How do you get work when you don’t have work experience?
It’s the oldest catch-22 in the career book. You’re ready to start your journey in the working world, but in order to get that first job you need relevant experience. Why do you need experience to get experience?
As entry-level jobs become more competitive and selective, finding a job out of college might can be daunting — especially for someone who hasn’t had formal work experience before. Luckily, not all hope is lost if you’ve never been an employee. Before you throw away that application because you’re convinced you’re unqualified, read these five tips for getting a job when you have no experience.
5 Tips for getting an entry-level job after college.
The best way to get experience is by going out and taking opportunities to get some. Volunteering will train you to work in specific environments, collaborating with others and getting on-the-“job” skills. Because you’re offering to help, there’s not usually an application — so you don’t have to worry about your lack of experience. Volunteering doesn’t always have to involve soup kitchens and animal shelters, although it certainly can if that’s what you’re interested in and care about. You can volunteer in an office or a school, in a theater or at a clinic. Choose an area that will offer insight into career fields you’re interested in; you’ll not only become familiar with the work environment, but you'll also pick up valuable skills that can help you get a job later.
Although volunteering can help you start your working journey, the work isn’t paid and it may not be an option for everyone. However, volunteering doesn’t need to be a full-time commitment to teach you skills and connect you to different people and work environments. Even if you can spare a couple of hours a week, you’ll be one step closer to getting your first job.
2. Or, get an internship.
Like volunteering, an internship is a great way to gain valuable career skills and experience a work environment. Internships are time-fixed and often much more career-specific; you’ll work with employees of an established business or company and assist them with their regular work. You may be asked to give insight on potential projects or help reboot a company social media account. Internships can vary greatly depending on the career field, so choose something that works on your schedule and financial situation, whether that’s getting a low-rate payment on a 9-5 schedule or interning for free twice a week. Every intern will complete different tasks depending on the field they’re working in, so aim to intern somewhere you’d love to work for. If you’re lucky, they’ll hire you when the internship ends; if not, you’ll still leave with new skills and contacts that can carry you through your job applications.
Unlike volunteer opportunities, internships can be more selective. Getting an internship over the summer is highly popular among college students, so you may have some competition. However, if you’re looking for a job after college, you’ll be going up against students who have similar work experience to yours — most likely little or none. Lucky for you, you’ll have another year of school and extracurriculars under your belt to brag about on your application.
At every stage of your career, even when you’re high and mighty with a CEO title, you should be networking. Networking is crucial to not only getting jobs but also finding job opportunities in the first place. Having a friend in the business can help give you a good word to a hiring manager or recommend you for a new position.
While you may be leaving the people on your college campus, just because you graduate doesn’t mean you’re losing touch with all of them. With LinkedIn and college alumni networks, you have access to a whole range of connections, simply because you went to the same college. I’ve found that people who graduated from my university — even decades before me, in a totally different field — are more than willing to help me however they can. Use your collegiate network to your advantage.
When you’re networking without work experience, you should be focusing on learning from the person you’re connecting with. While networking can lead to a job, it’s not a one-stop way to get there. If you’re just meeting someone, try to learn all about what they do and how they got there. This information will be invaluable as you start to look for jobs and figure out where you’d like to work. If you keep in touch, chances are they’ll remember you down the line when something right for you comes their way.
4. Know your strengths.
How can you sell yourself if you don’t know your own strengths? Even if you don’t have any work experience, that doesn’t mean you don’t have any skills or abilities. There are so many skills a college education can give you, regardless of your degree — from knowing how to put together a research project to working well with others. While some jobs require technical or hard skills like computer languages, many jobs will value soft skills you’ve already acquired.
Reflect on the work you’ve done in recent years, both inside and outside of class. Were you involved with the college newspaper? That’s two years of editing and writing experience. Did you lead an a cappella group? That’s music, organizational and leadership skills. Just because you don’t have formal work experience doesn’t mean you don’t have the experience or skills you need!
5. Emphasize how motivated you are.
Because you don’t have much experience, it’s important to look forward in your career path than backward. What do you want to learn? What do you want to improve on? What do you want to master? Answering these questions can help you understand what you’re passionate about and help you go for it. When you’re applying, emphasize this passion and motivation. To start, add an objective statement to the top of your resume. This should answer what you’re hoping to accomplish and where you want to go on your career journey. Like the rest of your resume, you can tailor it to each job. Keeping your motivation at the forefront of your mind will help you not only stay positive in your career journey but also show employers that you’re ready to do your best work.
Getting a job after college isn’t easy, especially if you don’t have work experience. But that doesn’t mean you should give up on applying. There are so many ways to get an entry-level job after college, even if it means volunteering, interning or networking first. If you know your strengths and demonstrate your motivation, you’ll get hired in no time.
Zoë Kaplan is an English major at Wesleyan University in the class of 2020. She writes about women, theater, sports, and everything in between. Read more of Zoë’s work at www.zoeakaplan.com.