I Need Experience to Get a Job, but I Need a Job to Get Experience. What Can I Do?

Congratulations! You have just graduated from college or are looking to break into a new and exciting field. The only problem? The entry-level positions you are finding require experience… but you (obviously) don’t have any! Frustrating to say the least. While it may feel as if you are hitting roadblock after roadblock, there are opportunities IF you know how to find them.

Here are 3 simple things you should do:

1.) Sell your soft skills, and think long and hard about your previous experience (you likely have more than you think).

Most entry-level positions require some basic “soft skills” to navigate daily tasks, such as customer service, communication ability, MS Office, light sales, teamwork, analysis, phone skills, problem-solving… you get the picture. Optimize your resume and LinkedIn profile to highlight these skills, so that you are a front-runner.

Also, think about your “previous” experience. Did you contribute to a research assignment? Did you find ways to improve processes while assisting an organization or club? Did you increase participation, donations, or community engagement for a non-profit or school event? Though you may not have been “paid” for these accomplishments, they do qualify as experience and can be listed as such.

2.) Network: Online, in-person, at a birthday party… Wherever you are!

I know what you are going to say… “Ugh, I can’t stand networking”. And believe me, I get it; but, to successfully market and sell yourself – you MUST learn how to network effectively. I think that one of the reasons networking conjures up such a negative emotional response is that people often overthink it, feeling pressured to perform. I encourage you to change your thought process. Networking is simply making natural connections with others, which is something you and I do each day.

Practice a short pitch in which you describe what your background is and what it is you are interested in doing. Nothing long or overly scripted; keep it concise and casual. For example, “I just graduated from The University of Akron with a degree in Communications and Marketing, and I am really interested in learning and growing within an organization. A non-profit would be ideal.” Boom. Not so difficult is it?

I recommend connecting with individuals via LinkedIn, and finding in-person and online networking events and conferences to share your “pitch”. And remember, you can express your career interests wherever you go—whether it be at a child’s birthday party, at the local dog park, at a church gathering—you are not limited to speaking at formal, professional events only. Countless positions are filled because someone knows someone else… Put your feelers out there and connect away!

3.) Find an internship or volunteer opportunity… That’s right. Work for FREE!

You need the experience to get a job, but you do not feel you have the right experience for your industry. Find an internship or volunteer opportunity through your school, or by contacting an organization directly, and offer your services for a limited number of hours per week. You will not only build hands-on experience within your field but will make additional connections that can provide a clear career path.

I remember one client who graduated with a degree in Political Science and didn’t know where to go or what to do. She ended up interning for a State Senator (by simply calling and asking if she could), stuffing envelopes and answering phones while working at Target. Within 3 months, she was offered a part-time position, and then a full-time position 6 months later. In just under a year, she was serving as a Legislative Aide and was given the green light to create and direct that Senator’s internship program moving forward.

In the words of Mark Twain, “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” By selling your soft skills, expanding what you consider to be work history, seeking opportunities to connect with others, and offering your services on a volunteer basis, you will gain the experience and exposure necessary to get your foot in the door.

Wishing you a wonderful start and a successful career!

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