Friday, 1 November 2013

Overcoming Employment Barriers: Overcoming No Experience

'Anonymous' contacted me at my writing blog (because I haven't yet got my contact form on here working) with the jobsearch related question, "What can you do when employers want experience and you don't have the experience?" Seeing as I have seen this same question in a number of different job seeker forums over the past week, I thought I would have a go at answering it.

This is a great question!

But, the answer depends on a number of factors, including what position type you are going for, and how quickly you need a job (to name just two).

Everyone, even school leavers, parents returning to the workforce after a significant break, and those seeking career changes have skills and experiences gained elsewhere that they can bring to a role.  And unless the type of work requires certain qualifications or licences, generally those skills and experiences gained from doing something similar is enough for you to consider yourself as having related experience.

For example, take the dedicated 'canteen mum' who volunteers at her child(ren)'s school, preparing and cooking recess and lunch, and serving the onslaught of students (and teachers) all attending at once.  These mums are accumulating employable skills and experiences - in food preparation, maintaining food hygiene standards, in customer service, stock control and even money handling.

Yet, I can guarantee (from having worked in the employment services industry is that), most of those 'canteen mums' when they eventually look for paid work (or what some people consider 'real' jobs), don't often appreciate just how employable they are, and that they do indeed possess the very skills and experiences employers are requiring for many of the jobs they want to apply for.

The 'trick' here (but it is no trick really) is before you start your jobsearch, give a lot of thought about the skills and experiences you have gained from a range of tasks throughout your life, including the work that you've done for your family and the community, or as part of study, not just the previous paid positions held. Once you have a few things clearly in mind, identify the aspects of those tasks that are closest in being related to the type of work you are seeking now, and most importantly identify which tasks you performed you excelled at more than others. Perhaps it was the food preparation, or the handling complaints, getting the till to balance perfectly at the end of each shift, or that you managed to serve three customers at once unlike the other mums who were slow and barely managed to serve one.

Once you've identified the skills and relevant experiences gained, you can then turn your attention to your future applications, and start looking for suitable vacancies.  Our canteen mum might decided to apply for a teller job at her local bank - for which she has built up great cash handling and customer service skills; or, she may go for some other job that requires people who can meet tight deadlines - for which she will be perfect, because not once at the end of lunchtime did the canteen volunteers ever have children still lined up to get their lunch.

Job search, every part of it, is about selling your related skills and experiences so an employer is likely to conclude that you will not only be able to do the job (every applicant probably could), but that you could do it well.  If you don't value your own skills and experiences, then it will be so much harder for you to convince the employer that you can do the job well, and it only takes another candidate who has confidence and recognises the skills and experience they possess for the employer to prefer that candidate over you.

Even job seekers who been doing the job in the same industry but with a different employer needs to demonstrate to an employer that they can do the job for them and do it well. Just because you are already working in the industry doesn't make you a sure thing against other candidates.

I know of a consultant who applied for another job with a different agency, and had their interview straight after one of her job-seeker clients, who got the job even though the job-seeker client had never worked in the industry before. The consultant told me she had believed she would easily get the job over her client, so didn't put as much effort into the interview as she should have; and I'm guessing that the job-seeker client had sold the employer that she could do the job well based on her experiences and performance outside of the employment service industry, as a sales rep.

But if you really haven't done anything to keep your employability at current levels, then my suggestion would be for you to undertake work experience or gain a qualification in your employment of choice. People who volunteer are often on-hand when paid opportunities arise within an organisation, and fair better than candidates responding to a vacancy advertisement, because their standard of work, their reliability, and even their personality is already known - and that instantly makes them more desirable than an unknown.

But even if no vacancy arises, undertaking voluntary work to build up professional currency is a smart decision, because you are building up relationships with managers who can act as a referee.

Remember, employers like achievers, so anything that you can do better than others will cause an employer to assume that you are likely to do the job, and do it well. And when they believe that about you, you are one step closer to gaining a job offer.