Nobody needs to repeat how difficult it is these days for young college graduates to find a job. But there’s also the matter of how hard it is for young people to get jobs when they couldn’t afford to go to college, for older people looking to switch careers, or even for teenagers searching for their first part-time job.
The fact of the matter is many people in many different situations find themselves to be hard to employ because of this vague concept of experience, that mythical thing you can only get if you already have some.
While this is especially a problem in modern times, it’s been a problem in some capacity for quite a while. The people who have managed to overcome it always did so by finding creative ways to get around it, either by getting experience in unlikely places or by selling themselves so well the matter of experience became irrelevant. There are a few methods for going about this, and each might work better for some than for others, but here are some tricks people have been using for decades.
Get whatever experience you can. This could actually be tips 1A and 1B, though the bigger issue is do you lack relevant experience or any work experience?
If you need more relevant experience, think of where you want to eventually be in your career and brainstorm all the ways you can get there. You might realize there’s a road-less-traveled that can get you where you want to go.
For example, do you want to work for a specific company? Maybe you’re already qualified for a different role there? Perhaps you can get yourself in the door, even if it’s with a job unrelated to what you want to do. Then you can gain an understanding of the hierarchy of the company and learn how to navigate yourself within it. If you can figure out how to network with your co-workers, you might be able to switch lanes while you’re already on the right road.
Others, however, have a nearly-blank résumé altogether. This can be a problem for recent college graduates, returning veterans, or teenagers whose parents are forcing them to get a job. Many, many companies would be skeptical to hire someone who has no experience in a work environment, regardless of their education or reason for a lack of work.
But then there are the companies that have lowly positions needed to be filled and they’ll take anybody. This may be the longest and hardest road to take, but it’s the one with the most tangible results: getting a crummy job, excelling at it, and using that experience to get yourself into progressively less- and less-crummy jobs, either within that organization or from other companies who are impressed by how you took your job seriously when others would not have.
This won’t be an option for everyone since some people don’t have time to wade their way through below-living-wage jobs before they unlock something comfortable, but this is fundamentally the tried-and-true way to build a resume from scratch.
GAMING THE SYSTEM
When you’re employed in one spot but you would rather be in another, see what you can still get out of your current position that can make your goal easier to attain. Much like the strategy of getting a job you don’t necessarily want at a company you do want to work for, you might be able to have some mobility at your current company to switch to a role more like your dream job. That way, while you may not have experience doing what you want to do, you’ll be able to show experience doing something similar with an overlapping skillset.
Your experience also doesn’t necessarily have to only be “work” work. You can boost your credentials by taking certification courses, or you could do volunteer work to gain relevant skills. These, like your education, aren’t quite as powerful as work experience, but they do matter, and they can add up.
Also like your education, don’t milk them on your résumé, but don’t downplay them either. Rather, present the highlights as icing on the cake. If you haven’t worked in this field, think about what you have done with your time and what you’ve learned from it, and be ready to prove it.
THE EXTRA STEP?
Now here’s a tough question: whatever it is you want to do for a living, do you love it enough to do it for free? This is a twofold question: do you already have demonstrable experience doing this on your own time and are you willing to start as an intern if it means you’ll get to do what you enjoy?
For the first part, self-guided experience shows drive and determination – not to mention how well it would come across if they think the work is good – and can be another major bargaining chip for getting a job.
The second question poses a tough decision to make on the grounds of if working for free is a desirable or even feasible option. But the fact of the matter is companies want to keep their profit margins as wide as they can, so if you can do good work for them while saving them some money, they might like you and bring you on board as a full-fledged employee.
This is still a gamble as it means not making money for an extended period of time while working for a company which is under no obligation to ever actually promote you. But if you’re shrewd and confident this company is going to take a liking to you, then that might not seem like a prospect worth worrying about.
MAKE THEM NEED TO WANT YOU
When it comes time for applying, know the company and know the position. Is the position you’re looking for one you’re just a little underqualified for or is it one a bit out of your league?
For some companies, the requested experience in job postings is just their flexible preference, while for others it’s a strict minimum. Experts still disagree on whether sending applications for higher positions is an “it doesn’t hurt to try” sort of thing or if it would not only be a waste of time, but would also damage your reputation in the eyes of that company (and it might even spread from there).
This all begs the question: do you think you really are capable of the role and you can convince them of that? A trendy new start-up and an old-guard traditional business might give you very different answers to that question.
But whether you’re taking the long road of building experience or if you’re just going to try to work with what you already have, the key to moving up the ladder or across fields is to sell yourself. It’s statistically very unlikely any given person has exactly zero desirable qualities. If you don’t have skills that directly relate to the job, play up the life skills and personality traits that would make someone want to hire you anyway.
Convince them you’re a hard worker, or a self-starter, or a problem solver, and give them specific examples of when you demonstrated those qualities, so they don’t think you’re just making it up. This goes for both your cover letter in applications as well as the interview process. The most valuable thing you can do is make somebody want you to work with them.
…And I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt to throw in that you know Microsoft Word and most of your high-school Spanish.