Dear Lifehacker, have no relevant experience in the field in which I want to work and am having a hard time constructing a coherent plan applying for jobs. How can I convince an employer to hire me? Sincerely, No Experience, No Job
Photo by Ted Murphy
Dear No Experience,
With one exception, I don't think I've ever had relevant experience for any job that I've worked in the past 11 years. As a result, I've come to believe that the experience you do have is more relevant than you may think. Past jobs have always helped inform my choices at future jobs, and none of the experience was ever useless. If you have experience in something, that may be all you need. Here are my recommendations:
Find Relevant Experience You Didn't Realise You Had
First, figure out a way to use any experience you do have to seem more relevant to the job at hand. I once used a technical support job to get a job on a film set. It's possible to focus on certain aspects of a position while still being honest. Think about what you did at your past and/or current job and concentrate on the days you enjoyed the most. Chances are there's at least one project that you worked on that has some relevance. On your resume, and in your interview, be sure to focus on that. If you can make it a good story and speak passionately about the work, it will go a long way.
Create Your Own DIY Experience
If you have no official experience it's great if you've got sample work you've done on your own. If you've ever been to art school, you know that half the reason you go is to create a portfolio. If you want to get into graphic design, you need to have examples of your work. You don't need to be employed to design a web site, so mock up some relevant designs and use those as your work samples. If you want to write for a blog, create your own blog so you have writing samples. Even if the job you want isn't necessarily creative, you can still do work that can help you. You might think you can't, but let's pretend you want to be a tax accountant. While you technically could do a bunch of fake taxes, you could also do taxes for your friends and your parents. Not only will this give you real experience, but it'll demonstrate to your potential employer that you have enough passion for the job. If I were hiring an accountant to do my taxes and knew they enjoyed it so much that they were willing to do it for free, I'd be excited to have them on my team. The simple point is this: you can easily give yourself a leg up by practicing and creating experience. You don't need anyone's permission, and you don't have to be employed to do it.
(The portfolio depicted belongs to Irene Chan, one of my life-long favourite designers.)
Get An (Unpaid) Internship
If you can, I would recommend starting with an internship. Seek out companies you'd want to work for and try to become an intern even if they've never had an intern before. Offer to work unpaid for 3-6 months and then push for a job as soon as you feel they can't live without you. If you can't afford to work without pay right now, either save enough money until you can or just offer to work a few days a week and find a paying (and likely crappy) job to handle your bills. This can be a rough road and it will wear you down, but it's only temporary. If you're a great worker and they don't want to lose you, they'll find a way to keep you around.
Get An In-Person Interview And Be Charming
Finally, do whatever you can to get an in-person interview. Once you're in you need to think of your interview more like a first date. Be charming, be interesting, and be hopeful and idealistic. Smile often. Be kind. If they interviewer likes you and feels you're a hard worker, your experience is basically irrelevant. People make hiring decisions based on their gut and pretty much ignore what's on paper. If you can get into a room with someone and they like you, then you will have no trouble getting the job.
Got any great tips on getting a job without any relevant experience? Share 'em in the comments!