It’s the worst paradox: You need a job to get work experience, but every job seems to require work experience. This can be frustrating for early job seekers who want to get their foot in the door.
So, can you even land a job without work experience? The short answer is yes — but not without a fine-tuned job search strategy. We talked to human resources and leadership experts to get some of the best tips.
Craft a Unique Resume
Your resume is the first thing a hiring manager will see when you apply. But what do you put on it if you don’t have any work experience?
Professional work experience isn’t the only thing you can put on a resume, especially when starting out. For example, suppose you’ve done volunteer work, extracurricular activities, school projects, or internships. In that case, chances are you’ve developed valuable hard and soft skills you can bring with you to your first work experience.
“Think about how these experiences have helped you develop skills that are relevant to the job you’re applying for,” Michelle Hague, HR manager at Solar Panels Network USA, says. “For example, if you’re applying for a job that requires excellent communication skills, you could highlight a time when you led a team project and successfully communicated with everyone involved.”
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You don’t need precisely the same experience the job description asks for to be qualified for the role. For example, if you’re applying for a customer-facing sales role, your experience working at an ice cream shop can be valuable because you have to deal with customers daily.
“You need to tie [your experience] into the job description and what they’re looking for,” Olga Eippert, director of people operations at Forage, says. “It’s all about how you tell the story.”
Skills you’ve learned from coursework and certifications are relevant for applications, too. For instance, if you’re looking for a journalism job and took a course in data journalism, you can include data analytics and data-driven reporting in your skillset.
Looking to level up your skills? Learn from top companies with one of Forage’s virtual work experience programs.
Don’t Be Shy
Don’t be afraid to reach out to and leverage your network. Of course, your network isn’t just people you have a professional relationship with. It can be a friend of a friend, your cousin, or a classmate. Whoever it is, it doesn’t hurt to reach out to them with a polite, kind request.
“In that message, say you are now looking for a job and would welcome any help or ideas about who you could approach,” Victoria Tomlinson, the chief executive of Next-Up, says. “This is a numbers game. The more people you contact, the more there is a chance they could know of a job.”
Your message might be mutually beneficial.
“It’s not that you’re bothering them, but you might actually do them a favor,” Eippert says. “Many companies have a referral program. If you’re successfully hired, they might get a referral bonus.”
Apply to the Right Jobs
It’s a running (and cruel) joke that many entry-level jobs online say you need much more experience than an entry-level job should require. This is frustrating, and it means you’ll need to pay more attention to the exact details of the job requirements.
Image credit: @jordan_stratton / Twitter
- Filter for entry-level jobs. While not all entry-level positions listed will be truly entry-level roles (requiring little-to-no experience), this gives you a starting point to filter for jobs that aren’t looking for already established professionals. Include roles that require one-to-two years of experience — these count as entry-level jobs, too.
- Apply if you have at least 60% of the requirements. Employers often list requirements as a “wish list,” not a bare minimum. Apply if you have most of the core requirements. “Don’t feel discouraged by just looking at the job description and feel like, ‘oh no, this is what they need, and I don’t have all of it,’” Eippert says. “There’s hardly ever anyone who ticks off all the boxes.”
- Look for roles that want you to submit test work or samples. Rather than explaining your experience and knowledge, you’ll be able to demonstrate your skills on tests or sample work.
Show Your Intent
When hiring for entry-level roles, employers are looking for motivated employees who are willing to learn rather than employees with a wealth of experience.
“When hiring someone with no experience, I care more about soft skills, like confidence, eagerness to learn, and a self-starter attitude,” Doug Arms, COO of The TemPositions Group of Companies, says. “Essentially, I need to know that if I give the person a task that they are unfamiliar with, that they will gladly take it on, get the appropriate guidance, and will try to figure it out on their own.”
Show your intent by coming to the interview well-rehearsed and prepared. You’ll stick out from the crowd if you’ve already researched the company, the role, and its mission, and ask relevant, meaningful questions during the interview.
Believe in Yourself
Above all, you’ll need confidence in yourself that you can and will get a job without work experience.
“You really have to believe that good things will happen,” Eippert says. “Even if you apply and get a lot of nos and rejections, don’t take it personally. It just means this job wasn’t for you. Maybe it wasn’t the right fit or the right time. Something better is waiting for you.”
The Bottom Line
So, can you really get a job without any work experience? While it may require more work during the application process — including optimizing your resume, applying for the right roles, networking, and showing you’re a motivated candidate — it’s definitely possible.
“That’s how we all got started,” Eippert says. “We all have to get our foot in the door somehow.”
Looking for ways to jumpstart your career? Check out these nine ways to get work experience without an internship.