No Relevant Experience? No Problem

No Experience – No Problem!

Are you are close to graduating and believe you lack the relevant experience required to make you a competitive candidate for the positions you are interested in?

Fear not, for you are not alone among your peers. In fact, this is the number one concern of most people trying to find their first job: a lack of relevant experience.

The Ideal Scenario for Limited Experience

Ideally, you would have tried to gain some volunteer, internship or temporary experience in your chosen field while at college or Uni. However, even if you haven’t, this article aims to help you reframe the minimal experience you do have to make you attractive to a future employer.

The first thing you need to remember is that employers don’t expect you to have a huge amount of relevant experience if you just graduated. What employers are really looking for at this stage is whether you can articulate your experiences to date in a way that links them to the skills and areas for development that you would need to be a success in the workplace.

The Less than Ideal Scenario

Let’s explore the situation where you have no volunteer, internship or other experience in your field. We will use me as an example. While attending Uni, every weekend and summer for about 4 years, I worked as a server and bartender at a very busy pub near my home in the UK. I (regrettably) was not actively involved in clubs or societies while at Uni. Yet, my first job, which I got right out of school, was as an accountant. I learned nothing pulling pints and passing out plates of fish and chips that would help me get a job as an accountant. Or did I?

  • I learned to communicate with irate customers politely and diplomatically, no matter how stressed or tired I felt. (Customer Service Skills)
  • If a customer had a particular dietary restriction that we didn’t currently cater to, I would have to help the cook come up with something we could serve them. This often required liaising between the kitchen and the customer. (Problem Solving Skills)
  • As I said, the pub was busy. I learned to communicate clearly with three or four people from very different educational and skill backgrounds in a high-pressure and sometimes, very stressful environment. (Team Work & Communication)
  • As a bartender, I had to ensure that the cash balanced at the end of every night and that the bar was stocked for the next day. It didn’t matter how busy we had been that day. (Accountability)
  • The owners of the bar trusted me to such an extent that I was given a key to open up and close down the bar when they were away. (Responsibility)

Transferable Skills

Maybe you didn’t work at a pub. Perhaps you have spent time in retail, or as an attendant at a park, or doing landscaping? An ability to frame your experience in terms of transferrable skills, (the skills in bold, above), will prove to an employer you understand what is required to be a good employee and that you have demonstrated a foundation in these areas already.

So, what are transferrable skills? These are skills that you acquire in a broad variety of work settings, but which can be universally applied to any employment situation. Here is a brief list.

Leadership Skills

  • Problem Solving
  • Initiating
  • Motivating Others
  • Accountability

Organizational Skills

  • Managing your time
  • Setting and achieving goals
  • Planning

Interpersonal Skills

  • Managing conflict
  • Being a Team Player
  • Responding to concerns

Communication Skills

  • Communicating ideas effectively
  • Explaining concepts or issues
  • Advising another person

Applying Transferrable Skills to a Resume

Let’s look at an example of how you can rephrase your experience to highlight your collection of transferrable skills. I used to regularly run workshops for undergraduates looking to improve their resumes. In one such workshop a student told me the only experience he had was a summer maintenance position in which his main task was to clear up road kill! Quite the challenge! However we unpacked what his position involved in a bit more detail and figured out:

  • His role required him to cooperate with a team of four other workers (Team Work)
  • He regularly worked over time because one member of the team constantly called in sick (Accountability & Work Ethic)
  • As a result of his hard work, half way through the summer, he was given supervisory responsibilities as a team lead (Leadership)
  • He often had to work in unpleasant weather but never missed a shift (Responsibility)

These four points would make great bullets on a resume, and be a lot more attractive to an employer than simply writing “Cleaned up road kill”!! If I was looking for someone I could rely on to work in a team on a project that might get difficult at times, I would give this guy serious consideration.

A Closer Look at ‘Relevant Experience’

In some cases you may not be giving yourself credit for the experience you have. One of the employers FoodGrads works with looks for graduates who have worked in fast food outlets (McDonalds, Burger King etc.). This is because they understand fast paced, process driven workplaces. But this wasn’t for roles on a processing line, this was for positions in product marketing. Another employer said she valued applicants with experience in retail for companies with a strong brand identity. This was because they would appreciate the different aspects involved with developing and maintaining a brand.

Never forget that there are many individuals who started out just like you, with limited experience. It is your ability to leverage that experience that will help you stand out among the rest.

Do you have comments or questions about the above?

Author: Juliette Prouse