How To Get a Job With No Experience: Find Work Without Employment History, Experience, or a Degree

Danika McClure  | 

Whether you’re looking to find your first job as a high school student, have earned a degree in your field of choice, or have taken a significant amount of time away from the workforce, finding a job in your desired line of work can be a difficult and frustrating journey. Some lack the requisite experience to enter the field they desire, some need to brush up on their career-oriented skills or have further training. Others may be looking for work after brushing up with the law. Regardless of your individual circumstances, you’re just looking to get your foot in the door.

I Need Experience To Get a Job, But Can’t Get Experience Because I Don’t Have a Job

It’s a paradox that many face during the job hunt. Employers want to hire people who have the requisite experience to do the job well, but how is one to gain the relevant experience if they are never given the opportunity to perform the job?

It’s a not an easy process–nor is there one solution that is guaranteed to work for every person–but there are things you can do to polish your resume, expand your skill set, and make you more compelling to potential employers.

Adjust Your Expectations

For those hoping to find their first job, enter their career path, or return to work after a long absence, you may have to adjust your expectations. After all, few are able to land their dream job without the requisite experience.

If you’re a high school or college student who has never had a position in your desired industry, focusing on getting your foot in the door is far more valuable than attempting to land a moonshot position.

For those who are returning to their career after a long absence from the workforce, the same can be true. Accepting an entry level position in the short term may prove to be viable, and provide you with the requisite skills to obtain more lucrative employment in the future.

Regardless of your experience, if you’re having a hard time finding gainful employment, it may be worth it to adjust your expectations in order to get your foot in the door of the industry you’re interested in being a part of.

Aim for Entry Level Jobs and Be Willing To Work for Less

Many employers are looking for employees willing to accept entry-level positions, but when it comes to hiring, a number of employers also require a number of years of relevant experience.  While this can be a great opportunity for those who are returning to the workforce, for those with little experience the process of applying for entry-level positions can be daunting. At the same time, however, many employers are also looking to pay individuals entry-level pay, regardless of your level of experience.

In fact, according to recent analysis by University of Pennsylvania economics professor Matthew Bidwell, most employers expect ideal candidates to have high levels of experience and high levels of education. In many cases, the pay doesn’t necessarily match up.

“One of his key findings was that nearly all jobs with high education requirements (i.e., bachelor’s degree and above) also had significant experience requirements (i.e., two years or more of relevant work experience),” Forbes writer Ryan Craig writes about Bidwell’s work. “On average, he found, jobs requiring bachelor’s degrees asked for four to five years of experience, with some asking for as much as 11 years.”

Whether you’re a first-time job hunter or a seasoned professional, finding a job in your chosen field may require that you apply for entry level positions that pay less than your dream salary. As mentioned earlier, for some, getting your foot in the door is the most crucial part to finding gainful employment.

Once you’ve proven yourself to be a valuable employee, you can negotiate pay raises with your employer, or find more gainful employment with another company in your desired industry.

Consider Internships or Volunteering

Though they’re not necessarily required, for some career paths, internships and volunteer work are a couple ways to gain relevant experience in your chosen field while getting your foot in the door.

Both allow for those with no experience, or those who need to brush up on their skills, to gain relevant skills and training that can be used by employers.

In some cases, if the position and company are a good fit, internships and volunteer positions can lead to full time employment. In fact, a recent report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that 51.7 percent of students who had internship experience received at least one job offer post graduation, compared to 33.8 percent of those who had neglected to pursue internships.

Regardless of whether your volunteer position or internship evolves into a full time position, use the opportunity to network, gain knowledge from your coworkers, and develop skills that will help you find gainful employment in the future.

Assess Your Skills

As we’ve highlighted here, a lack of recent job experience doesn’t necessarily mean that you lack skills that employers will find employable. Instead, when compiling your cover letter and resume, consider what you’re good at, what you enjoy, what you excel at above all else, and aim to compile a list of those characteristics in your resume.

When compiling this list, it’s important to not only remember the job-related skills you possess, but also to remember the soft skills you’ve learned throughout your education and career.

In fact, recent surveys have found that recruiters place a higher value on soft skills than they do on most education or previous experience.

What exactly are employers looking for?

Top Skills In Demand for Entry-Level Jobs

Soft skills are in demand in today’s economic landscape. Soft skills, unlike hard skills, are ones that are much harder to teach, and thus more difficult to find among job applicants. According to recent LinkedIn analysis, the skills that employers are looking for in applicants are leadership capabilities, communication skills, the ability to collaborate and work on a team, and effective time management–each of which are skills that require little technical training, but do require a human element and good communication.

