Looking for a job in a new field can be a lengthy and, at times, frustrating process. On average, it takes job seekers about five months to find a new position, but when you’re trying to switch industries altogether, it can easily take far longer. Between resume filtering systems that automatically reject your application and recruiters who only look at experienced applicants, you may find yourself struggling just to schedule an interview.
To further complicate the situation, as many as 61% of entry-level jobs require candidates to have at least three years of experience in that field. This is yet another barrier to employment that can prevent applicants from getting supposedly “entry-level” positions. Additionally, an entry-level position is defined as “a low-level job in which an employee may gain experience or skills.” Because of what entry-level jobs are supposed to be, you aren’t just losing out on a job; you’re also being denied the opportunity to gain the knowledge, skills, and training you need for your professional development.
Despite these difficulties, it’s still possible to start a career without any previous experience, in a new field, or without a college degree under your belt. You simply need to use the right strategies to sell yourself to employers and take advantage of any helpful opportunities that might arise. By working to bolster your resume and getting involved with your desired field, you can put yourself in the best position possible to successfully break into a new industry and land your dream job.
First and foremost, it’s important to note that you should continue to apply to jobs that interest you, regardless of your level of experience. In many cases, it’s perfectly acceptable to apply for a job when you’re underqualified. Not being selected for the position is the worst thing that could happen, and the only way to guarantee you won’t get hired is not applying at all.
When you do apply for a job, focus on what you do have to offer the employer. Highlight the skills and qualities you already possess or that you’re actively working to improve. Showcase your enthusiasm and passion, and explain why you want to enter this new field. Try to be as confident in your abilities as possible in your application materials or interview; there’s no need to dwell on your weaknesses.
That being said, you should be upfront about your lack of experience from the get-go. Address your inexperience in your application and resume, and be prepared to have an honest conversation about it during interviews. In many cases, being honest about the situation may not be as bad as you think. For instance, many recruiters will understand why you’re lacking experience if you’ve been working flexible or part-time jobs to stay home with your kids, but are now wanting to make your career a bigger priority. You can be upfront about your situation, and then move on to your more positive qualities, including what you already bring to the table and the steps you’re taking to improve your knowledge and skill set. By presenting yourself in the right light, you can still be a viable and competitive candidate, despite being unqualified on paper.
Finding a new job can be a bit easier if you’ve already been working in one industry and are trying to switch to a different field. Even if you’ve only got a few years under your belt, you can contextualize that previous experience to make it relevant to the position at hand. For instance, if you volunteered as a youth athletics coach, you can highlight your ability to lead, inspire, and manage other people when applying for a supervisory role. Although working as a coach for a youth sports team doesn’t directly prepare you to become a manager or supervisor at a company, it does allow you to develop and hone skills that are applicable to that type of position. Having relevant skills, even from unrelated positions, can help show employers what you’re capable of despite your lack of direct experience.
You can also use your track record from your previous positions, as well as your professional references, to your benefit when switching fields. Although your day-to-day activities may not be explicitly relevant to those of the new job, you have already worked with people in a professional environment who can attest to your abilities, work ethic, and accomplishments. Many hiring managers and recruiters will be glad to hear from your past supervisors that you’re a hard worker, fast learner, or team player. While this may not completely compensate for your lack of experience, it can be an effective way to use the experience you do have to your advantage.
If you lack experience in your desired field, it’s crucial to take steps to fill that gap and improve your knowledge. Not only does this enrich your own skillset, but it also demonstrates to employers how serious you are about making this shift. Luckily, there are plenty of ways you can gain an edge, hone your skills, and set yourself up for success:
Professional certifications are a great way to gain more experience in your desired field and communicate exactly what you already know to potential employers. In some instances, such as working in the skilled trades, you may be required to get a certification or license before you can begin working autonomously. In others, you may be able to begin working and then receive a certification to bolster your credentials after the fact.
