Experience is the golden key to the job market. It can feel like you’re fighting a losing a battle without it; you don’t have any experience, but to get experience you need experience. It’s a frustrating catch 22.
And under normal circumstances I would say there is no excuse for not building up at least some experience in the sector you want to get into. But let’s just say this isn’t normal circumstances. Maybe you’ve only just decided what it is you want to do. Or maybe you’ve tried hard to get work experience but to no avail. Maybe you’ve had health problems, work commitments or have been constrained by location.
If this is the case then top tip: don’t panic. Having a lack of experience does not mean you won’t find a job. You might have more odds stacked against you but if you follow our handy guide, you’ll still have a strong chance of securing that all important graduate employment. If you’re missing the advantage of experience, you’ll need to bolster your other assets and here’s how.
It’s never too late to start
Okay so you don’t currently have any experience under your belt, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start right away. If you’ve graduated and you’ve got some spare time on your hands while applying for jobs, maybe use the time to do a short work experience placement, volunteer or get a part time job. As long as you’re doing something with your time, you’ll be able to link it back to the job you’re applying for somehow (more on that later).
Think outside the box. So you’re looking for a career in media but you can’t get your foot in the door anywhere? Scout around for smaller online publications or websites, or see if you can contribute to some blogs. If you want to get into publishing, try your local library. Health and social work? Try your local community centre to see if they have any sessions you can help at. Your experience doesn’t necessarily have to be somewhere impressive or fancy, it’s all about what you make of it.
How to emphasise your assets
Sit down and make a list of everything you have achieved over the past few years – be creative and remember the little things. Whether it was a piece of coursework where you went the extra mile and got higher grades accordingly, or a club or society you’ve been a part of, think about the skills you can demonstrate through these examples. You’re bound to have done some sort of public speaking, or have a social media account that you manage. It might seem like nothing to you, but if you phrase it in the right way, you can make it sounds really impressive.
Transferable skills are your lifeline
Even if you don’t have experience directly relevant to the role you’re applying for, you’ll still have lots of skills that you can bring to the job. You just need to identify these and think about how you can demonstrate them effectively. Let’s just say you’ve been a part of a society at university – you were one of those people on the Quidditch team that are always talked about but you never seem to meet in real life.
Think about how being part of a team shows you have strong communication skills, are able to work effectively with others to achieve a common goal, and to recognise your own strengths and weaknesses to use them to your best advantage. Turning up to training sessions every week shows your commitment to a role, and if you organised team transport to a match you’ve showed your organisation and management skills. If you suggested improvements to the team strategy, you’re showing yourself capable of analysis, pinpointing areas for improvement and suggesting ideas.
Try not to rely on buzz words too heavily; make sure you’re genuine but don’t underestimate your achievements. Remember that your lack of experience doesn’t mean you don’t have a lot of skills to bring to the table.
Target the right roles
The bad news: Unfortunately that are a number of jobs out there where a lack of experience or necessary qualifications will place you in the no pile instantly. Specialist industries like engineering or healthcare, require very strict levels of experience and qualifications. Other industries like media and journalism normally also require a high level of experience and a portfolio.
The good news: There are plenty of jobs out there where specific experience isn’t so important. Internships (paid ones of course) are a great route into a business where you probably won’t be expected to have the same level of experience as someone applying for a full time graduate job. Then you can either gain the experience you need from the internship, or turn that internship into a full time job – it’s a win-win.
Reading on a phone? Head over to the Debut app to apply for roles like this Vodafone Explore Internship which requires no previous experience.
Master the job description
Having a strong grasp of the job description, and being able to tailor your application and interview towards that will be your lifeline in this situation. Remember that a company has a specific role that they need you to fill – if you can demonstrate exactly how you would successfully do that they’ll be impressed. Spend a serious amount of time (I’m talking at least an hour here) reading the job description through, breaking it down into individual role requirements and think of a skill or piece of experience you have that shows how you’ll be able to achieve each.
The job description will also give you a good idea of the company culture and what they want from their employees, so tailor everything to this as much as possible and you’re really increasing your chances of getting through.
Let your personality shine
The single most underrated aspect of a job application is your personality. This is the thing that’s going to help you stand out from the crowd and form a strong connection with your employer. Your recruiters are much more likely to warm to you if you bring an upbeat and friendly personality with you, and it’s the thing most likely to make them overlook your lack of experience.
Obviously there are limits to this; it’s probably not a good idea to use that time you managed to drag your drunk friend home from the club as an example of your responsibility. Just show them you’re human, you’re humble and you’re happy to take direction, and you’ll be flying.
Ok Pinocchio, it might be tempting, but definitely do not try and pretend you have more experience than you do. Any recruiter worth their salt will sniff this out in no time, and you’ll be heading for the door. Your employer will appreciate it much more if you just hold your hands up, and admit that you don’t have much experience but you’re keen to learn and you’ll pick things up quickly as you along.
Remember, the people hiring you are human too and had to start somewhere, and they’re probably not expecting a polished gem. They’re looking for someone with potential who will be a valuable asset to the company, all you have to do is show them how you can be that.
It’s no easy task, but if you use the resources you have to the best advantage, a lack of experience doesn’t necessarily have to be a major barrier to your first graduate job. Up your game, bring your sass and show them what you’ve got.