Whether you’re a recent grad or a career changer, there’s a common catch-22 that comes with embarking on a new occupation: You can’t get a job without experience, but you can’t get experience without a job.
How many of us have said, “I’ve got the brains and the know-how, I just need the chance to prove it and start building my experience”? Today our guest blogger Wendy N. Powell, author of “Management Experience Acquired: Necessary Skills for Successfully Managing Any Employee” (Synergy Books, May 2010), tackles this nagging issue. Powell has spent more than 20 years of her career advising managers at the University of Michigan and is currently on the business faculty at Palm Beach State College and the University of Phoenix. Here’s her advice for this common conundrum:
When you need experience to get experience
By Wendy N. Powell, author of “Management Experience Acquired: Necessary Skills for Successfully Managing Any Employee”
One of the most common questions from job candidates is “How can I get experience when jobs require experience?” Overcoming this “career catch-22,” however, is within your reach; the key is preparation. Here are some tips to land a job without experience, whether you are a new grad or changing careers.
1. Evaluate yourself
Are you truly ready to search for a job or do you need to spend time catching up on current work trends? Perform a critical and honest personal audit of your style and skills. Think about the type of employee you want to be and list the qualities that come to mind. This list will help you discover any issues that you need to work on prior to your pursuit of a job. Once you have addressed these issues, you will move ahead with your search with more confidence. To employers, confidence translates to readiness for the job.
2. Stay current
The good news for new grads is that many hiring managers place considerable importance on current learning experiences. Because conditions change and techniques evolve, a recently conferred degree often holds more weight than a degree received years ago. If you have contemporary learning experiences that relate to what the company needs, explain what you have learned and how you can apply that knowledge to their company.
The bad news for career-changers is that earning a degree doesn’t mean you get to stop learning! Always read about the current issues in the profession(s) of your choice and have a plan in case your present career choice doesn’t work out. You might even consider taking classes at a local college to learn new methods and technologies. If you keep abreast of modern business practices in your desired field, you will be well-prepared to describe how your experiences will contribute to the success of an employer.
3. Do your homework
As you should do in any job hunt, research the company and identify the specific requirements for the position in which you are interested. Before you submit your résumé for a job, find out what the company does and how they do it. Once you understand this information, you will be better able to relate and apply your knowledge and experience from school or a different field of work to the needs of the company.
4. Find a role model
Choose someone whom you admire at work or school and ask that person for guidance in modeling your chosen professional behaviors. Most people will be pleased and willing to help, as imitation is flattery. Emulate the employee you want to be and be ready to demonstrate these traits in searching for a job.
Use this experience as preparation to respond to behavioral questions in the interview process. Employers ask questions such as, “What would you do in these circumstances?” and “What have you done when this type of situation has happened in your workplace?” With prior consideration and the example set by your mentor, your responses will be well-practiced and sharp.
5. Donate your time
Yes, I am suggesting you work for free. No, I am not suggesting you quit school or your current job to do so. Plenty of companies, nonprofits in particular, are more than happy to accept the free labor of someone without copious amounts of related experience. Are you an accountant hoping to break into advertising? Volunteer a few evenings a week to put together a small campaign for a local charity. Unfortunately, new grads often don’t have an income to support them while they search for a job. Sometimes, it might be beneficial in the long run to take a position short of your dream job while you earn valuable experience in an internship or volunteer position.
Don’t forget, the selection process is a place for you to shine. Be ready to explain why you are the best candidate for the job, whether it is a career change or a new business endeavor. You may not have the job experience, but you can still demonstrate to the boss that you are ready to do the work. Be the job candidate the company can’t refuse to hire.