If you’re thinking, “I can’t get a job because I have no experience,” you’re not alone. It’s the worst paradox: You need a job to get work experience, but every job seems to require work experience. This can be frustrating for early job seekers who want to get their foot in the door.
So, can you even land a job without work experience? The short answer is yes — but not without a fine-tuned job search strategy. We talked to human resources and leadership experts to learn how to get a job with no experience.
How Am I Supposed to Get a Job With No Experience?
It’s normal to have job search anxiety if you’ve never had any professional experience. In college, my friends and I scoured job boards to look for entry-level roles, just to find that half of them were looking for multiple years of experience.
True entry-level roles, however, don’t require any professional experience. It’s called a “first job” for a reason! If you’re stuck on how to get a job with no experience, first, examine your application materials. Then, get strategic on how you find roles. Here are seven expert tips on how to get a job without experience.
Craft a Resume
Professional work experience isn’t the only thing you can put on a resume, especially when starting out. For example, suppose you’ve done volunteer work, extracurricular activities, school projects, internships, or externships.
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You don’t need precisely the same experience the job description asks for to be qualified for the role. For example, if you’re applying for a customer-facing sales role, your experience working at an ice cream shop can be valuable because you have to deal with customers daily.
“You need to tie [your experience] into the job description and what they’re looking for,” Olga Eippert, people operations professional, says. “It’s all about how you tell the story.”
Emphasize Your Skills
Since you don’t have professional work experience (which, again, you’re not expected to!), employers will look more closely at the skills you have.
You can include any skills in a job application you’ve picked up — it doesn’t matter if you got them from a professional work experience or not. Courses, certifications, Forage job simulations, and independent projects all count. Chances are you’ve developed valuable hard and soft skills you can bring with you to your first work experience.
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“Think about how these experiences have helped you develop skills that are relevant to the job you’re applying for,” Michelle Hague, HR manager at Solar Panels Network USA, says. “For example, if you’re applying for a job that requires excellent communication skills, you could highlight a time when you led a team project and successfully communicated with everyone involved.”
Create an Online Portfolio
Knowing how to get a job with no experience is about showing, not always telling. What does that mean? Showing your work through links, photos, or online publications is a great way to demonstrate to employers that you have experience doing the actual projects or applying skills you might be working on in the role. One of the best ways to do this is to compile your work in an online portfolio. You can then link to the portfolio on your LinkedIn, resume, and in emails with networking connections (more on that below!).
Online portfolios are a great option for a variety of careers, whether you’re in tech or a creative field. For example, let’s say you’re applying to software engineering roles. You could create an online portfolio of open-source coding projects you’ve worked on and link to class projects you’ve developed. Or, let’s say you’re applying to UX design roles. You could create an online portfolio that includes concept sketches, prototypes, and finished website designs you’ve worked on — even if those finished websites were personal projects, not professional ones!
Don’t Be Shy
OK, you’ve put together your basic application materials. Now, it’s time to jumpstart your job search by reaching out to others. Don’t be afraid to leverage your network — yes, you have one even if you don’t have any professional contacts!
Anyone can be in your network if you’d like to talk to them about professional experience. It can be a friend of a friend, your cousin, or a classmate. It can also be a professor, career center professional, or your last manager at your summer job. Whoever it is, it doesn’t hurt to reach out to them with a polite, kind request.
“In that message, say you are now looking for a job and would welcome any help or ideas about who you could approach,” Victoria Tomlinson, the chief executive of Next-Up, says. “This is a numbers game. The more people you contact, the more there is a chance they could know of a job.”
Recruiters can especially be helpful, too, as they’re the ones looking for candidates to fill the roles they recruit for. Don’t be afraid to reach out to recruiters on LinkedIn if someone connects you or you find a job with an active recruiter.
Your message might be mutually beneficial.
“It’s not that you’re bothering them, but you might actually do them a favor,” Eippert says. “Many companies have a referral program. If you’re successfully hired, they might get a referral bonus.”
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Apply to the Right Jobs
Wondering how to find a job with no experience? You’ll need to get savvy with your searching. It’s a running (and cruel) joke that many entry-level jobs online say you need much more experience than an entry-level job should require. This is frustrating, and it means you’ll need to pay more attention to the exact details of the job requirements.
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So, what can you do to find and apply to the right jobs?
- Filter for entry-level jobs. While not all entry-level positions listed will be truly entry-level roles (requiring little-to-no experience), this gives you a starting point to filter for jobs that aren’t looking for already established professionals. Include roles that require one-to-two years of experience — these count as entry-level jobs, too.
- Apply if you have at least 60% of the requirements. Employers often list requirements as a “wish list,” not a bare minimum. Apply if you have most of the core requirements. “Don’t feel discouraged by just looking at the job description and feel like, ‘oh no, this is what they need, and I don’t have all of it,’” Eippert says. “There’s hardly ever anyone who ticks off all the boxes.”
- Look for roles that want you to submit test work or samples. Rather than explaining your experience and knowledge, you’ll be able to demonstrate your skills on tests or sample work.
Show Your Intent
When hiring for entry-level roles, employers are looking for motivated employees who are willing to learn rather than employees with a wealth of experience.
“When hiring someone with no experience, I care more about soft skills, like confidence, eagerness to learn, and a self-starter attitude,” Doug Arms, COO of The TemPositions Group of Companies, says. “Essentially, I need to know that if I give the person a task that they are unfamiliar with, that they will gladly take it on, get the appropriate guidance, and will try to figure it out on their own.”
You can show your intent in a few different ways:
- Show you’ve done your research in the application: You’ll need to customize your resume and any other application materials (like a cover letter) to each company you apply for. Be sure to include specific skills, tools, programs, and experience the company asks for in the job description — it not only shows you’ve done your homework, but helps you prove you’re the right fit.
- Complete a Forage job simulation with the company: If the company has a job simulation on Forage, especially for the role you’re applying for, completing it can quadruple your chances of getting hired. Why? It shows the employer you’ve gone the extra mile to demonstrate your interest, and builds your skills and knowledge needed to thrive in that role.
- Ask meaningful questions in the interview: Come to the interview with a good knowledge of the company, role, and its mission. While you can — and should! — still have questions, they should be informed by what you already know. For example, you can ask about an initiative the company is working on or an employee program you learned about.
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The job search comes with ups and downs. There may be times when you can’t help but think, “I can’t get a job because I have no experience!” While the job search can be frustrating, that’s not true — you can get a job even if you don’t have experience.
To navigate the stress and disappointment you may feel at times, you’ll need confidence in yourself that you can and will get a job without work experience.
“You really have to believe that good things will happen,” Eippert says. “Even if you apply and get a lot of nos and rejections, don’t take it personally. It just means this job wasn’t for you. Maybe it wasn’t the right fit or the right time. Something better is waiting for you.”
>>MORE: Learn how to ask for feedback after being rejected from a job.
How to Get a Job With No Experience: The Bottom Line
So, can you really get a job without any work experience? While it may require more work during the application process — including optimizing your resume, applying for the right roles, networking, and showing you’re a motivated candidate — it’s definitely possible.
“That’s how we all got started,” Eippert says. “We all have to get our foot in the door somehow.”
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