How can I get paid experience when no one will give me an opportunity?

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Tamara from California State University Bakersfield asked:

“I have applied to several jobs and keep getting the same response: “We would love to hire you,  but you have no paid experience.” I have volunteered at an after school program for over a year now and told have been told that it does not count.  So my question is this: How can I get paid experience if no one will give me an opportunity?”

Thank you for your question, Tamara!

This is a tough challenge that can seem impossible to address:  You need experience to get a job, but the only way to get experience is to get a job, which you can’t get because you don’t have the experience.

In these situations, I usually find the issue is not that you don’t have the experience they are seeking, rather it’s that they don’t understand the experience you have, and it is easier to just say no.  Many job seekers don’t do a good job of clearly articulating what they want and what they offer in terms clear and relevant to employers. You may be having a similar experience.

Not all job opportunities are created equal

First, take a look at the kinds of jobs for which you are applying.  Are they entry-level jobs or are they jobs that truly do require some kind of post-degree experience?  If you’re graduating soon or fresh from school, it’s possible the jobs you’re finding are legitimately beyond your current experience, and you need to narrow your scope to entry level positions or internships.

I strongly advise you meet with the career advisers at your university to get their suggestions and advice.  They can help you make sure you are focusing on the right jobs for you, your skills and experience, and your objectives. Also, they can tell you when your objectives are (or are not) compatible with your qualifications.

Market your experience so employers understand

If you’re applying for appropriate jobs and not getting to the interview phase, there may be an issue with your marketing. Something in your resume, CV, or cover letter is not getting the point across that you are a knowledgeable and qualified applicant. Make sure your resume is concise and easy to read. Leverage your volunteering experience and talk about the valuable skills you learned there. Read over the job posting requirements, and make sure the skills and qualifications that overlap with your experiences are advertised in your resume.

Make it easy for employers to see you can do the job!

Get your networking started

You are not the first or only person in your field to run into this issue. Connect with fellow classmates in your major, with your professors and advisors. How did they get started? What kind of experiences did they collect as they started their careers? What would they do differently knowing what they know now? Informational interviewing is a great way to begin growing your professional network and to gain valuable information from those who have already learned how to flourish in your desired field.

You and your prospective employers need to get on the same page. I’ll bet that if you get some advice from your college career adviser and couple that advice with the information you can gather through informational interviews, you will have a better idea of how your combination of education, experience and skills match best with entry-level job opportunities in in your field.

Best of Luck!


About the Author

Esme Smith

Esme received her M.A. In Counseling from St. Edward's University, and worked with students at Concordia University Texas' Career Center. She developed a passion for Career Counseling after leaving undergrad without much guidance, and grappling with unsatisfying work. She strives to help others bridge the gap between graduation and "the real world."

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