Gain Experience to Overcome the First Job Catch-22

Starting a career feels like a Catch-22. Most job descriptions state a minimum number of years of required prior experience that is somewhat greater than zero. What do you do when you have to answer a yes or no question as to whether you meet said minimum on an application? It seems like you have to have experience to get experience. So how do you gain experience in the first place?

Five Ways to Gain Experience in Your Chosen Field

Option #1: Internships

While apprenticing and interning used to be much more common, it is still possible to find companies looking for eager, entry-level candidates. Many organizations offer internships to gain experience or training in a particular field. These may be paid or unpaid and often lead to positions within the company later on. If nothing else, they are also a path to making connections in the industry and working world. Which brings us to the next option…

Option #2: Networking

You’ve probably heard someone wax philosophical about all the benefits of networking and growing your social presence. It’s a great way to get considered at companies that are otherwise difficult to get a foot in the door of. Having friends on the inside can be a direct line to a hiring manager rather than hoping that your resume has enough keywords to pass muster with HR or an outside recruiter. Don’t be too worried about asking for someone to drop your name for a position. Companies often offer referral bonuses to employees who recruit good candidates. It’s a win for all involved.

Get involved in social media networking too. LinkedIn is your friend here. Hiring managers, human resources, and recruiters overwhelmingly go to social media to find good candidates for open roles. You can’t be found if you’re not there so make sure that you have a strong, up-to-date profile. Emphasize how any prior experience  (think: school extra-curricular activities, volunteering, jobs in other fields) have provided skills that you will use in your next position.

Option #3: Attend Events

Go to events held for groups, tools, and companies in your industry. Even showing up to free seminars or other training events can give crucial exposure to employees at organizations to which you want to apply. Most are free to attend and many will also help you gain experience in particular areas that you may need for your career. Check company blogs, Meetup.com, and other industry resources to find times and places of events in your area.

Option #4: Recruiters

Call them recruiters, headhunters, scouts… whatever. Just get your resume into their hands. Recruiters look for positions at all levels and are given incentives to place candidates. They are good advocates on your behalf to hiring managers and in-house HR teams and can speak to more than just what’s on paper. Talk with recruiters about what you are looking for and ask questions to help set your own expectations of what you can find.

Recruiters may also provide some guidance as to additional skills that will make you more marketable. They see trends in the industry and can help position you for ongoing success. Try to find recruiters who specialize in your field wherever possible. Again, LinkedIn can help you here as many recruiters list their area of concern in their profile.

Option #5: Nepotism

This is kinda like networking except no one really talks about it. We like to believe that we live and work in a meritocracy but the reality is that having friends in high places leads to advancement far more often that we want to admit. Use your family, friends, or family friends as part of your network to help get a job. Once you’re in the role, prove that you belong there by being a rock star employee. This works to everyone’s advantage. You are contributing positively to the company. Colleagues do not think you are there solely due to your relationships. And it makes whomever got you in look better.

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