We asked our Facebook followers what their biggest work-related challenges were and many people responded, “How am I supposed to get work experience when nobody will hire you without work experience?!”
This is certainly a challenge. True entry-level jobs are increasingly difficult to find, and that can make it difficult for those who are just entering the job market. Whether you’re a teenager, a recent graduate or someone who is entering the workplace after a long hiatus, you may face this dilemma.
So, how can you get work experience when nobody will hire you without work experience? We found a few options.
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Volunteer – and then translate your life experience into work experience.
Volunteer work can provide you with essential work experience skills. It may not be exactly work experience in a professional setting, but you may be able to find a way to correlate those skills to the work that you want to do.
In many cases, this will require you to translate soft skills like time management, interpersonal skills or organizational skills. These are valuable and often underestimated work skills. You’ll need to identify those skills, quantify them however you can and showcase them to your prospective employer.
Quantifying that information is important because it makes your experience measurable. It ensures that your statements and claims carry more weight. Don’t worry – it sounds more complicated than it is.
To quantify your experience, you should focus on showing how many, how much or how often you used a specific set of skills. For example, “answered phones at front desk” is not as meaningful as “managed switchboard with 5 incoming lines, routing an average of 250 calls per day.” In another example, “fundraising experience” is not as powerful as “raised $500 in cookie sales in 72 hours.”
Volunteering can help you acquire relevant experience. Quantifying that experience on your resume can help you find work. It’s that simple.
In order to find the right volunteer opportunity for you, start by finding a cause that you’re passionate about. Search for opportunities that match your skills and interests.
If possible, look for an opportunity that aligns with your future career goals. For example, if you’re interested in medicine you may volunteer in a nursing home or hospital. Volunteering in an animal shelter would be ideal for someone interested in animal-related work, but a school may be a more appropriate venue for someone who wants to work in education. It really depends on what your goals are.
If you want to find volunteer opportunities, these are some great resources:
- Volunteer Match
- HandsOn Network
- Create the Good
- United Way
- or reach out to a local nonprofit organization!
Pursue an internship.
Internships are a great way to acquire work experience for your resume but you won’t see a paycheck for your work. If you can manage it, it’s a great strategy for long-term success… but it can make your short-term survival somewhat difficult.
I mean, The Pursuit of Happyness is one of my favorite movies of all-time but I wouldn’t wish that stressful ordeal on anyone. Chris Gardner endured homelessness and a multitude of challenges before he was able to finally get ahead.
However, if you’re in a position where an internship makes sense, there are a number of great resources that can help.
Offer to work for less than the usual starting salary.
It can be difficult to obtain your first job, especially if you’re pursuing a position in a competitive field. Some have found it easier if they offer to work for a slightly lower wage than usual. This provides the employer with an incentive to take a chance on a less-experienced employee. If you choose to do this, be sure to negotiate a review and a raise after a certain probationary period!
Freelance and be your own boss for a while.
If you have certain skills, you may be able to gain experience as a freelancer. There are some career paths that are especially amenable to freelancing, such as photography and writing.
If you’re interested in freelancing, there are several sites that can help you get started. Here’s a few of my favorites: