How to get a job when you have no experience

The Work Life

Graphic by Kelly Campbell.

It is a classic vicious circle: you cannot get a job because you do not have experience, but you cannot get experience because you cannot get a job.

This is a problem plaguing plenty of young job seekers.

The reality is most hiring managers expect new hires to come in with a certain level of competence. They want proof you understand basic work expectations such as showing up on time and collaborating with others.

To get hired, you will need to prove you are capable of doing the job. You have two choices — either showcase the skills you do have, or seek a more junior position to prepare yourself for your ideal role.

Think of your career as a staircase. With every experience you acquire, you are building a platform taking you one step closer to your long-term career goals.

Volunteering is often the key to levelling up your expertise. Volunteer organizations will often let you take on complex challenges out of reach in a paid gig.

Remember, the best experiences come with bigger commitments. Volunteer to take on significant responsibility and ensure you put in enough hours so your volunteer experience supervisor can answer questions about you as a professional reference.

When climbing the career staircase you should also be strategic in selecting a junior position. Seek a role that will allow you to access relevant professional development, build experience in your field or meet people who can help you land a spot in your desired career.

Volunteer Manitoba is a good place to start. Check out its volunteer board for posted opportunities.

You can also contact organizations directly to see if they are willing to take on a volunteer, even if there is nothing currently listed online.

Beyond gaining experience, volunteering for the simple joy of giving back to the community can be honourable and important. As you build your resumé, you might also find a cause you are passionate about that you will continue to support throughout your life.

Still, volunteering is a privilege not everyone can afford. When you have bills to pay, it might not be possible to invest hours into building experience with no paycheque in sight.

Fortunately, there are plenty of businesses willing to take a chance on inexperienced workers. Apply for entry level positions in sales and retail. This can lay the foundation for movement within a firm or provide you with industry insights valuable to future employers.

As you build your resumé, take inventory of the experience you do have. Everything from schoolwork to sports teams can be used to demonstrate your skills on a resumé or during an interview.

To be a competitive applicant, you will need to create a tailored resumé and cover letter.

Write a new document for every position you apply for, focusing on how your skills make you a great candidate for that specific job.

In your cover letter, draw on personal experience with the organization you are applying to. It is easiest to write authentically about companies you genuinely admire.

Tell a story about a meaningful experience you had as a customer. Even if you have never worked before, this connection demonstrates interest in the organization and suggests you would work hard in the role.

For those with less experience, a combination resume is ideal. Instead of listing your experiences in reverse chronological order like a typical resume, combination resumes focus on demonstrating the skills you built in school, extracurricular activities and volunteering.

If you do not know where to start, you can find plenty of resumé samples on the university’s career services website.

Although it can feel overwhelming to look for your first job, do not put it off. The longer you wait, the harder it will become.

You will always need to start somewhere, and it usually feels better to do entry level work as a student as opposed to as a new graduate.

On the bright side, this problem should only happen to you once. Start now and you will be on track for a successful career.


Rebecca Balakrishnan is a career consultant. Her column appears weekly.