Some Experience Required: How to Get a Job When You’ve Never Had a Job

Starting out as a first-time job seeker can be daunting. You need a job, but in order to get a job, you need experience. In order to get experience, you have to have had a job. New college graduates, especially those who didn’t work while they were in school, sometimes wind up feeling stuck with an impossible conundrum. How do you get experience when you need experience to get experience?

There are some ways to start building a work history, even if you have limited or even no work experience thus far. Take heart. If it were truly impossible to get a job when you haven’t had one before, no one would ever break into the workforce.

The first thing to do is consider what related experience you have that demonstrates your skills, abilities, and work ethic. While not exactly a substitute for having had a job, things like coursework, school projects, and extracurricular endeavors can show an employer that you might have what it takes to succeed if given a chance. Choose the most relevant experiences to include. If the job you’re applying for is in an office setting, your computer classes may help show you’ve got the skills for the job. For customer service positions, extracurricular activities with a focus on helping others might be enough to get your resume noticed.

Next, think about signing up to volunteer. It can be frustrating to need to work for free when you really want to work for money, but volunteering can be an investment that pays off when it comes to writing a resume. If you can find a cause you care about, you can then seek out organizations that will let you volunteer. While you’re contributing to a worthy cause, you’ll also be gaining skills and experiences. Longer-term volunteering looks better on a resume than short stints do, as it gives a potential employer a better picture of who you are as an employee. It will also likely lead to a better reference.

Finally, make sure you’re targeting the right kinds of jobs. Some employment opportunities require a solid work history, but other jobs and fields are more welcoming to the inexperienced job seeker. There’s a reason a lot of people work retail or food service for their first job. Internships place more weight on academic accomplishments, and cooperative learning programs can give you a way to work for companies that might not otherwise consider you. While jobs like these might not be your ultimate career goal, they can be important stepping-stones as you gain experience, develop skills, and build a work history.

Starting out as a new job seeker can be daunting, but please don’t be discouraged. If you’re taking full advantage of the opportunities that come your way, it gets easier to write a resume and apply for jobs. Eventually, you’ll look at the experience required in a job description and think, “I’ve got all of that.”

Don’t give up!

A Love Letter to NOT Loving Your Job

It’s the middle of February, which means Valentine’s Day is upon us. Whether you celebrate Valentine’s Day or not, you’ve probably noticed the proliferation of pink and red briefly taking over the world (or at least the candy aisles). Since the focus of the holiday is supposed to be love, let’s talk about whether or not you need to love your job.

Well, you definitely don’t want to hate your job. If you’re working full-time, the better part of your waking workday hours are spent with colleagues, doing whatever job it is you do. If the work you do makes you miserable, that’s a surefire way to spend your days stressed and unhappy. Not good.

As a career advisor, though, I see a lot of people looking for work they love—work they feel excited about, work that makes them happy, work that doesn’t feel like work. “I want to love my job.” Sometimes the person I’m advising is trying to figure out how to start a career, and sometime they are trying to change careers after a decade or more in the workforce. My advice is always the same when someone tells me they want a job they love:

You need to like your job. You don’t need to love it.

It’s fine and totally, completely normal to want a job where you’re happy. A job you feel excited and passionate to do. A job where time passes enjoyably. The trouble starts when you want those things always. There’s a big difference between wanting to do work that excites you and wanting to do work where you’re never, ever, not for one single second bored. There’s a difference in wanting to do work that makes you happy and wanting to like—or love!—every little thing you have to do.

Wanting to love your job can set up some pretty unrealistic expectations and create dissatisfaction in an otherwise workable employment situation. No job is perfect. If you start looking for a new job every time you have to do something boring, you’ll run out of jobs to apply for quickly. Every job has a routine, and no matter how exciting everything is at first, eventually something you have to do will start to seem less appealing. There’s value in learning to be happy in a not-quite-perfect situation.

Am I saying you should stay in a job where you’re miserable? Absolutely not! My advice is to aim for a job that you like 80% of the time, and to make sure that the other 20% of the time is tolerable for you. You may not jump up Monday morning thinking, “Thank goodness the weekend is over! I get to go back to work!” But you don’t need to dread your job, either. Set reasonable expectations, and if your job is meeting your needs and not making you want to run screaming for the hills, you’re in a pretty good situation. When you do decide to move up or move on, you’ll be less likely to be bitterly disappointed when you find out your new job isn’t quite perfect, either.