When you need experience to get experience

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No experienceWhether 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.

27 Comments
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  3. I agree with the article. Internships and volunteer opportunities can offer alot of great experience for new grads. As a recent graduate with my masters degree, this is the step I have chosen to take in pursueing a career in healthcare. My only concern is that how long are you suppose to work for free and do internships before organizations may think you are qualified for a position. I have done plenty of internships and currently doing an unpaid internship for past 10 months, but it seems that this is not enough. What should you do in this type of situation. I have excellent work exp., good references, and plenty of internship exp.

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  6. Sadly, some agencies treat interns as if they are dispensible and unimportant. Ask me, I know this from personal experience.

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  9. It must be where I live.

    Role model? Good luck with that! Everyone I’ve met is out for themselves.

    Stay current? Earned my Masters degree (GPA 3.85). Yet my current emploer treats me like an idiot (and I’m not the only one)! A couple of other people with Masters had left this year. Besides myself, I know of other who are wanting to leave. Stay current by reading? The local library knows me by first and last name! And I know my library card number by heart! Yet I was recently mocked (in silence – but others in the area heard) in an ultra-high level meeting regarding a book I read that would help guide the new change management initiative (Switch).

    Employment is WAY above the national level (12%) so getting a upper position with my current employer is nill – and it is not much better out there!

    • Scot, perhaps your last post is a clue to why you are not hired. You misspelled employer and referred to the unemployment rate as “Employment”. Publishing poor grammar is indicative of a careless or illiterate person. Try writing all your posts in a word processor like Microsoft Word first where there is a spell and grammar checker then cut paste to the blogs.
      Attitude is also something that you could work on. It will subconsciously leak out into your interview.
      I have just graduated with a 3.99 GPA and hope my master’s degree will open doors. Some companies must pay those with a master’s degree a higher level and therefore they avoid us.
      I hope this helps you.

      • I know your trying to help, but assuming b/c someone made a spelling error on a comment does not mean they do it all the time. For someone who is in a master’s program I assume Scott and you write papers on a regular and are familiar with spell check. We should offer serious comments and advice w/o belittling statements. Although you did sum up your statement with a positive, it comes off a bit condescending. You have not graduated yet, so finding employment may not be so easy. Be careful not to place yourself in a bad position or mindset before you begin your journey. I wish Scott and you the best in your job search!!

          • I worked 30 years as a Materials Handler in a factory before getting laid off in 2008 due to a closure of the facility. In addition I was a Storekeeper in the Navy attaining the rank of E-5. I have a bachelors degree with a GPA of 3.52 in Information Technology. But I can’t beg, borrow or steal a job or even an interview. When I submit my resume I’m told I have a great resume but then I’m told the job I applied for is being given to someone else. I also happen to be 64 years of age, I volunteer at a local radio station that reads to blind people and I can count on one hand the number of times I have been tardy or absent from anything let alone work. I also know lots of people who spell my name “Glen” instead of “Glenn”!

            • Glenn, you have a lot going for you, persistence, drive, but don’t forget that in these times it seems that age is more than just a number. I worked for the government for just short of 26 years and got pushed out to make room for the up and coming right out of school newbies. They said I was not qualified because I didn’t have a degree. Well I’m almost done with my AA in medical billing and coding (trying something different). I just turned 59 and I say, never give up, keep on pushing. It will get better as long as you continue to strive for what you want.

            • We all must think outside of the box! What you earn your degree in does not have to be where you focus your job search. Also, earning a certification or enhancing your skill set by completing a one year course that could qualify you for a licensure, would also be a smart move. The more that you have to offer; the greater your options.

        • The healthcare sector will be looking for information technology people in the new few years. Do the research and see if this is an alternative. Electronic health records, computer assisted coding and meaningful use will create opportunities.

      • James Stuart, are you really trying to help Scott? It can be clearly seen that it was a typo and i’m sure everyone else was able to follow what he meant. You sound very condescending.
        I believe that being an intern for a year and longer in a field that you are trying to gain experience in is adequate work experience. You have a goal in mind so it would be in your best interest to learn all you can in that year so that you can include this in your resume. I currently have a job but i did my concentration for my MBA in Marketing and have never worked in marketing so i plan to keep my current job and work for free at a company that is known for marketing. All the best to you all.

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  16. I think the key is oppertunity and taking whatever is available to you. Joining organizations, volenteering, networking – it’s all about meeting new people, learning new things and making an impact on people around you. Keep in mind that the interview process is about picking the best out of whats available. Sometimes it’s less about you not having enough of something but of the other applicants having more of it.

    The more you do the greater ability you have to highlight yourself. We can take for granted that an education get’s you a job when really employers (or when I’m doing the hiring for my team) hire for the person and look at their ability to fit the organization and it’s culture. Education is a bonus and although a necessity for many positions, isn’t always the first thing we look to. In a non-technical trade I can train you to be productive, to meet goals and produce but I can not train you to be likeable, pleasent, hard working or ethical. If I can’t stand to be in the room with you why would I hire you?

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  18. @d.m.b.cr0wnxt0wn I am 62 now, I join the navy back in 1970. no high school degree. made it threw the two years, left went home put up my feet, for just one Month. Corp of Engineers calling me to go to work. ended after I got Married. new wife said me or the JOB after two years of Marriage, so I quit. it’s now 32 years later , divorced she’s not getting any benefits, neither aim I. I had so many job’s of course I had to work.
    In 2007, I found this job driving as a courier. for the last five years.it pays my bill.s. maybe you can check out driving careers, CDL’s might be your next calling. try and focus on one career first OK>
    Goo luck!
    Navy Guy.

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