In still others, getting a professional certification can open up not only current job possibilities, but it can also pave the way for future professional opportunities. If your ultimate career goal, for example, is to become a nurse, you’ll need to undergo a lot of education, training, and licensure beforehand. There are entry-level positions that require professional certification and practical training that you can pursue to prepare for work as a nurse. Many nurses first get certified as a nursing assistant, which often involves on-the-job training in addition to meeting educational requirements. This serves as a helpful springboard for getting the experience you need to become a registered nurse in the future and helping you take those initial steps into the healthcare industry.
Research the various certification options you have in your field and consider obtaining the ones that will benefit you now, as well as in the future. If you’re deliberate and thoughtful about what certifications you obtain, you can use those credentials to get your foot in the door while making a long-term investment in your career.
Internships are another great way you can gain relevant experience. Working as an intern for an organization in your field provides you with the opportunity to gain hands-on experience and make connections with other professionals. Depending on the position, an internship may give you the boost in experience you need to find a permanent job. Your internship could lead to long-term employment with the organization you worked with or a lead on another open position in your area.
Finally, consider volunteering your time as a way to gain professional, practical experience. For instance, if you’ve never worked in an administrative role but are asked to help with data entry and fielding phone calls as a volunteer, you still have a chance to learn those relevant skills and carry them over into the professional world. Similar to how you can use your unrelated past experience to your advantage when switching fields, you may be able to contextualize your volunteer experience in a way that enhances your value as a job candidate. Further, if your volunteer position is related to the field you’re trying to enter, you can also meet and connect with other like-minded individuals and professionals in your community.
When it comes to starting your career, who you know can be more important than what you know. Meeting established professionals in your desired field is a fantastic way to get your foot in the door, either in the industry or a specific organization. Networking is essential for any field, as it allows you to make important professional connections, improve your own knowledge of your industry, and make your presence (and desire for a new job) known among people in your community.
Although important, networking is often easier said than done. It can be intimidating to put yourself out there, especially if you don’t already have a few contacts or connections. That being said, here are a few ways you can start developing your professional network:
Knowledge is power, and it’s crucial for you to stay informed about the goings-on in your field. Pay attention to the latest developments, insights, and trends, at local, national, and even international levels. Be on the lookout for any news updates, read popular blogs and websites about your industry or from industry leaders, and follow industry leaders and key influencers on social media sites. Staying informed is a simple way to improve your own understanding of your desired field and demonstrate your passion and dedication to potential employers. You may not have previous work experience, but you can show how you’re working to correct that by learning as much as possible.
Finding a mentor is one of the biggest benefits that can come from your networking efforts. Mentors can share all of their knowledge with you, guide you through the industry, and help you become a stronger candidate for the position you want. They may even have professional connections of their own and be able to help you get a relevant job, internship, or volunteer opportunity. Either way, it can be comforting to have someone who has first-hand experience and can assist you during your job hunt. You can’t force or rush finding the right mentor, but it doesn’t hurt to reach out to your friends, family members, neighbors, and other connected professionals in your industry to see who they know.
Social media can be a great networking asset when you use it correctly. It’s a simple way to stay informed about the latest industry news, follow leaders in your field, and get in touch with potential mentors and other like-minded people. You can easily join the conversation about interesting articles, breaking news, or recent developments in your field. However, be careful when getting involved in social media; you have to make sure your profile and interactions remain professional and appropriate. If your existing profiles have any photos, videos, or posts that are unsuitable for work, you may want to consider making a separate profile for your professional activities. Doing so can help you make a better impression on the people you meet both on- and offline.
Finding a job when you don’t have any relevant experience can be difficult, and even discouraging. However, it certainly isn’t impossible, as long as you know how to put yourself in the best position to succeed. Learn more about your field, develop your personal skill set, and get connected with as many people as possible — it may be a challenge, but it’ll be well worth the effort when you finally land that dream position.
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