I Don’t Have Job Experience—But No Sweat!Dec 08, 2020
You’re ready for the next step. You want to land an entry-level job in the next few months, let's say, in the sciences. Every job description you read asks for 1–5 years of experience.
You stare at your resume (Target cashier, library front desk) and think, "I don’t have job experience! I should have joined a science club. I should have helped my professor with summer research. I should have triple majored in chemistry, biology, and physics. I should have won a Nobel Prize."
You feel trapped, helpless, and wish you had a time machine.
But take a deep breath and pack up that time machine. With a little research, courage, and passion, you CAN land a job—no experience necessary.
Why “Years of Experience” is a Red Herring?
FACT: DIRECT JOB EXPERIENCE ISN’T THE TOP WAY TO GET A JOB.
We feel like job experience matters the most because:
- We start by looking at job descriptions when we should be researching the company and talking to people first.
- We remember what we don’t have instead of the skills we have to offer.
- We still think that our career journey is like a ladder, with job experience as the rungs. (Not true now.)
But employers only ask for job experience to gauge what they’re really looking for—trustworthiness.
Chris Westfall from Forbes says, “Credentials on your resume are impressive, but trust (and relationships) always matter most” (Westfall).
How do you gain the trust of an employer you’ve never met before?
Say you have a private account on Instagram and someone you don’t recognize requests to follow you. What do you do?
You could look at their profile and accept their request because they regularly post pics of their labradoodle puppies. But more likely, you’ll be more willing to trust them if your friends are following them first.
Employers think the same way. They could be impressed by your “profile,” but referrals—votes of confidence from trusted friends—open them up to you much faster.
Alternatively, you’ll still accept requests from people you know, even if none of your friends follow them. You can start building relationships with employers before you go for the “follow request.”
Bottom line: Networking beats resume skills (including job experience) any day.
Westfall says that all employers are really asking “Can you help us?”
Networking allows you to answer this by getting you to:
- Explore what your target company needs most
- Consider how you can meet those needs
- Cultivate the trust that the company wants to have before hiring you.
So before you read any farther, make sure you know our quick and dirty tips for networking!
Once you’ve connected, interested employers will still ask for your resume and cover letter. But don’t worry—even with no job experience, your resume and cover letter can still shine.
“I Don’t Have Job Experience” Resume, Explained.
What is “experience,” really?
Cory Streiff, career expert on Zety, says,
“Relevant experience doesn’t mean you need to have held the exact same job title or worked in the same exact industry. As long as you can show that you developed skills that transfer to the new job, where or how you gained them is less important.”
Just to show that you probably have relevant experience in ways you don’t even know, I’ll match some of my unpaid experience with soft skills I see in an accountant job description. (I’ve NEVER touched accounting, and I hate math!)
Notice that I could be discouraged by the “Other Requirements,” most of which I don’t have. That’s why I’d have to network first—to find out if this company could be more open to a driven, referred candidate with all the soft skills than an unmotivated candidate with the hard skills.
My point is NOT that I could get this job today if I wanted—I don’t know that.
The point IS that I do have some soft skills despite never having touched this field. And yes, if I word them the right way, I CAN put them in an “Experience” section on my resume.
While the tweets above are a bit tongue-in-cheek, they do point to a resume truth—you need to write your experience the right way for employers to catch its relevance. Note some examples from Zety on how to word unpaid experience.
Learning resume language is really like learning any language: you can pick up helpful bits and pieces from examples, but learning it holistically is hard and time-consuming. Consider learning your specific career’s resume language from someone who already speaks it fluently!
The “No Job Experience” Cover Letter, Explained.
Cover letters are where applicants without direct job experience really get a chance to shine.
What do you think sounds more memorable?
- Submitted coursework on time despite a heavy workload and extracurricular activities.
- I managed a rigorous workload as a biology and English double major with several part-time jobs and extracurricular activities. I know how to meet deadlines in a schedule that has me waking up at 5:30 AM for band practice, attending classes until 5 PM, studying for tests, and completing projects until I go to sleep.
Resumes let you give statements; cover letters let you tell stories—and stories stick much better than facts!
Cover letters are also the best place to mention your connections and reasons why you like this specific company. So go on; pick two or three vivid stories that demonstrate your passion and relevant experience; bring up some trusted names; and the previous job titles you’ve had may start to matter a lot less!
Finding Your Path.
No matter how much experience you have, focus on building relationships and trust, and “I don’t have job experience” will turn into “I’ve got this!”
Need more specific direction?
Investing in expert help will save you time, money, and sanity; and you’ll learn skills that you’ll build on for the rest of your life.
Contact Career Cram today!
Duszyński, Maciej. "How to Write a Resume with No Experience & Get the First Job." Zety Blog, 2 Sept. 2020, zety.com/blog/resume-with-no-work-experience. Accessed 16 Oct. 2020.
Streiff, Cory. "What Does Relevant Experience Mean? [With Examples]." Zety Blog, 24 July 2020, zety.com/blog/relevant-experience. Accessed 16 Oct. 2020.
Westfall, Chris. "Job Interview Insights: The One Thing That Matters More Than Your Experience." Forbes, 19 June 2019, www.forbes.com/sites/chriswestfall/2019/06/19/job-interview-insights-one-thing-matters-more-than-your-experience/#79704b077395. Accessed 16 Oct. 2020.
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