The Jobseeker’s Catch 22 - “How to gain experience without having experience”

Amy Callen 17.10.2019

Whether you’re looking for your first job or wanting to make a career change, the challenge of how to get experience without having experience is a question I am sure most of us have asked ourselves in the early stages of our careers.

How to gain experience without having experience

Working in Financial Services recruitment, I find myself having to deliver disappointing feedback that “the client is looking for someone with previous experience in x or y” and I appreciate this is disheartening and not particularly constructive for future applications, but a lot of the time it’s simply due to client criteria.

A professional who wants to transition into the Banking Marketing world asked me this week “if they want someone with experience, how can I get it if no-one gives me the chance?” and it got me thinking back to when I was looking for my first recruitment role and how I found success after having setback after setback outlining how I did not have the right previous experience…

Here are my top tips to candidates looking to transition into a new industry, make a career change or kick start their career.

1) Never give up - resilience is key

It’s inevitable that you will encounter setbacks and some of your job applications will be unsuccessful, but it is important to be persistent; these things take time. Obviously it is disappointing to be rejected, but try not to be disheartened when you are not successful in an interview. Make sure you take the positives from every experience and work on the negative aspects for your next interview - every interaction is valuable for improving yourself. 

2) Rewrite your CV to emphasise your transferable skills

You should ensure your CV is tailored to every individual application you make. The key points from each job description should be mirrored on your CV, the most relevant experience obtained should be mentioned at the top and your most desirable skills (relevant to the individual application) should be clearly highlighted in order to give yourself the best opportunity of securing an interview. 

3) Invest in yourself: Upskill with online training/courses

If it is the case that your CV lacks direct experience, you can take proactive steps to help your case by showing you are serious about forging a career path in that particular area. Choose a training course or certification that will add value to your application. 

Note: Not all training or learning courses come with a price tag - there are plenty of free online courses which can be worth looking into.

4) Build up your professional relationships by spending time networking

There are numerous ways you can increase your network - on social media platforms, attending career fairs and free industry events where you can find out more about career opportunities but also speak to current employees who can provide valuable insights. It also pays to interact with senior leaders requesting work experience or unpaid internships so you can sell yourself in person to prospective employers. 

An easy win is updating your LinkedIn profile so it reflects your most recent experience - it is a key channel where recruiters find and communicate with potential candidates. Groups on Facebook can also prove useful - “Hired” is a great group (that you have to request to join) for those seeking entry level or administrative focused roles. 

5) Be proactive by making speculative applications

Sometimes it is best to take things into your own hands and be proactive - you could be waiting for a long time before the ideal role lands on your desk. Not all job opportunities are advertised so unless you do a bit of digging around, you could be missing out. Map out the clients you are interested in working for and put together a covering letter to be sent out with your CV to prospective employers. Remember to personalise the cover letter and avoid ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ - with a bit of investigating on LinkedIn, you can often find the right point of contact and address it to them appropriately.

6) Manage your own expectations

Be prepared to take a step back in order to take a step forward - this could be in terms of salary or responsibilities - it can be beneficial in the long run if you are flexible around your expectations. 

It’s important to remember that hiring processes do take time and a significant amount of effort from a number of people, so be prepared to wait for feedback and try to remain positive.

Anything is possible with perseverance and proactivity 

Inevitably the question of “how to gain experience without having experience” will no doubt be a topic of debate moving forwards, but I hope these top tips give you some comfort that you are not alone.

Keep trying, be persistent and resilient and you will find success

Amy Callen's picture
Senior Consultant | Marketing & Communications Recruitment


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