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How can I get paid experience when no one will give me an opportunity?


experienceTeresa from California State University Bakersfield asked:

I am majoring in the Child, Adolescent and Family Studies, I have applied to several jobs and keep getting the same response: “We would love to hire you,  but you have no paid experience.” I have volunteered at an after school program for over a year now and told have been told that it does not count.  So my question is this: How can I get paid experience if no one will give me an opportunity? 

Hi Teresa

This is a tough challenge that can seem impossible to address:  You need experience to get a job, but the only way to get experience is to get a job, which you can’t get because you don’t have the experience.

In these situations, I usually find the issue is not that you don’t have the experience they are seeking, rather it’s that they don’t understand the experience you have, and it is easier to just say no.  Most job seekers don’t do a good job of clearly articulating what  they want and what they offer in terms clear and relevant to employers. You may be having a similar experience.

I have some advice and suggestions below.  If these don’t help, please let me know.

Not all experience is created equal

When it comes to experience, it is important to be sure that you and potential employers are on the same page with regard to how you each are defining experience.  That is, when an employer requires that candidates have experience, precisely what does that employer mean?  And, when you say you have experience, precisely what do you mean?

Look at the answers to both of those questions and see if they are the same.  Sometimes the experience you have is in line with the type of experience they are seeking; sometimes it is not.  When, in your opinion, they are in line, it is your job to make that fact clear to the employer.  Remember, employers don’t just inherently understand you , what you offer or what you want.

You have to help employers understand you.

Not all job opportunities are created equal

Take a look at the kinds of jobs for which you are applying.  Are they entry-level jobs or are they jobs that truly do require some kind of post-degree experience?  From your question, it sounds like you are a current undergraduate student.  Perhaps you should be looking for an internship rather than a job?  Perhaps the jobs you are targeting are a step or two beyond your current reach?  I don’t know  the answers to these questions because I don’t know you.  I strongly advise you meet with the career advisers at your university to get their suggestions and advice.  They can help you make sure you are focusing on the right jobs for you, your skills and experience, and your objectives. Also, they can tell you when your objectives are (or are not) compatible with your qualifications.

Employers will not usually tell you why you weren’t hired

As long as they are following fair, open and ethical hiring practices, they really have no obligation to justify their hiring decisions to people they did not hire beyond sharing that they hired someone who was a better match.  When pressed for more information, employers often give very nice and polite, but extremely generic, responses like “we hired someone with more experience” or “we needed someone with more paid experience.”  Sound familiar?  Thought it might?

So how do you get the real story?

Go to the source! Get advice from people doing the jobs you want

Have you ever heard of informational interviews? They are great ways to get first hand information on jobs and careers from professionals already working in the fields you wish to enter.  For detailed information, download my Informational Interviewing handout.  Informational interviews are not job interviews but they can lead to job interviews.  They are the best way to get first hand information directly from the source.

Teresa, my guess is that you and the employers you are targeting are just not the same page.  I’ll bet that if you get some advice from your college career adviser and couple that advice with the information you can gather through informational interviews, you will have a better idea of how your combination of education, experience and skills match best with entry-level job opportunities in in your field.

Good luck!



1 Comment

  1. […] How can I get paid experience when no one will give me an opportunity? […]

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