It’s the classic career catch-22: You don’t have any experience in a particular field or role, but you can’t get a position because experience is required.
What’s a career changer or industry newbie to do?
Well, here’s some good news: We live in a world full of spin, and there are certain ways that you can fake it until you make it. It might seem impossible to circumvent the experiential barrier to entry, but remember that, these days, experience doesn’t just come from conventional internships and jobs.
While these strategies won’t work if you’re attempting to be a doctor or an aeronautical engineer, for many roles, you can gain that much-needed experience from opportunities that you create for yourself. Here’s how.
1. Just Start
You actually don’t have to wait for someone to offer you a paid position to start doing what you want. It’s not ideal to work for free, and you don’t necessarily want to become a casualty of the “Intern Economy.” But, for a little while, you can get started by finding small ways to work in your field. If you want to be a writer, for example, start submitting freelance (and yes, I mean free-lance) pieces to outlets that appeal to your vision. If you want to work in a startup, teach yourself to code at Codecademy. Find out what skills and experiences are required in the industry you want to go into, and then hack your way into developing some of them proactively.
2. Find Mentors
Mentors can open all kinds of doors for you, and this is true even in a brand-new field. Good mentors will also cut through all of the B.S. and tell you pragmatically how you can acquire skills and land a position. So look for people who might be able to help you through the transition, and pick their brains. Industry associations and alumni networks are a great place to start meeting people, but don’t be afraid to cold e-mail people you find interesting and set up a coffee date.
It’s often said, so I won’t dwell on it, but: Volunteer because it helps others, volunteer because it’s a great way to meet and network with relevant people, and volunteer because, if you’re using the skills required for your dream job, you’ll have something concrete to stick on your resume.
4. Make the Little Stuff Count
It might feel like your college work experience, your internships, your barista gig, or your small “other duties as assigned” in your current position don’t matter, but remember that getting a foot in the door requires making the best of what you’ve already got going on. So, look for the transferrable skills in any of those experiences, and find ways to position them as experience for your dream gig. Don’t be afraid to emphasize the fact that you were an orientation advisor for new students (Counseling! Consulting! Communications!), or that you worked for the family business as an errand monkey—er, an office management operations associate.
5. Be Entrepreneurial
As eye roll-inducing as the term “leadership role” may be, taking charge of a project is always a smart move. Coordinate a fundraiser for a charity, offer to head up a team or initiative for your department, or spearhead a business plan competition for your alumni association. Any experience where you’ve created something out of nothing will show hiring managers that you’ve got what it takes to succeed in a new role—even if you don’t have the traditionally required “experience.”
Photo of man thinking courtesy of Shutterstock.