Whether you’re fresh into the workplace or looking to change careers, landing that first job can be highly frustrating, especially if you don’t have the luxury of supporting yourself through work experience. Here we look at alternative routes for landing a job without experience
‘Can’t get a job without experience; can’t get experience without a job.’ For the emerging contemporary workforce, it’s an idiom that rings all too true as they discover that even the most decorated graduates are judged to fall short of the mark without practical knowledge to back up their grades. While academic institutions are (very) slowly changing to reflect the modern workplace, and more emphasis is being put on work experience, placements and internships, this still leaves a lost generation of workers in the middle of it all, struggling to find a job that will take them solely on schooling merit.
There’s no getting around the fact that experience is seen as paramount in the workplace. However, if you’re struggling to get a foothold on the ladder, there are several ways to either secure experience, or edge into your first role another way.
Lean on your contacts
It’s no secret business is built on connections, but you might be surprised to discover how few it takes to secure work through contacts. Do not make the mistake of thinking contacts are restricted to workers within your field – they are everyone you know, plus all their friends and family. Broadcast yourself and the work you’re looking for, and ask your friends to do the same, and if they know anyone who could help.
For the majority of jobs, casting your skill set out to your network might have a lower chance of finding someone in need of your talents, but a far higher chance of you getting the job should you find someone who does need it. By contrast, if you apply to a job in your field, you have a very high chance of finding someone in need of your skill, but a low chance of getting the job. In terms of supply and demand, in the former scenario you are putting in the legwork to overcome the shortfall in demand, and therefore become the lone supplier. In the latter situation the demand is still the same (one job) but there is a pool of potential suppliers for the employer to draw from.
In addition, the impact of personal recommendation is huge in the job market. Let’s look at it from the employer’s perspective. If someone they know is willing to vouch for you, even just in a personal sense, or additionally set up a scenario in which they will be ‘owed a favour’ by interviewing someone, that’s an immensely powerful argument to a recruiter who otherwise has nothing but a sea of CVs to go on.
Create your own work experience
Working for free isn’t an option available to most, but you can still create your own experience for the job you want during downtime. With the rise in self-publishing, some sectors like media now expect blogs, self-made videos and design work as standard, and with the rise of the ‘gig economy’ this trend is set to grow. For teachers, securing volunteer teaching or similar is a great way to build your CV, while even unskilled labourers are likely to get a good response from a local community post asking for work. Once you’ve completed the work, even if it’s for a personal project, even if it’s for a single day, ask them if they would provide a reference for a future employer. A bank of good references to draw from is ideal – plus it’s a great way of tacitly letting them know you’re looking for more work.
Social media is also a great way to showcase what you do to a wide range of friends, without boring them all to tears at every meeting. Post up recent successes, showcase what you do and make sure the world knows you’re a hot prospect who’s not yet snapped up. If you feel like it’s inappropriate or unwanted on your personal Facebook, go wild on LinkedIn!
Talk yourself up
As a fresh jobseeker, it’s unlikely you’re swimming in professional confidence, and this can take a hit every time you read a job description packed out with unfamiliar terminology. But that’s all it is – new words for familiar concepts. Get Googling and find the meaning of these alien idioms, but then go one further – incorporate them into your CV and your interview patter. While it might feel unnatural at first, speaking your industry’s language is a shortcut to saying ‘I belong’, and subconsciously communicates on-job experience, something your employer is bound to pick up on.
Additionally, any specific jargon acts a pointer to a significant concept within your sector. If it’s a concept that’s arisen enough to become worthy of its own moniker, it must be common or important within the industry and therefore worth relating your own skills to. For instance, if you keep turning up ‘B2B comms’ (business to business communications), try to come up with some good examples of how you’ve modified your manner, address and attitude to meet businesses on their own professional terms. If you keep seeing descriptions revolving around ‘face time’ (meetings in person), tune into this with an application that highlights your ability to hit it off with anyone.
Find the ground floor (or basement level)
Sometimes, getting an ‘in’ is as simple as setting your sights a little lower. If you’ve got specific training for (for example) an executive role, while you might face hefty competition for the job you’re trained for, you’re likely to be a solid candidate for the assistant position. And once you’ve got the requisite experience, you’ll have the roundedness to apply for that next executive position. The key with this route is to find your own boundaries and stick to them. Keep a handle on your own worth – use the role as experience and apply for executive roles as soon as they come up.
Landing your first job can feel like an uphill struggle – and one that comes as a shock to a lot of students. Essentially it all comes down to fostering connections, and making yourself stand out. While it might feel impossible, remind yourself – every worker in the world was once in your shoes. If they can do it, so can you!
‘How to get a job without experience” is the fourth in a series of 12 articles from Dovetail and Slate exploring issues faced by the recruitment sector.