How to get experience if you don't have experience!
My biggest frustration when I left uni was that all the entry level job ads I saw asked for, "a minimum of 12 months experience". All I could think was, "Man, I've just left uni, how exactly am I meant to get 12 months experience if no one will give me a shot!?
Well, the good news is there are plenty of ways to get experience if you show a bit of tenacity and are willing to do the hard yards to get your foot in the door.
One of the best ways to get started is to get a job as an intern in the industry you want to work in. You'll probably start out getting coffees for people and doing the filing - but that's OK! While it's a long way from the CEO gig, remember just about everyone has gone through this at some point in their career... it's a right of passage.
The biggest frustration for employers is when a new starter believes they are above the job they were brought in for, or huff and puff about the menial tasks they've been assigned. In most cases, employees with this attitude won't last long, so do the best job you possibly can at whatever it is you've been asked to do, because this will help you stand out. Prove you're willing to do an absolutely outstanding job of anything that's thrown your way and it's far more likely you'll be the one who stands out and gets assigned the best tasks eventually, meaning you get the experience you came for. At an absolute minimum, what you'll get out of interning is 6 to 12 months in a relevant business within your industry and a good reference on your CV to set you up for the next challenge. That's when it'll all be worthwhile.
The trade-off of is that you may need to work for free, or at least very cheaply. If you're reading this before you finish uni, get your interning done while you're still studying if you can and leap ahead of your peers!
Pulling beers at the pub, or selling underwear at David Jones won't help you get a job in your chosen career, unless it's hospitality or retail. Believe me, I know how tight money is when you're studying, so if this isn't possible for you, don't stress, but just to be clear I'm not talking about working for free full-time, even as little as a few hours a week will help massively. Depending on what industry you're considering, you may also be able to find a paid internship - a double win!
So, how to you find companies to intern with?
Well, the first step is to go and speak to your uni about the intern programs they offer. If they can help you, great. If they can't, don't give up there.
The next step is to do your research. Which companies are in your target industry? Who are the best employers? Top-notch employers tend to be really open to interns, so approaching companies known for leading the way in their industries and looking after staff is a great place to start your research.
Try Employer Review sites like www.jobadvisor.com.au to find them. All you need to do is sign-up with an email address and you can access thousands of anonymous company reviews, written by their own employees. Make sure you also chat to your mates in relevant classes at uni, or your lecturers - it's more than likely someone either knows of a good intern program, or can get you connected to the right people.
With bigger companies, usually the best place to start is with the HR / Recruitment teams, who will tell you if they have intern programs or not. The best ways to find out who to talk to are:
- Visit the company's careers page and see if you can find a contact
- Call reception and ask for HR
- Check out the company's jobs on CareerOne and see if you can find a contact mentioned
- Join Linkedin and do a search for, "HR OR Human Resources OR Recruitment" in the job title, along with the company name
- Try this Google search... (HR OR "Human Resources" OR Recruitment) AND company name
If HR / Recruitment can't help, you can also use LinkedIn to try and find hiring managers to approach directly.
Small companies will often love to have interns on board too, but they probably won't have HR/Recruitment teams, so go straight to someone in Senior Management, or in the very smallest employers, the CEO or MD. They should be pretty easy to find on the web.
How do you approach them?
For me, this was the scary bit. It can be intimidating approaching strangers and asking for a role with their company out of the blue, but what I've learned is that people will go out of their way to help you as long as you do one thing, which is to ask for help in the first place! The funny thing is that the more senior they are, the less scary and more approachable they tend to get.
Ideally you want to try to get someone on the phone but this can be hard and scary. Writing an email is ok but you want to stand out from the crowd and that can be hard too. Writing a hand posted letter can work well, simply because no one rights letters anymore. Just make sure if you don't hear back, that you follow up with a phone call too!
Whatever you do, it pays to be creative and memorable. Try to think outside the box, don't be boring. Nowadays, social media can help you not only track the person down but also engage with them. Linkedin is a great way of starting up dialogue with a prospective employer but also think about how you can use channels like Twitter and Facebook to understand a company's presence in the market and the challenges they may face. Being able to bring this kind of intel to someone in that organisation will put you well above others that might also be vying for attention.
Your approach should simply be along the lines of, "I've just graduated university and I've been looking for companies I'd like to work for. Your company looks like the kind of organisation I'd love to work for because I read about XYZ... I've also seen that you're currently targeting X customer segment and noticed that there could be an opportunity to do Y. I'm just starting out so I don't have any commercial experience yet, but I'd be willing to help in whichever way I can, just to get the opportunity to learn from you."
Now, you'll need to tailor your approach depending on who you're talking to but give it a try and see how you go. The worst that can happen is they say no, or never get back to you, but if you don't try then the answer is always "no".
Want to test your approach?
Click here to tell us how you'd approach a potential employer! We'll collect the best responses and send them to you in a follow-up post.
About Justin Babet
Justin is the CEO and Founder of www.jobadvisor.com.au, Australia's leading Employer Review site. He has over 14 years business, management and recruitment experience.