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How do you get experience if nobody will hire you without any?

By Beth Braccio Hering,
The interview is the time to show how your abilities fit with the company's goals and needs.
The interview is the time to show how your abilities fit with the company's goals and needs.
  • Getting a foot in the door is difficult, but not impossible
  • It's easier for a company to train employees on technical skills versus core competencies
  • If an applicant lacks experience, his résumé should highlight examples of professional skills
  • Don't pretend: the interviewer knows whether or not you have experience

( -- It's an age-old dilemma facing job seekers ranging from new college graduates to workers trying to transition into a different industry: Employers want to hire people with experience, but how do you get that experience when nobody wants to hire you because you don't have any?

While getting a foot in the door may be difficult, it's not impossible. Here, experts show how to put your best self forward to convince employers that you can do the job.

Examine transferable strengths

Lacking history in a given field doesn't automatically translate into being an undesirable applicant. Oftentimes, things learned in one workplace are valuable in another.

"I can think of more than one instance in which a candidate was able to sell himself for a specific role despite having little or no experience and who then moved on to being a fantastic fit for the position long term," says Julie Rulis, talent acquisition manager for Western Union.

"It's much easier for companies to train their employees on technical skills versus core competencies like leadership skills, analytical abilities, motivation, ambition and problem-solving. These traits span multiple industries and functional areas."

David Couper, a career coach and author of "Outsiders on the Inside: How to Create a Winning Career ... Even When You Don't Fit In," suggests looking at how your past field and your desired one might be comparable. "Processing insurance claims is similar to processing medical claims. If you wanted to move into health care from financial services, it would be reasonable to make this comparison." Keep your eyes on solar companies

Look outside the workplace

Employment is not the only thing that shapes a candidate. "Do an analysis of activities you have taken part in outside of work and list the skills you have used," Couper says. "These activities could include anything from chairing a PTA committee to upholstering a chair at home. A coaching client of mine got experience in fundraising for charities through his extreme cycling hobby where he raised money to fund major competitions. He leveraged that experience into a full-time job in business development with an advertising agency."

Create a functional résumé

Your task is to show a prospective employer what you can offer, not what you lack. Thus, ditching a regular résumé dedicated to career history in favor of a functional résumé that focuses on abilities may be helpful.

"If an applicant lacks experience, his résumé should highlight examples of professional skills, such as problem-solving, time management or other skills related to the particular industry and position he desires," says John Robak, executive vice president and chief operating officer at Greeley and Hansen, a leading national niche firm headquartered in Chicago that specializes in innovative engineering solutions.

"Most importantly, the job seeker should outline how his skills will be beneficial to an employer as well as detail the ways in which he can apply these skills in the position he is seeking."

Couper adds that having a cover letter that includes a referral from a personal contact may go a long way. "Having a recommendation from someone the employer respects will help to counteract any negatives he may see in your background." Get the most from a fall-back job

Sell yourself in the interview

Armed with a solid sense of what you bring to the table, the interview is the time to make the connection clear to the hirer. This involves not only knowing your strengths, but also how those abilities fit with the company's goals and needs.

"It's really important to spend time understanding the role before the interview takes place so the applicant can position him or herself accordingly and be prepared for any questions that come up," Rulis says.

If the interviewer does bring up lack of experience, experts suggest trying to redirect the conversation back to skills you do possess. What not to do: lie.

"Don't pretend," Couper warns. "The interviewer knows if you have experience or not. For example, a hiring manager I knew would ask candidates if they had experience using Microsoft Excel. If the candidate did not know what a pivot table was then the manager knew that he did not have in-depth knowledge."

Show dedication

Finally, it is critical to demonstrate to employers that your interest in their industry is more than a passing thought or an attempt to land any job. Ways to do this include:

• Researching a company before an interview.

• Consistently reading up on the field.

• Attending professional conferences.

• Talking (and networking) with appropriate people. 7 things you should never say in an interview

Or, go a step further:

"For those job seekers that lack experience, I recommend, if possible, that they complete an internship or volunteer their time within the industry they are seeking employment," Robak says. "These options will help a job seeker build relevant skills, demonstrate commitment to the industry and gain some experience."

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