It’s a classic catch-22: You need experience to get the job you want, but you can’t gain experience unless you get a job—or so you thought.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help bolster your standing with the hiring manager.
Melody Kruzic, senior career counselor at Capella University’s Career Center, provides six strategies for overcoming the “no experience” roadblock.
Offer your services to a volunteer organization that needs help in your intended job area—then include your volunteer accomplishments in a “Related Experience” section on your resume. You can “volunteer” at work, too. If you’re interested in project management, for example, offer to coordinate a project as part of your current role or as a stretch project.
“Sometimes people don’t realize that the volunteer work they’re already doing can help them,” Kruzic says. “We worked with a student who wanted to break into IT and was already volunteering at his church. We suggested that he volunteer his IT skills to not only help his resume, but his church, too.”
Kruzic notes that people who face a severe time crunch often worry about making a volunteer commitment. In that case, she suggests looking for remote volunteering options at Volunteer Match.
2. Network. Network.
“’Network’ is basically the answer to every career-based question I get,” says Kruzic. “Networking and volunteering are two very powerful approaches.”
She notes that employers today seem less willing to hire and train people who aren’t ready to jump in and do the job. “When people meet you in person, they’ll see what you have to offer,” she says. “When someone gets to know you and sees what you can do, they can become an advocate for you to an employer.”
Informational interviews are a great way to make that happen. By setting up informal meetings with people in your intended field, you can understand your new industry better, get insights on potential employers, and make connections that could lead to a position.
Kruzic also strongly recommends joining your field’s professional associations and becoming active in them. “Don’t wait until you’re already employed in the field,” she says. “Becoming a member right away shows initiative and motivation. Plus you can learn a ton from people in the field, including the culture of various employers and whether or not they’d be a good fit.”
3. Focus on transferable skills.
Identify the skills you have that are relevant to the new position. Showcase these on your resume, in networking conversations, and throughout the interview. For instance, if you’re interested in entering the human resources field, highlight any training, interviewing, and employee relations skills you’ve acquired even if it wasn’t the primary focus of the position.
“People often don’t understand that they have transferable skills,” Kruzic says. “One Capella student who was making a career change from sales to college admissions thought the skills gap would be difficult to overcome. But by looking more closely at the skills that had made her successful in sales, it was clear that there were traits that would also be valuable in the admissions field, including communication skills, interest development, and a working knowledge of how to close a deal.”
4. Highlight related educational experiences.
Show how your education applies to the specific job you want. If you developed and implemented a training program as part of a college course, include it in an “Education Projects” section on your resume and in an interview response. If you’re still in school, select course projects that will allow you to showcase skills that are related to the work you want to do. “Academic projects count,” says Kruzic. “Never hesitate to promote them on a resume.”
5. Emphasize what’s unique about you.
Employers want job candidates with field-specific qualities (in project management, for example, these might include attention to detail and effective communication). Understand the key attributes in your field, and show others how you’ve demonstrated them in the past. While you’re at it, make sure potential employers and networking contacts understand your passion and enthusiasm about the field you’re trying to enter.
6. Showcase your accomplishments.
As you gain new experiences, collect work and academic samples and professional documentation that demonstrate your skills, education, volunteer accomplishments, and more. Showing proof of your accomplishments on LinkedIn, a personal website, or portfolio is an effective way to set yourself apart from other candidates. Be sure to update them frequently, as an out-of-date portfolio or LinkedIn profile can be detrimental to your job prospects.
Kruzic notes that these steps all take time and energy, and each one has to be an ongoing effort. “It’s a lot of work,” she says. “It’s not an overnight process. Focus on the long game, not the short game.”
A lack of experience is an obstacle, but it’s one you can overcome—by taking action. Use these suggestions to help set yourself up for success in the job market.
The Capella University Career Center counselors, resources, and tools help students and alumni manage their careers at every stage and move toward the careers they want.