Lack of experience (new graduates, changing careers)
Jacob Alexander is an Executive Recruiter and the Owner of Topcruit Staffing Firm. He has over a decade of experience in employee retention, recruiting and business development. Based in Denver, Colorado he thrives on helping job seekers learn what they need to develop and grow.
Finding the right job and securing the offer can feel difficult—especially now, given the record unemployment rate and therefore more-competitive-than-normal candidate pool. Job seeking with barriers such as gaps in employment or lack of education can make the job search feel even more intimidating.
However, it's true that every individual will face unique challenges based on their background and career goals. If you’ve been diligently applying to jobs without getting many responses, it may be a simple matter of reframing the "negative" characteristics of your professional background and emphasizing the value and experience you do have to offer. In this article, we sit down with Tara Thompson McCracken of Goodwill Industries to understand common barriers to employment and solutions for addressing each during the hiring process, from resume to interview—plus resume and cover letter examples.
The most common employment barriers
Tara Thompson McCracken, Director of the Western District of the Workforce Development Center at Goodwill Industries of Northwest North Carolina, works with job seekers who want to get back into the workforce but may have employment barriers keeping them from getting the job. She cites the following as the most common reasons she sees that job seekers get passed by on jobs they have applied for:
Lack of experience (new graduates, changing careers)
Gaps in employment
Insufficient education or training
Absence of reliable professional references or referrals
There are, however, several ways to communicate your barriers in a way that is compelling and positive so employers focus on the qualifications, experience and qualities you do have that make you the best person for the job.
How to address the most common job barriers
In the following section, we’ll explore ways to turn each “negative” into a positive throughout your job search process. This blog will specifically focus on Lack of experience (new graduates, changing careers)
If you lack experience
If you’re a new graduate, seeking a career change or lacking experience for some other reason, you might face this common conundrum: How can I get a job that requires experience, to get more experience? The solution lies in not just framing your background creatively according to what you do have to offer such as transferable skills, but also in identifying and reaching out to companies who might be most receptive. Transferable skills, also known as “portable skills,” are qualities that can be transferred from one job to another. You likely already possess many transferable skills employers want, like organization or strong communication. You can strengthen those skills and develop new ones that employers value across industries and jobs.
What it says to potential employers
Some employers may view a lack of experience as costly and time-consuming due to the training they may have to invest in your onboarding. On the other hand—and what you should underscore in your job application and interview—others may see it as an opportunity to work with someone who is receptive to their processes and can be trained specifically for their company needs.
What to do if you have limited experience
It’s helpful to remember that many employers are looking for entry-level candidates to perform necessary tasks. Finding opportunities with companies who are looking for candidates like you is the best first step. McCracken explains:
"One thing we are seeing now that is slightly different (or maybe just heightened because of the pandemic) is people with certain skill sets and job history in one industry that they can’t really go back to right now. One example would be individuals with hospitality experience, wanting to stay in hospitality, but not seeing the openings that we would usually see in that industry. With these job seekers, we really talk about transferable skills, positions, and environments where they might like to work. During this time, we are also coaching around the benefits of finding temporary assignments to expand professional networks, gain new skills and fill the void now while the industry recovers."
1. Look for entry-level jobs or internships Start your search by filtering jobs by “entry-level” as well as the occupation and industry in which you’re interested. Your priority as an entry-level job seeker is to gain valuable experience and training, not necessarily to acquire your dream job. The more experience you gain, the more traction you have in being considered for future positions and companies.
Once you have a list of companies with entry-level positions available, research them. Learn their mission as a company, what they are looking for in their team members, and what kind of career growth and training they offer. Focus on the soft skills, hard skills, qualifications, and values listed in the job descriptions and identify the ways you align with their goals. Once you have a comprehensive understanding of the company and role expectations, you are better positioned to create a customized application.
2. Reflect on what you do have to offer, not what you don’t While you might not have years of experience in the position or industry you’re seeking, you do have a unique set of experiences, skills, interests and other qualities some employers are seeking. Start by identifying any industry or academic groups, volunteering activities and other relevant experiences you have. Such experiences require certain skills that you can relate back to the job.
For example, perhaps you organized and led a book club and you’re applying for a customer service position. You can emphasize your organization, communication, and leadership skills from your experience as a book club leader. Once you have a working list, you can start developing a tailored resume and cover letter. It is best that you customize your general resume for each job you’re applying for.
3. Choose the right resume format Consider using a functional or skills-based resume format that highlights your objectives and transferable skills as opposed to the standard chronological format, which draws attention to your professional experience. McCracken says:
"As a hiring manager myself, the first thing I review is the resume as this provides the ... experiences and skills the applicant has had in the past. It is also the first thing I will see come across in the application process. Focusing on skills instead of the gaps is a great way to use the resume as your advertisement. The different types of resumes formats are becoming much more common within that last few years than maybe in the past where the mindset was chronological only. We see a lot of employment gaps for various reasons-extended periods of unemployment, background barriers, just to name a few. Job seekers are sometimes nervous to talk about their employment gaps and what those gaps might look like to employers. We coach around utilizing functional resumes formats and focusing on what they have done instead of what they haven’t done-which would be the gaps."
4. Customize your application Carefully study the job listing and include all the skills, qualifications and qualities that match your background in your resume. For example, in this entry-level posting for an Entry-Level Marketing/Merchandising Assistant, they list:
Create and write relevant informational descriptions, images, and videos as well as other product merchandising tasks
Researching and launching new products
Executing our team’s merchandising strategies on the site
Managing promotions and assortments on the company’s retail website
Supporting the marketing team's existing marketing plan
Carrying out ongoing product collection maintenance functions
Outstanding communication, writing and grammar skills
Self-starter with superior organizational abilities and a professional attitude
Results-driven attitude and work ethic
High interest in marketing, web content, product promotion and social media
Familiarity with the following are beneficial: Photoshop, HTML and CSS
Express complex ideas in a simple, clever, and appealing way
Manage projects from beginning to end, create and manage timelines
In your resume, you can address the requested skills and experience by integrating keywords from the job description. For example, if you held a job as an office assistant, you likely have experience creating and writing informational descriptions in some way. Be sure to phrase a bullet under your professional experience that addresses such a task, like so:
Cloud Clearwater Office Assistant | Sept 2018 - Current
Creates and writes informational assets for office maintenance tasks and products, reducing new-hire onboarding time by 30%.
If you have yet to have that experience, mention that you are eager to learn in your cover letter with ways you’re currently working on building those skills. Your cover letter should expand on your resume, not repeat it. It is best to summarize all your skills and experiences that match the job description, along with your motivation for applying to their specific company in that specific role.
5. Connect and follow up While it is always a good idea to follow up on a submitted application, it is especially important if you have limited experience as it demonstrates your enthusiasm for and commitment to the job.
Start by reaching out to the primary hiring contact (unless the job posting says otherwise) to acknowledge receipt of your application and ask if there are any other materials or information you can submit. Next, research other applicable professional contacts at the company that you might be able to start a conversation with. A good place to do this is by looking at professional networking platforms or seeing if the company has a “meet the team” section on their website. Be respectful and do not overwhelm them with too many questions or emails.
Introduce yourself and include the position you recently applied to. Ask if they might be able to offer insight on the position, hiring processes and the company. Most often, starting a conversation like this will not only give you the information you are looking for, but it will also start a conversation with someone who could recommend you for the position and/or keep you in mind for future roles.
Next Tuesday we will discuss how to overcome gaps in employment history!