When you're looking to get on the career ladder, applying for a job with no experience can appear daunting - but with a bit of tenacity and determination, you can still uncover the right opportunities
If you haven't worked during your time at university, you may be finding yourself in the classic catch-22 situation where you need experience to get a job, and a job to get experience.
While this can feel disheartening, remember, you're certainly not alone. Many other final-year students and graduates will be in the same place, having spent the past few years focusing on their studies as well.
It's true that finding work straight after university with no experience to put on your CV can seem like an impossible task - however, 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 run formal internship programmes, 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, and then receive training 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.
Typically more easy to secure than an internship, volunteering positions are 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, which are all valuable, appealing traits to prospective employers.
You'll also develop a range of sought-after, transferable skills, such as:
- time management
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.
If you can't find anything relevant, don't worry - any volunteering experience will boost your CV and give you real-life examples to mention at interview.
You can find opportunities in your area through organisations such:
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 an effective way of building and maintaining your professional network. Being 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.
This webinar featured in the Prospects Future You: Live event in November 2020.
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.
When you're writing your CV, focus 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. To help you, take a look at the essential skills employers are looking for.
However, as you're likely to lack direct experience in your chosen field, don't gloss over this 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.
Also, don't undervalue your commitment to any societies you've been part of while at university, or sports teams you've been involved with. This is because you'll have developed skills in areas such as team working and leadership. 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 SMEs can help you discover fantastic companies that may have been overlooked by others.
Being proactive by sending out speculative applications is also worthwhile. While the majority of advertised vacancies require some form of previous experience, who's to say that you can't create your own vacancy by highlighting what you could bring to the business?
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 at this time, 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.
- Explore work experience and internships.
- Discover what else is involved with getting a job.