How to Get a Job When You Lack Experience

While you can't create experience you don't have, you can make yourself more marketable for jobs that might be considered a reach.

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Miriam Salpeter
Miriam Salpeter
When you’re early in your career and lacking work experience, are you totally out of luck as a job seeker? What about if you’re in the midst of a career change and your background doesn’t quite live up to what your targeted job descriptions require?

While you can’t create experience you don’t have, you can think outside of the proverbial box to help make yourself more qualified.

Here’s how to make yourself more marketable for jobs that might be considered a reach:

[See 10 Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Internship.]

Know your strengths. Carefully evaluate your true skills and qualifications. Go through the job description with a fine-toothed comb. Maybe you don’t have the number of years required working in the field, but you strongly believe your transferable skills make up for any shortcomings. Or you know you have special, unique abilities that enhance your marketability. Identify these areas—as they relate to what the employer needs—and be sure your application materials clearly highlight them.

In some cases, job ads request the equivalent of the “sun, moon, and stars.” If it seems employers ask for a lot, it’s true. It’s not unusual to see position descriptions with 15 to 25 bulleted “requirements.” Since online descriptions don’t mandate hiring managers narrow their lists, they probably list every possible need. Do they always expect to find someone who meets every qualification? Probably not. The description may be a “best-case scenario,” so if your honest evaluation suggests you are a strong candidate, even if you’re not an exact match, apply. Just make sure your materials detail how you have the muscle to do the heavy lifting the job requires.

Showcase your soft skills. The Talent Culture blog defines emotional quotient, or EQ, as “a person’s ability to understand and manage their emotions and those of others.” Melissa Martin, a coach who taught classes to help people improve EQ, notes “70 percent of required skills on typical job postings require EQ traits, such as empathy, stress tolerance, and problem solving skills.” Emotional intelligence is more difficult to quantify than specific technical abilities, but a great resume will include measurable indications of EQ, such as successes performing in teams, leadership results, and adaptability skills.

[See 6 Tips for GenY on the Job Hunt.]

How can highlighting your EQ help you reach for a job? A Harvard study found people prefer to work with someone they like, and “If someone is liked, his colleagues will seek out every little bit of competence he has to offer.” In other words, people would rather work with a likable person without all of the necessary skills than a person who has all the technical background but is not pleasant.

This describes the all-important “fit” a hiring manager seeks when identifying strong candidates, and most often likability relies on being emotionally intelligent. Luckily, Melissa reports, unlike IQ, which researchers think generally tops out around age 21, you can improve your EQ into your 50s. Evaluate your EQ and think about ways to make yourself more likable, thus more hirable, even if your background is not exactly what your job targets require. Then, incorporate specifics in your application materials and do whatever you can to prove you have a high EQ.

Use social media. Luckily, an easy way to show your ability to relate to others and to establish a community (EQ skills) is by using social media. At the same time, if you use it well, you can showcase your expertise online in hopes of meeting influencers in your field. Contributing regular content via Twitter, answering questions on LinkedIn and Quora, and consistently presenting a professional persona in line with your target job helps make it clear to an employer you have what it takes to do the job—even if it is a reach.

Writing a blog is the best way to take advantage of social media tools to help you jump steps in your career. Updating a blog designed to highlight your skills as they relate to those “pie in the sky” job descriptions can help you convince readers you are well qualified and well connected. Share links to your blog and professional profiles when you apply for positions, but more importantly, use your blog and social networking as a ticket to connect with people who can get to know you and your work.

[For more career advice, visit U.S. News Careers, or find us on Facebook or Twitter.]

First, you’ll introduce yourself via your writing and by pinging contacts via social media. Once you have a relationship, you may want to ask for a phone conversation or in-person informational meeting. Your goal? Not necessarily to land a job, but to showcase your competencies, passion, interest, and skills during a one-to-one meeting. Once you convince someone with influence in your field that you’re suitable for the type of jobs you seek, you’ll have another foot on the next rung of your career ladder.

Miriam Salpeter is a job search and social media consultant, career coach, author, speaker, resume writer and owner of Keppie Careers. She teaches job seekers and entrepreneurs how to incorporate social media tools along with traditional strategies to empower their success. Connect with her via Twitter @Keppie_Careers.