Applying for a job with no experience may feel like you're fighting a losing battle, but don't give up - learn what you can do to boost your chances of success
It's a classic catch-22 situation: you need experience to get a job, and a job to get experience.
This can feel disheartening, but remember that you're not alone. Finding a job with little or no experience isn't impossible - you just need the determination and tenacity to uncover the right opportunities.
There are plenty of ways to give your CV a boost, gain the skills that potential employers are after and get your foot in the door.
Look for internships and apprenticeships
If you're struggling to secure a long-term or permanent position, internships and apprenticeships are great ways to gain that much-needed experience. They make it possible to earn a wage while acquiring first-hand knowledge of a job or organisation, are useful for building a network of contacts and can sometimes lead to permanent employment.
An internship looks impressive on your CV and can make you stand out from the crowd. Some larger companies may offer a formal internship programme, so check the websites of organisations you're interested in to see what's available. You may need to apply speculatively to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), as their opportunities are rarely advertised.
Internships can last from a couple of weeks to a year, and they're very popular - expect to face a competitive application process, especially at larger companies.
On an apprenticeship, you'll be employed to do a real job while studying for a formal qualification. You'll sign a contract with your employer, who then trains you in a specific profession. Apprenticeships are a long-term agreement and can take from one to four years to complete. The majority of apprentices are guaranteed a job on completion of their programme.
Find out how to apply for an apprenticeship.
Volunteering positions are more easily secured than an internship and they're a sure-fire way to boost your employability, especially if you have no relevant experience. Although unpaid, you'll profit from the skills and contacts you gain.
Volunteering experience shows commitment, initiative and a strong work ethic - after all, you're working for free - which are all valuable, appealing traits to prospective employers.
You'll also develop a range of sought-after, transferable skills, such as teamwork, confidence, time management, adaptability, communication and organisation.
Try to gain volunteer work relevant to the area you'd like to work in - for example, aim to volunteer in schools or with youth organisations if you'd like to work with children. However, don't worry if you can't - any volunteering experience will boost your CV and give you real-life examples to mention at interview. Find opportunities in your area through organisations such as Do-it.org and Volunteering Matters, or search volunteering opportunities.
Build your networks
When you're starting out with no experience, who you know can be just as important as what you know. A recommendation to an employer from a personal contact can go a long way. But how do you build up a network of contacts if you're struggling to enter the world of work?
If you're at university, utilise the contacts available to you before you graduate. Make the most of careers fairs, recruitment networking events and employer talks or lectures. Visit your university careers service to see if they can put you in touch with employers in your area of interest.
Keep in touch with lecturers, the people you meet on work experience placements or internships and fellow volunteers - you never know when these contacts might come in useful.
Social media is also a really effective way of building and maintaining your professional network. Being present on sites such as Twitter and LinkedIn, and following and connecting with companies and individuals in your chosen field can yield impressive results. It's not unheard of for students and graduates to be offered a job off the back of their social media profiles.
Emphasise the skills you have
Work experience, internships and volunteering are essential for ensuring that your CV doesn't look empty at the application stage.
Focus your CV on the skills you do have, rather than the ones you don't. Analyse the job description and list all the skills and personal qualities that make you a good fit for the job. Be sure to emphasise soft and transferable skills such as communication, leadership ability, team working and attention to detail.
However, if you lack direct experience in your chosen field, don't gloss over the fact; instead use it to demonstrate your passion and motivation to learn. Highlight examples of your dedication and commitment to learning, gained through volunteering work, internships or work shadowing.
'It's important to think about any extracurricular activities that are going to help you stand out from the crowd,' advises Darius Matusiak, associate director at recruitment consultancy Macildowie.
'Playing sports can demonstrate both leadership and team working qualities, while being part of a society could involve project and planning work, both useful to employers,' he says. 'Emphasise other areas such as student awards and charity work. These will help portray you as a more rounded individual.' Learn more about the importance of extracurricular activities.
Target realistic roles
There's nothing wrong with aiming high, but if you've no previous experience starting your job search by applying for senior roles is pointless. Be realistic and instead target entry-level or junior jobs and be prepared to start at the bottom and work your way up.
Applying for opportunities in regional offices may be less competitive, or applying to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can help you discover fantastic companies that may be overlooked by others.
Speculative applications are also a useful tool. While the majority of advertised vacancies require some form of previous experience, who's to say you can't create your own vacancy by applying speculatively?
'Being proactive is critical,' adds Darius. 'Use LinkedIn to approach companies. Also, send letters and pick up the phone. Being one step ahead gives you a competitive advantage.'
Do your research and apply to companies that interest you. Tailor each application and ask if there are any entry-level positions available, as you're looking to break into the industry. The organisation might not have any suitable openings, but you can still use the opportunity to your advantage by asking if you could do some work experience for the company or shadow one of its employees.
Find out more
- Search graduate jobs.
- Learn more about getting a job.
- Discover how to write a CV.
- Read up on work experience and internships.