How to Get a Job With No Experience

Despite our best intentions, we sometimes find ourselves unprepared for life's biggest challenges. Sometimes, the more time we have to prepare, the more time we spend procrastinating. For many people, picking up some valuable work experience to prepare for college graduation is one of those things. We mean to do it, and we know it's important, but sometimes we just never get around to making it happen. If you find yourself in that situation, what should you do?

To help you on your path, we asked five college career counselors to share their advice with you. Today we're joined by Andrea Lowe (University of Wisconsin - Madison), Pam Ehlers (Oklahoma State University), Matt Ishler (Penn State University), Laura Kestner-Ricketts (Marquette University), and Jen Busick Stewart (Oregon State University).

We asked each counselor the following question:

What is one piece of advice you would give to students who graduate without any kind of work history?

Their answers are below. As always, we hope that you find their perspectives helpful, actionable, and inspiring.

Andrea Lowe

- Coordinator of Career Advising, University of Wisconsin-Madison

andrea lowe

I think the first step is to have the student meet with an advisor where I think they would discover that they really do have some experience. Whether it was volunteering, participating in a student organization, doing an unpaid internship or even working on a course project, they could find a way to translate those activities into experiences an employer would find interesting and relevant to what they were hiring for.

Once the student was armed with a little more confidence in what they have accomplished, the next step would be to meet with professionals in their field(s) of interest to do some informational interviewing. During those meetings, students will learn about professionals' career paths, what skills and experience it takes to be successful in their fields, what opportunities are available for entry level work, and who else the student should talk to.

The student might also want to explore the idea of doing an internship after graduation. Some (but not all) employers will entertain the idea of bringing someone on as an intern even if they have graduated.

Pam Ehlers

- Directory, OSU Career Services, Oklahoma State University

pam ehlers

Don’t have experience...get some! Volunteering is the best way to gain work experience without being hired for a job. Try to find a volunteer experience where you can use and practice the same skills you would use in a professional position. Treat your volunteer experience as a job, work hard, show initiative, and then ask the organizers to give you a reference.

All employers, regardless of the field, are looking for individuals who show up on time, are “team players”, and will give an honest day’s work. The great thing about having work experience is that your future employer can contact your past employer to ask about these attributes. Volunteer references can also attest to your work ethic.

Matt Ishler

- Assistant Director, Career Counseling, Penn State University

matt ishler

If a student is graduating without any work history, I would encourage the student to reflect upon any experience gained from non-work sources. Experiences valued by employers, such as communication skills, leadership experiences, organizational skills, and problem-solving skills (to name a few), can be obtained through many sources, including class projects and assignments, volunteer work, and student organization involvement.

My first piece of advice to this student would be to list academic projects and involvements in any type of activities, whether these activities are related to the career goals or not. These experiences might be research papers and presentations, group projects for classes, student organization involvement, involvement in hobbies and activities, and even social activities and hobbies.

I would encourage the student to identify skills and experiences that would be transferable from one of these settings to a career setting. For example, a student who volunteers time and effort toward a political campaign may build persuasive and informative communication (written and verbal) skills, might apply skills with technology, or skills organizing activities. Another example might be a student who organizes an intramural activity, or a student who writes a research paper on a complex topic.

These students are demonstrating the ability to set and achieve a goal, and identifying the tasks that comprise this goal can help a student to acknowledge and present the experiences that student possesses. When pursuing employment, it is important that applicants communicate their skills to an employer through listing these achievements and the actions that were required to achieve these results within a resume and interview.

For the student who is about to graduate, and may be thinking about acquiring additional experience, I would encourage this student to consider volunteer activities and organizations as a chance to build and demonstrate skills. A community based, civic, or religious organization can provide an opportunity to contribute existing skills while building and practicing new skills. Local nonprofit organizations can be a great place to start the search to build new experiences. An alumni group can also provide a forum for remaining connected to your academic institution while seeking new experiences.

For students with semesters remaining prior to graduation, it is never too late to acquire the first work experience. Search campus employment resources, and visit your Career Services center to learn about local employment opportunities, or opportunities to build experience in your desired field.

Laura Kestner-Ricketts

- Director, Career Services Center, Marquette University

laura kestner ricketts

Every now and then I meet with a student who has no work history. Assuming there is also no service/volunteer experience, leadership/involvement experience, or sports experience then we are left with one option for creating job search materials: SKILLS.

This type of student needs to seriously assess his skills and how they were gained. Having a Skills Highlights section at the beginning of his resume is essential. This cannot be just the “usual” listing of skills. This student must identify those skills specifically required for his career objective, decide which of those he possesses, and then highlight those not only in this section but also in another section called Course Projects.

I’m going to assume he has career-related skills gained through coursework and class projects. He will need to think back to at least two situations to highlight and outline them just as other students would outline their career related experience. An example would be: Project Title, Name of Course, University, City, ST, Semester and then list bulleted statements describing not only the task but the skills used through action word statements, plus the outcome.

Honestly having no work history makes for an even more difficult job search. Perhaps the best advice is GO GET SOME HANDS-ON EXPERIENCE before beginning a job search.

Jen Busick Stewart

- Career Advisor & Outreach Coordinator, Career Services, Oregon State University

jen busick

One piece of advice I would give students who graduate without any kind of work history is to get some hands-on experience as soon as possible. Employers expect graduates today to have done at least one internship while in school and like to see involvement such as being part of a club (taking on leadership roles is a plus), studying abroad, part-time job, research, and more.

This doesn’t mean you must do all of these experiences while in school, but pick about two that you can really get involved in and develop professional skills. If a student has already graduated and is not able to find work due to a lack of work history, then I would volunteer. Volunteering is a great way to develop skills, network, and give back to the community. It is also a way to add work history to your resume, even if you are not getting paid. On your resume, there is no need to title a section “Work History”, instead title it “Experience” and then you can list any experiences, not just jobs.

Hopefully more and more students are graduating with a variety of hands-on experiences. Not only does it look good on your resume and help you get a job, it also is a way to explore your own strengths, skills, and interests and “try on” a career before you get the degree.

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