How to present yourself if you lack working experience in the field
Previous experience with a similar type of work is an obvious advantage when applying for a job. However, one needs to start somewhere and it can be challenging to enter a new field and get your first jobs in it. Recent graduates, as well as anybody changing careers, find themselves in a challenging vicious-circle situation: no jobs without work experience, no work experience without jobs.
Do you also wonder how to reveal the truth about your lack of experience without losing credibility, and get those first work opportunities?
My advice to you is: learn how to present yourself in such a way as to highlight your competences, motivation and potential, and hook the employer’s attention onto those, instead of making your lack of experience the main topic.
In this article, you can find targeted tips such as what format of CV to choose, and what to mention in your cover letter, online profiles, at interviews or at a networking event. Note please, that the article is focused on the specifics of self-presentation with no – or little – work experience, and does not provide a comprehensive guide to writing CVs, cover letters and so on.
- Format of CV
Whenever possible, avoid using a traditional CV format that would emphasise a list of your previous jobs (perhaps unrelated or non-existent) in a chronological order. If the employer explicitly insists on the traditional CV format, try to bring in more details about anything related to the new field (including education, skills, informal experience and achievements) and, in contrast, make the unrelated items brief.
Nowadays, most employers prefer other forms of CVs, and that is to your advantage, because your main attention can be paid to your potential. I would recommend using a skills-based (targeted) CV format.
Skills-based CV in its main part contains a list of skills required for the job, (the list can be based on the information from the job ad and some additional research), and your evidence that you have those skills. It is always tailor-made for a particular job. The internet provides lots of examples and guides on how to write a skills-based CV.
In any type of CV, write a hooking CV profile on the top. It is the most important part of your CV, because it determines whether the reader goes on reading your whole CV or not. The rest of CV should back up every statement included in your CV profile.
- Content of CV profile and cover letter
Those are your platforms to convince the employer. Use the space to answer the following questions: why you are the right candidate; what potential and talents of yours can be applied in that work; what skills and experience from your studies, previous work field and private life you can transfer into this field.
Make sure to mention your motivation and willingness to learn new things.
What can also raise your credit is showing that you have been interested in that area for some time already and working on getting into the field. In the CV profile you need to be very brief. In the cover letter (or at the interview), illustrate your long-term interest with examples such as what you have read about the field, what you have done as a hobby, (if related to the type of tasks in the job), how you have self-studied or talked to people from the new field – anything that is true and related to the work you are applying for.
Consider asking a professional for feedback – you can also contact me, if you like.
Everything written in the previous point applies also for the interview.
You need to convince the employer that you are willing to learn; you are capable of learning fast; that you are genuinely interested in that particular work and you will work well in that type of job – say why and prove it with examples (e.g. I have always liked organizing events and people´s gatherings, and I have managed to organize successfully… for example……..; teamwork suits me: during my studies I already liked working on team projects such as…, because…, and we achieved good results: ….).
Before you go for the interview, do some good research about the employer, the field and typical requirements for job candidates – the less information you have from work experience, the more research you need to do to balance it. Get an overview of the current trends, activities and challenges in the field, and about the position of that particular employer among the competition and partners.
If you are changing your career, prepare for the question “Why?” The basic rules are: keep it brief (avoid long apologizing monologues) and talk about your positive motivations rather than negative ones (not what you are escaping from, but what attracts you to the new field).
If you are a recent graduate, prepare for a question about why you have chosen the field. Mention any voluntary choices (of school, study courses, subjects, research or project topics) that you have made towards the field of work you are applying for – that will prove your interest.
- Professional online networks
In your professional profiles on the internet, such as on LinkedIn, mention also your objectives and reasons for publishing the online profile, even if you find them obvious: e.g. that you are interested in getting work experience or an internship, finding a mentor, getting advice etc. State what you can offer, too (e.g exchanging experience with other people who are trying to enter the industry; doing voluntary work). Occasionally, it works on its own and someone contacts you. More often, it is a good reference after you meet someone in person and s/he crosschecks your profile afterwards.
Avoid the temptation to bring in too many details about studies and work experiences that are not related to the work you wish to get. From those experiences, you can just pick the particular skills and achievements that you can use in the new field too.
- Private social networks
Consider mentioning your interest in the new work field or industry even in your private profiles. Your friends might know people in that field, so it is a networking opportunity that it would be a pity to miss.
It goes without saying, that you need to clean (or better never upload) stuff that would discredit you in the view of potential employers. That includes gossiping about your previous colleagues, teachers, bosses and work (even if completely unrelated to the new field). That could lower your chances more than the lack of work experience!
Special advice regarding your self-presentation as a newcomer in the work field includes: do mention your interest in entering the field to your new contacts (even if they seem to have nothing to do with the field, you can´t know who and what they know); feel confident when talking also to senior professionals in the field, (you are no competition for them now, so they might share with you more know-how than anybody else); do not ask people for work at networking events, but for information and advice about entering the field.
Never ever lie about your work experience in the field – it is usually too transparent and even if you get a job based on a lie, it will catch up with you later on. However, there is no need to make long apologies about your lack of experience either, so do not make it the central topic of your self-presentation.
Instead, focus on your knowledge, skills and high motivation to learn and work in the field. Mention them whenever suitable, and include examples.
Highly motivated candidates are precious!
Searching for a job takes some months, on average, but you can already get your first practical experience during the time.
Consider whether during the time of searching for a job you could get at least a bit of work experience, even if through unpaid work (check some ideas here). It can be a more effective investment of your time than replying to hundreds of ads, because you will get some experience for your CV as well as for your later practice, and develop useful contacts in the field, which are the two most effective strategies for entering a professional field.