Interview When You Don't Have Experience

It’s an old paradoxical adage that is also a rite of passage obstacle for young aspiring professionals – you can’t get a job without work experience. But the only way to get the necessary work experience is to get a job. Whether you are applying for a part-time job, summer job, internship, or post-graduation job, most young people don’t have any work experience in the field they want to work in. So, how do you interview when you don’t have experience?

A lot of people feel like they aren’t qualified for a job because they don’t have experience. Do you feel that way?

Well, for one thing, you are not alone. Every doctor, airline pilot, and tech mogul has had a first day on the job in their lifetime before they became professionals. Not having any work experience when you are young or changing careers is normal.

Consider this: over 4 million Americans abruptly quit their jobs in April 2021. Many wanted a fresh start and to pursue new careers after 2020 and the pandemic. And others wanted higher-paying jobs or to start their own businesses.

I believe that a lack of work experience can be portrayed as a strength in a job interview. After all, what other option is there?  It certainly can be viewed as a strength in sports. Please check out that story from my youth where I competed to be one of the fastest swimmers in the state of Missouri, even though I had no prior experience.

My point is that there is no point in despair. We all need to work, even in tough or undesirable job markets. And to develop a professional career, one must see obstacles as challenges and convert weaknesses into strengths.

So, here are a few tips on how to interview when you don’t have experience.

But first, here is a story about how I reinterpreted a job as an assistant pool manager to get a job as an electrical engineer. I didn’t have any experience for the job I sought, and I got it.

From Assistant Pool Manager to Electrical Engineer

Here’s another story for you.

When I was in college in 2007 I interviewed for a job as an electrical engineer at a nuclear power plant.

I didn’t have any experience. But I needed the job and just simply reinterpreted my lack of experience as being adaptive to new challenges.

There was no way I could fake having any experience as an experienced electrical engineer, so I didn’t try. I had taken less than 30 hours of engineering courses. And I hadn’t even enrolled in a single junior or senior-level electrical engineering course.

I also had no engineering internship experience or co-ops in college.

So during the interview, I portrayed a recent gig as an assistant pool manager as a skill that could transfer to electrical engineering in a nuclear power plant.

My most relevant work experience was as an assistant pool manager where I would occasionally work in the pump room if something broke.

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.

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.

Don’t settle in life – always strive for more.

How to Interview When You Don’t Have Experience

How you interpret yourself and your skills when interviewing for a job when you don’t have experience will vary according to the job.

Don’t Lie

It’s OK to reinterpret or creatively portray existing skills as an adaptive benefit in a new position. And it’s even OK to slightly exaggerate your existing skills as long as you can back it up.

Just don’t lie. You will be vetted, you will be caught, and that will be that.

Research the Position and the Accompanying Industry

The only way you can portray your existing skills as adaptable to the job you have no experience in is to do your research.

Research the position and the industry you are applying for.  Your interviewer knows you have limited experience.  Don’t give them ammunition to criticize your inexperience or unsuitability for the position.

You should understand the job position, the company, and their place in the industry they operate in. The interviewer wants to be reassured that you understand what you are applying for. And they want to see you can answer their questions and the position, company, and the industry.

In other words, B.S. might get you to the top, but it won’t keep you there. Do your homework before the interview.

Dress for the Job You Want

Whether you interview in-person or by video call, make sure to dress formally. Nothing accentuates working inexperience or non-professionalism like t-shirts, partial clothing, rumpled clothing, or a disheveled appearance.

Conduct Mock Interviews Beforehand

Brainstorm what questions will be asked of you. Have a friend ask you questions in a mock interview. Focus on how your inexperience may be brought up. And practice a relaxed Pokerface when discussing your inexperience.

Your facial expressions and mannerisms must project confidence during your interview. Justifiable confidence will take you a long way when you don’t have a lot of work experience.  Something else that might help is learning to speak publicly. This generally helps build your confidence and improves your poise and verbal skills.   Toastmasters, which is cheap on a monthly basis, but costs a lot in terms of preparation time, is a good option for this.

Tell the Interviewer That Your Lack of Experience is a Strength

You may not have any experience as a mechanic, but you can apply your hobby skills as a gearhead to the position.

Or you may have no formal teaching experience, but you can explain that your experience as a daycare center volunteer or high school mentor qualifies you for an entry-level position.

A lot of people can’t relate to applying for an engineering position at a power plant as I did in my personal example. And you shouldn’t try. Sell yourself and your skills in a way that is believable as being beneficial and transferable to the position being offered.

The key is to make your irrelevant experience very relevant to the interviewer. Tell them what they want to hear, but explain why it makes sense. Explain how you will apply the experiences and skills to the job you are applying for.

Acknowledge your lack of experience – don’t ignore or lie about it. Just explain that you will bring a fresh perspective and a zeal to learn the position and become a benefit to the company.

If you do it properly, you will portray yourself with a unique set of valuable skills that sets you apart from other candidates.

People see what they want to see – make sure that your interviewer sees a go-getter, inexperience be damned.

At the end of the interview, remind the interviewer that they probably already have a team full of people with the same skills, and how groupthink inhibits innovation. Make them wonder if they really need another generic candidate with the same qualifications as everyone else.

Interview With Confidence

When you acknowledge your lack of work experience, it shows that you aren’t selling a load of BS. And you prevent the interviewer from bringing it up themselves, which may hint that you are hiding something.

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 hired.

For more on getting jobs, what to do once you’ve got them, and what to do if you lose them check out these articles.

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