Sometimes you need a job, but you don’t have any experience. For young people, this is almost certainly the case. Whether you are applying for a part time job, summer job, internship, or your first job after graduation, most young people don’t have work experience in the field where they want to work.
A lot of people feel like they aren’t qualified for a job because they don’t have experience, but I believe a lack of experience can usually be a strength. It certainly can be a strength in sports, as I proved last week. But some might not see how that story can translate into getting a job.
Here’s another story for you.
When I was in college I interviewed for a job as an electrical engineer at a nuclear power plant. At the time I interviewed, check out my killer credentials:
- I had taken less than 30 hours of engineering courses and hadn’t even enrolled in a single junior or senior level electrical engineering course.
- I had no engineering internship or co-ops in college
- My most relevant work experience was as an assistant pool manager where I would occasionally work in the pump room if something broke.
Despite my obvious lack of relevant experience, and a job climate in late 2007 where opportunities were scarce as we entered a recession, I made it through multiple rounds of interviews and was offered a position as an electrical engineer with a starting salary of over $60k a year.
How to Interview When You Don’t Have Experience
- Tell the interviewer that your lack of experience is a strength.
- Apply skills and/or experience you have to the job for which you are applying.
- Acknowledge your lack of traditional experience, and promise to put in extra work to get experience and learn quickly.
That’s it. Steps one and three are pretty much the same for any job. The most difficult, and most important part, is number two.
For this engineering job, I used my assistant pool manager job and talked about some pretty unique ideas I had for safety improvements for the staff and in the pump room. Safety is such an important part of engineering that the seemingly irrelevant pool manager experience was good enough to get me the job offer.
A lot of people can’t relate to applying for an engineering position at a power plant, so let’s look at how I would address my lack of experience in an interview for a generic marketing position. Keep in mind that you can change “Marketing” to any other long-term specific college certification.
Also, keep in mind that you and I probably don’t have the exact same skills, so you would have to customize this to fit yourself.
Interviewer: Hi Kevin, I see you are applying for an entry level job in Marketing, but I noticed that you don’t have any experience or education in the marketing field. Help me understand what makes you qualified for this position.
Step One: Tell the interviewer that your lack of experience is a strength.
Of course. I actually believe my lack of marketing experience is one of the reasons I can excel in this position.
Step Two: Apply skills and/or experience you have to the job for which you are applying.
My educational experience in Math and Electrical Engineering gives me a unique perspective that will allow me to extract meaningful information from raw marketing data. I can use this analysis to determine which of our marketing strategies are most effective and help the company place more focus on the most effective strategies. In addition, through my experience in the IT field I have become very skilled at implementing process improvement techniques. I believe if we apply these techniques to our marketing campaigns, we can shorten the time to market and reduce the costs of developing the marketing strategy.
I’m sure you already have a team of great marketing minds. When I combine my analytical skills with their marketing expertise, we will be able to come up with new, unique solutions that this company hasn’t seen before!
Notes: The key is to make your irrelevant experience become relevant. If you do it properly, you are establishing yourself with a unique set of valuable skills that sets you apart from any candidates with traditional experience and skills. At the end, you can remind the interviewer that he probably already has a team full of people with the same skills, and make him wonder if he really needs another generic candidate with the same qualifications as everyone else.
Step Three: Acknowledge your lack of traditional experience, and promise to put in extra work to get experience and learn quickly.
I’m also very confident that I can learn marketing skills and techniques very quickly, and will use every opportunity I can to learn as much as possible. I think it’s a big advantage for me to learn the [insert company name] approach to marketing. You won’t have to un-teach me all the bad habits that other people may have picked up from prior work or educational experience that doesn’t agree with your approach.
Finally, I am well aware of my need to gain experience quickly, and I am happy to put in the extra hours to get caught up as soon as possible. Every assignment I’m given will be a new, exciting opportunity for me to learn and grow as a marketer and a person, and I will approach it with more passion and intensity than anyone who has been doing it for years.
Notes: When you acknowledge your lack of experience, it shows that you aren’t selling a load of BS. A lack of experience CAN be a strength, but it is DEFINITELY a weakness. The important thing is not to dwell on the negative and move quickly into how you are going to fix your lack of experience when you are hired.
Interview with Confidence
That’s how I would approach an interview for a marketing job. Would I get the job? I honestly have no idea.
But I do know that I could approach that interview with confidence. I would offer a unique skill set that differentiates me from anyone else interviewing for the position. When my interviewer is done with all his interviews for the day, mine will stick out from all the other ones where he heard, “I did this promotion…” and “I worked on this marketing project…”
To some people, it will stick out in a bad way. But for others, it will stick out in a good way. Just keep interviewing until you get one that likes you.