“Somewhat surprisingly…interpersonal skills is where we’re seeing the biggest imbalance,” LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner writes, based on the recently published analysis. The data, which was compiled from applicants and job postings from 100 U.S. cities found that “Communications is the No. 1 skills gap across those major cities in the United States.”

This data is confirmed by other studies, such as one published in the Journal of Education for Business finding that managers pay special attention to communication skills and analytical skills when trying to find and hire a suitable employee.

It’s not hard to see why these skills are so in demand.

“Master communicators have solid listening skills, the ability to tune into a person with focus and the ability to articulate clearly,” argues Cheryl Cran, a management coach and the author of “The Art of Change Leadership. “As technology continues to infiltrate how we work, our human interaction skills need to be upgraded.”

That in mind, it’s important that you fill your resume and prepare for your interview appropriately. Be sure to have examples of times that you’ve solved problems with coworkers, friends, and peers. Have solid examples prepared of times that you’ve been a great leader, organizer, and made compromises for the betterment of a team. With any luck, that may be enough to overcome any gaps or missing experience you have on your resume.

Have a Good Reason for Applying

One of the major make or break questions during the interview process has to be “Why do you want this position?” Your answer may determine whether an HR representative or recruiter will offer you a position. Whether you’re answering that question in a cover letter, or an interview, it’s important that you come in well prepared to tell employers why you want this position and how your specific skills will benefit the company.

When answering this question, think of the reasons you’re applying.

  • How do your skills match the job description?
  • How enthusiastic about the position are you?
  • How will you fit into and contribute to the workplace culture?
  • What do you have to add? What would you change for the better?

Regardless of whether or not you’ve worked in a similar position, analyzing these questions can help you better match the skills you have and hope to gain to a position and–depending on your answer–may help overcome limitations and employment gaps you might have on your resume.

Use Your Network

FInding a position at a company that is willing to take a chance on employees without experience can be difficult. Even if you do have the requisite experience, finding a job can be hard. The reason? Many jobs and careers aren’t advertised publicly.

“At least 70 percent, if not 80 percent, of jobs are not published,” Matt Youngquist, the president of Career Horizons tells NPR. “And yet most people–they are spending 70 or 80 percent of their time surfing the net versus getting out there, talking to employers, taking some chances [and] realizing that the vast majority of hiring is friends and acquaintances hiring other trusted friends and acquaintances.”

Regardless of your experience, it’s useful to utilize your network to find positions that are a good fit for both your current skill sets, or for finding entry level positions that will allow opportunities for future growth.

Using your network will not only allow you to find more open positions, but can also provide a leg up in an oversaturated and competitive work environment. After all, most major companies receive six times as many applications as there are positions in their company, according to an NPR article. That means for a company that employs 30,000 people, they receive over 180,000 applications per year.

That makes it even more imperative that you find an in with someone in the company you’re hoping to work for. Whether that connection comes through linked in, a professional networking event, or a personal favor from a family friend, having connections make finding a job much easier.

Build Your Network

Building or compiling a network might be easier than you think. Peers, parents, family friends, teachers, former bosses, and even internet acquaintances can be used to help you find open positions and get a foot in the door for potential positions.

Youngquist mentions to NPR that individuals looking for work ought make at least 100 new contacts a month by making phone calls, sending emails, or simply showing up to companies doors. While that may sound like a lot, there are a number of ways that people can accomplish that.

Let those around you know that you are looking for a job and ask them if they have any advice to give. Build a LinkedIn profile and highlight your skills and interests. Spend your free time networking further, volunteering, applying for and working at internships, and do whatever else you can to develop more professional connections. Be sure to keep in contact with these people so you have people willing to vouch for you as you develop in your career.

Keep Learning and Practicing

For those returning to the workforce, those who have just graduated from college, or those who are finding their first job, finding for and applying for jobs is a skill that is worth practicing.

For some, it’s important to note that you might need more formal training or certifications to achieve gainful employment in the career field of your choice. Others might need to focus on gaining skills that are universal to any position, such as customer service, communication, computer and technological skills.

Regardless of your goals, it’s worthwhile to have positions that will be transferable to a number of other positions. With any luck, individuals will be able to turn their passions and interests into gainful employment.


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This post was updated October 17, 2018. It was originally published September 20, 2018.