What’s more annoying than applying for a job in hopes of breaking into an industry, only to be told, “We were just looking for someone with more experience.” How are you supposed to get the credentials if no one will hire you to gain experience? Earlier in my career I heard that line one too many times and decided to take action. Here are my top 3 tips for breaking out of the “no experience” box:
1. If you can’t get the job, create your own
When I left my job in public relations, I considered a career in freelance writing. I started looking for any and every opportunity to write, but no one would hire me without writing clips! Then I realized I could work for free and build my portfolio. So I pitched myself to every up and coming platform. Eventually, I started writing for Examiner.com, BET’s centric blog and a now defunct hip hop website, which all welcomed freelance writers at any experience level. Similarly, if you have a passion for an industry or function but can’t get your desired role, think of a side hustle that will help to bridge the gap, then get to work.
2. Take a class and practice, practice, practice
There’s nothing more impressive than someone who took the initiative to learn a skill on her own dime. For example, if you’re interested in web development, consider taking an online course and create a simple site to start highlighting your class projects. Jessy Cheng, who’s now a software product manager at HP talked about training herself to be a product manager in her Inside Digital interview. Her advice to aspiring product managers: “Go build something – show your passion. It doesn’t have to be fancy, it doesn’t actually have to work, but try and try again. You’ll have a lot of good stories to share during the interview and a new perspective.”
3. Learn to talk up your relevant skills
What does being a collections manager have to do with being a social media specialist? You’d be surprised. Before I was hired at my former company, Ideel.com, I worked for a small realty firm in Manhattan. As the document and collections manager for this firm, customer service was a natural part of my role. I developed a personal touch to communicate effectively with tenants. As tedious and annoying as that experience was, it taught me a ton about interpersonal skills, customer service and clear communications. Little did I know, this would really come in handy in my role at Ideel. One of my interview questions was directly about customer service experience. My experience as a collections manager gave me a unique and unexpected advantage. As it turned out, as a social media specialist at Ideel, I not only crafted engaging content on our social media platforms, but I also responded to customer complaints on Facebook and Twitter.
Whether it’s flipping burgers or trading stocks, never discount your prior work experience, even if you can’t immediately see how it will translate to a new industry. Think about your prior roles and pinpoint the core skills that you honed in each, then think of how you can apply those skills to your desired role. Go into every interview with the mindset that you have to connect the dots for your interviewer. You do that by learning to describe your transferable skills.
So how do you break out of the “no experience” box? Recognize that the opportunity to expand your skill-set is out there, but you need to roll up your sleeves and get to work. When it comes to getting employers to take a chance on you, you have to first show them that you took a chance on yourself and invested in your own professional growth.