5 ways to get past the demand for work experience

If you are returning to the work-force after a long absence, wanting to switch careers or are a first-time job seeker, chances are you will come up against the ‘work experience required’ barrier. It can be incredibly disheartening and frustrating to see the job of your dreams advertised, in which you just know you would do well, and feel that your life circumstances have disqualified you from applying or competing for the position.

However, you are not helpless. Of course, employers are trying to get the most qualified and experienced person they can for a position, and they advertise as such. However, they also know well that those two criteria are not the only qualifiers in searching for the best person.

Here are five strategies to help give you a fair chance of getting the job you want, even if you lack the experience required:

Build your personal brand online – Use professional social media platforms such as LinkedIn to establish your personal brand. Be honest about your lack of experience but compensate for this by demonstrating your enthusiasm and interest in the industry where you want to work. Learn as much as you can about your chosen industry and share views, opinions and information that shows that you know your stuff. Posting regular blogs and publishing articles on reputable platforms creates a body of work that shows the breadth and depth of your interest and knowledge.
Highlight your soft skills – Focus on the personal abilities and characteristics that you have that you believe will enable you to be successful in the position you want. We all develop a set of soft skills from a variety of life experiences. These include the capacity for teamwork or leadership, as well as traits such as being very well-organised or having a drive for innovation. Think about all the team, school, college and community activities that you have been involved in and list your top soft skills that are relevant to the job you want. Develop true anecdotes that would demonstrate to an interviewer how you applied these skills to deliver the required results. It does not matter that the context was not a work environment. A good prospective employer is most likely to take into account your life experience; the key is to be relevant by accurately matching your top soft skills to the position you want.
Look for volunteer opportunities – Even if you are not in a position to do this full-time, actively look for opportunities in non-profit organisations, community organisations or small businesses where you can gain hands-on experience. Studies have shown that even part-time volunteering can be a highly effective way to increase your chances of employment. Many prospective employers give weight to the experience gained through volunteerism, and consider your perseverance in gaining experience in a positive light. Working as a volunteer also increases your network.
Enhance your job skills-set – Even if you have recently graduated with what you believe is the latest and greatest qualification in your desired field, it cannot hurt your chances to be even more qualified. Analyse the jobs you want to apply for and determine the full set of skills needed. Assess whether you have any shortfalls or other weaknesses. Consider short courses and other training opportunities. If your long-term plan is to one day be eligible for management, start gaining leadership skills right now. If you lack the resources to invest in your further education, consider the wide range of free University courses that are offered online by reputable institutions. Efforts to keep developing your job skills-set indicate to prospective employers that you are passionate about making your break into the industry a reality.
Network, network and keep networking – With or without experience, your connections may well be the most important factor in getting the job you want. Leverage the personal connections you already have, and actively seek out the opportunities to connect with new people in the industry where you want to work. Your networking activities must span both the off- and on-line environments. Be conscious of forging good relationships by offering something relevant to those you want to be connected to. Find out their interests, build rapport, establish trust and ‘give to get’ by first delivering value to them before you ask for anything.

By now you will have noticed that these five strategies can work for you if you know what job you want and in which industry, versus being someone who just ‘wants a job’. Your best chance of overcoming the challenge of having too little or no work experience is to be as clear as possible as to what you want, because that knowledge empowers you to go after it in a strategic way.