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6 Ways to Get a Job Without Industry Experience

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nortonrsx/Getty Images
  • If you meet formal education requirements, look for ways to emphasize your transferable skills.
  • Consider volunteer work or unpaid internships to gain industry experience.
  • Candidates lacking experience should highlight their soft skills, such as those related to communication and collaboration.

Whether you are looking for an entry-level position right out of college or pivoting to a new industry, landing a new job without relevant industry experience can be a challenge. Often, employers will hire candidates with relevant work experience over those without, and this might leave you wondering, "How do I get experience if no one will hire me?"

There is a difference between qualifications and experience. Qualifications are the formal education requirements necessary to perform a job, like a college degree, professional license or certification. Experience, on the other hand, is your set of transferable skills, like effective communication and leadership skills.

To get a job in a new industry, you will need the required education qualifications, but experience is something you can transfer from your previous positions. If you have no industry-specific experience, here are six tips to help you land the job.

Something every job seeker should do is analyze their past activities and highlight transferable experiences. This can be done regardless of what your job history looks like, although it is especially important for those looking to transition industries or start a new career.

If you lack experience in your desired industry, chances are you have some work experience that is transferable that fits the job description. Dave Owens, director of recruiting at Addison Group, said the transferable experiences you highlight should relate to the new job listing or career path.

"If I had a background in IT sales but was looking to move into recruiting, I would talk about my project management background and my ability to manage expectations from the client side and the product (or candidate) side," Owens told Business News Daily. "This shows that the amount of ramp-up time for a new manager or supervisor would be significantly shorter, because my past experiences are relevant compared to someone coming from an entirely separate background."

Dr. Andrew Lancaster, director at UniCurve, recommended doing whatever it takes to strengthen the weakest part of your resume, even if that means taking on a casual minimum wage job just to gain some work experience. Consider gaining additional experience through other sources like extracurricular activities, clubs, professional associations and volunteer opportunities. It can be especially beneficial to take on a leadership role within these opportunities to showcase your ability to take initiative.

For college graduates, Lancaster recommended pursuing additional studies, which will make you a very competitive applicant. This isn't to say you need to pursue a new major; instead, look for short, hands-on courses that will give you more experience in your field and help you gain a leg up on the competition.

"You don't want to come across as a professional student," Lancaster said. "A graduate certificate course with a university can be a better choice than free programs. You gain a recognized qualification and are more likely to finish. Nonaccredited courses and self-training are good for building skills. But outside of technical fields such as information technology, they tend to carry little weight with recruiters."

Another way to gain experience is pursuing hands-on learning opportunities. These allow you to expand your knowledge past basic book learning and give you real-world experience in the industry you are trying to break into. Even taking on one small project can be beneficial in learning more about a given field and can give you interesting talking points to discuss during an interview.

"Some examples are work placements and practicums, applied research projects, field work and simulations," said Lancaster. "They allow you to give recruiters examples of where you demonstrated job-relevant qualities and skills."

If you take on an industry-specific role like an apprenticeship or an internship, you also have the advantage of gaining internal connections within a company that you may want to later pursue. These experiences can sometimes turn into job offers, but don't assume that will be the outcome.

If you can't find a paid internship or apprenticeship, consider gaining professional experience by working for free. If there isn't currently an available position advertised at the company you want to work with, pursue it anyway by offering your services for free. This can be a great way to gain experience and make professional connections. Lancaster has seen firsthand success using this strategy.

"I helped a public health graduate start a significant research career after she offered to write health-related articles for my company as an unpaid intern," said Lancaster. "By doing this, she was able to demonstrate her research and writing skills and had a referee (me) to vouch for her initiative and work ethic."

Certain industries offer the luxury of letting you launch your career starting with individual, at-home projects. For example, workers in industries like graphic design and content writing can use freelance job websites to connect with employers seeking their talents.  

Owens said the most important strategy that job seekers can take advantage of is networking. Rather than blindly applying to any job that piques your interest, seek out connections that can teach you about a position or company.

"What better way to get your foot in the door with an employer than by networking and reaching out to individuals at that current employer, gaining insight around how they started working at that company and allowing them to share their insights into their own professional background," said Owens.  

Although networking can happen via social media, an in-person event, or an online networking website, networking is an ongoing, long-term process. Don't be brash and ask for a job recommendation; this will turn most people off. Instead, perform informational interviews to learn about the company, industry or position you are seeking, and foster continual connections with industry professionals.

When advertising yourself to an employer, there are many non-industry-specific skills you can highlight on your application and resume – these are your soft skills. Soft skills can be gained and demonstrated through any type of work experience, regardless of the industry. Owens said these noncoachable skills, or leadership intangibles, are important, as they can help dictate a potential employee's success.

"If you look at a professional like a ball of clay, more often than not, you should be able to mold that ball of clay into a fully functioning work of art," said Owens. "The same can be said for a new graduate that has the right skills but not enough experience(s). Mold their core competencies into a fully functioning professional through mentorship, training and development."  

Owens listed the five core candidate competencies as follows:

  • Intellectual curiosity
  • Ambition or resilience
  • Communication
  • Professionalism
  • Collaboration and competitiveness

Owens said that these competencies aren't ingrained, but they be gained through a variety of avenues, like sports teams and student groups, not just industry-specific experience.

Highlighting all of your experience and skills and demonstrating their relevance to the position you are applying for is a good step forward in the right direction.

Skye Schooley

Skye Schooley is an Arizona native, based in New York City. After receiving a business communication degree from Arizona State University, she spent nearly three years living in four states and backpacking through 16 countries. During her travels, Skye began her blog, which you can find at www.skyeschooley.com. She finally settled down in the northeast, writing for Business.com and Business News Daily. She primarily contributes articles about business technology and the workplace, and reviews remote PC access software and collection agencies.