Updated: Jun 26, 2019
It’s a question that has plagued students, graduates and career changers for the past half century; how are you meant to get experience without experience?! It’s the great career catch-22. Should you resign yourself to waiting for that lucky break, when someone will take a chance and give you the benefit of the doubt? Of course not! Here are eight options and ideas for getting jobs for graduates with no experience. Hopefully, it will give you some practical advice to help tip the balance in your favour.
1. It’s all about translating your transferable skills.
Look at all the experience you do have and try to identify your core skillset; see what the commonalities are that link together everything you have done so far. This could be through summer holiday jobs, academic projects, extra-curricular activities, hobbies, volunteering or travel. Communications, for example, could be one of the things that unites what you have done – whether that is written, verbal or some combination of both. Other common skills are teamwork, leadership, creativity or adaptability.
2. Draft a skills based CV which links your experiences directly to your skills through specific examples.
My CV demonstrates my experience for resilience with the example of, “working in a storm at 2am, whilst sea-sick, surrounded by Portuguese Man-O-War jellyfish and Sky News cameras”. I’m not even kidding – this is a direct quote and it has always been a great conversation opener with employers!
It doesn’t matter how far-fetched or tenuous it sounds, write it down.
3. If you really don’t have any experience or hobbies whatsoever, start volunteering in your spare time for an afternoon a week.
Choose a cause that you are passionate about and see what you can do to help. If you have a specific job or career in mind, research what skills are most important in that area, and make sure that you can say you have started working towards gaining them through your volunteering experience.
4. Work shadowing is just as helpful as work experience, but much easier to organise.
If you haven’t already, set up a LinkedIn account. Ask to shadow someone who’s career you like the sound of for a day or two. Work shadowing is a good pre-step to work experience or an internship (and then hopefully a job), as it will show employers that you understand how to behave in a professional setting and what will be expected of you.
If you are exploring a career change, work shadowing is the most valuable thing you can do to test your assumptions on what a different career is like. You want to find out all about the good things and the bad things so that you can get a well-rounded view of what its like to work in that industry or function.
5. When you are researching companies, many will have established experience schemes that you can apply through.
Whilst these are more competitive, your application will be taken seriously and will be less likely to be put in the bin. This is where a skills-based CV will be most important.
6. In your CV or cover letter, highlight everything you have done to research this career.
This could be attending lectures, reading articles (that you have opinions on and could debate the topic), taking a MOOC through companies like FutureLearn or Coursera, attending a short weekend or evening class or networking events you have attended - look at EventBright and MeetUp. All of this demonstrates your interest, even if you don’t yet have direct experience.
7. Insight Days and Returnships
Occasionally, large companies offer young people ‘insight days’ to give you a very small taster of what it’s like to work in that industry – a great piece of experience that will make it easier to get an internship afterwards.
Companies are increasingly also offering returnships; ‘internships’ for women who have been out of the workforce for a few years and are looking to move back in again. Companies like Women Returners help to organise and coordinate these.
8. Your cover letter is just as important as your CV.
Don’t write more than about half a page unless you are asked to. Remember to include why you want to work for that specific organisation of company. Every single cover letter you send should be tailored for that application or request for work experience. Using the ‘about us’ page of their website should give you some ideas of what to say, even if it’s only a sentence or two.
9. Ultimately, it is a numbers game.
Contact as many companies as you can and tailor each cover letter and CV that business. You are much more likely to have some luck with smaller and medium sized companies though, as whilst they employ less people, they are far less competitive and it needs far fewer people to make a decision. Think 30, not 3.
10. If all else fails – get creative.
Stand outside a train station with a placard and a hundred CVs. It worked for this guy!
I hope you have found these tips helpful. Check out my other blogs on: