly with every specification to secure an interview.

Ultimately, employers boil their concerns down to two primary questions:
Can you execute the job effectively, and do you have evidence to back it up?

Sarah Landrum stands out as a distinguished freelance writer and a seasoned career blogger. She pioneered "Punched Clocks", a leading platform dedicated to fostering career fulfillment and achievement. For insightful tips and updates, subscribe to her newsletter and engage with her on social channels. Connect with Sarah on Twitter at @SarahLandrum.