Getting a Job When You Don’t Have Experience

While it may seem strange for a psychologist to write about employment, it’s a topic that people often feel incredibly vulnerable about.  After love and relationships, it’s the second most common topic that comes up in my office – especially for young adults new to the workforce and learning how to navigate it.  Sadness, frustration, and disillusionment are some of the feelings that clients often report and can impact the opportunities that come your way.

Mindset is a key internal component of success in the workplace. 

If you’re on the job hunt and it feels like entry-level jobs are few and far between, you aren’t imagining it and it’s not just you. In 2014, a Wall Street Journal article explained that the 2008 recession left many companies scrambling to shift entry-level jobs to automated programs rather than humans in order to cut costs, and a 2017 Market Watch article discusses how such automation is affecting entry-level jobs in careers ranging from plumbers and welders to tax accountants.

But! – this doesn’t mean that you should despair of ever finding success in your job search! With the right advice from employment professionals, you can figure out how to sell yourself to companies who are looking for someone with experience even if you haven’t technically worked a full-time job in the field. Job searching almost always takes more time than you’d like, but if you follow these tips you’ll be working smarter toward your goal of landing that desired career.

The Don’ts:

  • Don’t avoid applying to jobs that say they want someone with experience.

This is within reason, of course; if the company wants someone with lots and lots of experience, then probably no amount of tips or tricks can help you. But if they’re looking for someone with, say, 1-5 years of experience, don’t be scared off! Career expert Sarah Landrum says, “Here’s the thing — when employers say they want ‘experience’ what they really mean is ‘skills.’ When all is said and done, there are only two questions that any employer really cares about: Are you capable of doing the job, and can you prove it?”

  • Don’t overdo the humility in your cover letter or interviews.

Some people think that if they’re going for a job for which they don’t have the desired amount of experience, then they should include phrases in their cover letters like, “While I may not have the desired 2-3 years of experience, I do have…”. Don’t write or say such a phrase! If you stop reminding employers of your lack of formal full-time work experience, they’re more likely to look at the experiences you have had in other scenarios like volunteering, part-time jobs, or internships as valuable and relevant.

  • Don’t downplay those “soft skills.”

“Soft skills” are non-technical skills that can translate to basically any job, like good communication, leadership, or a hard-working attitude. Lots of people think soft skills sound too generic or unimportant, but the key is to offer proof of your soft skills. For instance, if you put down that you have leadership skills, then create a sub-point with details of your experience as president of a club you were in at a college or your soccer coaching gig.

  • Don’t try to pad your résumé with academic details.

Landrum explains that research shows employers are not as impressed by academic achievement as they are by skills you’ve picked up, even if those skills didn’t come from professional full-time employment. She advises job seekers to keep their academic info short and sweet: “where you went, how you did and what you learned.”

The Do’s:

  • Demonstrate a positive attitude.

If you’re a humble person by nature, spin it in the direction of phrases like “willingness to learn” or “eagerness to grow.” This is a way of turning even your lack of experience into a positive trait. Writing for, Ashley Robinson says, “Employers have said a positive attitude and availability can outweigh experience.” You can also show positivity by learning a lot about the company you’re applying to and mentioning why you’re passionate about the idea of working there specifically.

  • Use all kinds of experiences you’ve had, not just formal work experiences.

Stretch yourself to think about all former experiences. This includes paid and unpaid internships, volunteer work, leadership roles of any kind, etc. Try to get specific and quantifiable about describing your experiences; employers love numbers. For example, you might think it sounds stupid to put your Arby’s job on your résumé for a finance job you’re applying for, but if you include sub-points like “Oversaw 5 other employees as shift manager” or “Awarded employee of the month 7 times,” then suddenly your seemingly unrelated fast food job shows skills like leadership and dependability.

  • Talk to people with experience.

Even if you don’t know anyone in the field that you want to get hired in, you can literally just call a representative from any relevant company and very humbly and politely ask for an “informational interview,” which is an opportunity for you to ask that person questions such as these, recommended by Austin Belcak: “How would you prioritize the skills on this job description—which are the most important? What you would you do if you were in my shoes with no experience trying to get this job?” This kind of insider information is invaluable. Some people might tell you they’re busy, but most people feel flattered by being consulted as an expert in a field, so they’re willing to spare 15 or 30 mins for a polite newbie.

  • Get more experience while you wait.

Maybe you’re in the position that you financially couldn’t wait for your dream job any longer, so you had to take a less ideal position in the meantime. If that’s you, then make sure not to waste your time! While you work the non-dream job, seek out volunteer opportunities or internships in the dream job field. Volunteer opportunities can be particularly valuable because they allow you to network and connect with people in a setting where virtually no one is going to turn you away (unlike jobs and internships).

Finding a job as an entry-level worker in 2018 is not fun, and will likely prove very frustrating before it’s over. But remember – someday it will be over, and in the meantime, use what you do have instead of sweating what you don’t have.

Getting the job search blues and feeling like your future is out of your control? You can call us at (305) 501-0133 or click here to schedule a free 20-minute Clarity Consult 

Envision Wellness is a private practice that offers psychotherapy, psychological testing, and life coaching in Miami, FL.  Our team has a passion for helping others achieve happy, fulfilling, and change-making lives that make the world a better place.  Each therapist has their areas of expertise.  Not sure who you’d like to work with?  Click here to schedule a free 20-minute phone consult to help you decide.

Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.


Join the community and get the latest tips, hacks, and practical advice delivered straight to your inbox.