Albert Camus wrote: “You cannot create experience. You must undergo it.”
Great sentiment, Al, but in today’s work world a person without experience is as employable as a French existentialist.
Many people either starting their careers or embarking on new ones face a major Catch 22. Employers want experience, but if you’re right out of college, or coming from a different profession all together, you have little in the way of real work experience to offer.
While jobs in the trades such as carpenters and electricians still offer opportunities for apprenticeships, the majority of jobs today, especially white-collar corporate gigs, don’t include “novices apply here” in the job description.
What’s an ambitious soul to do?
There’s a host of options for you readers who sent in letters asking about this seemingly insurmountable problem, everything from working for free to networking to going outside the industry you want to break into to garner experience that will serve you well in your ultimate goal.
Here are some recent questions:
I was at a dead-end job for 15 years. I wanted to get into the computer field but everywhere I turned I was told that I needed a degree. I finally decided that I needed a change, so I quit, moved and went to school. I've been working odd jobs to pay for my education in computer information systems. Now I finally have a degree but I can't land a job due to lack of experience in the field. I'm beginning to believe that my age isn't helping matters either (46). Do you have any suggestions?
— M.R., Chicago
First of all, 46 is not old so get over that now. (But just in case, don’t put your age on your resume, get a good night’s sleep the day before the interview and dress in a crisp white shirt and dark pants and jacket. Look like you’re ready to take on the world.)
There is a lot of opportunities available in the IT world, and you have to focus on what your attributes are no matter what you did in your past life. Whether you were in health care, retail, or manufacturing in your prior career, bring that up to the hiring manager as a plus, saying you have experience in the real world, outside of IT. IT managers love that because often they come in contact with job applicants who are techno-nerds with little awareness of how a business really operates.
In order to build up your experience bank, start doing some free work right now. C. David Gammel, a web strategy consultant from Silver Spring, Md., suggests that individuals looking to break into IT should volunteer to contribute to open-source projects they can easily find on the Internet. Find one that interests you and involves a technology you’re familiar with and then find ways to fix bugs or add a feature to a software product. Since IT changes so fast, working on the latest open-source systems out there will get you the type of experience many employers are looking for today.
Make sure to include whatever you’re involved with on your resume even if you did it for free.
This will also allow you to connect with a network of developers who probably have jobs and who might tell you about positions before they are advertised. And whether you find these developers by contributing to open-source coding, or you just join a group in your area, the connections could provide valuable.
And don’t just limit your job search to technology companies. There are businesses in all industries that need tech workers, so you might be able to start out at the bottom of in an IT department at a consumer products firm, or even a university or nonprofit.
I was wondering why companies won't hire when you graduate from college because everyone wants experience. So how can we get experience when no one will give me a chance? I am looking for a job so I can help my family, but I cannot find one here in my hometown. I graduated with my associates degree in accounting tech and office tech in December and go back in January to start on my accounting degree.
One important thing you’re doing it going back for your full accounting degree. You’ll need that for sure if you want to break into the industry, says Brad Richardson, a finance and accounting recruiter for Kaye Bassman International.
But for right now you should concentrate on getting a low-level accounting clerk’s position, and not at one of the top accounting firms. One industry that will present great opportunities for a novice in accounting is health care, Richardson explains. Look to physician practices or hospitals, both of which are always looking for individuals to do data entry and bookkeeping as part of larger accounting departments.
Other industries to check out include food service and retail. Maybe a local exterminator firm is looking to hire someone. Think outside the accounting box.