Your Dream Job Requires Experience. Here’s How to Get It

Dream job search
•••

 Getty Images/Jaris Ho

If you’ve been searching for the ideal job to start on your career path, you might have come across a listing that looks like this:

"Available: Entry-level job, pay negotiable, benefits included. Job requirements: College degree, two to three years of related experience."

Sound familiar? 

Some companies, in fact, require college graduates to have years of experience to be considered for an entry-level role, making it challenging to start a career.

According to one analysis, 61% of entry-level job postings required three years or more of experience. A National Association of Colleges and Employers survey showed that today’s employers are looking for both hard and soft skills in their entry-level workers. 

While a college degree can help you earn more over the course of your career, it doesn’t necessarily give you all the skills you need to take the first step on the professional path—nor does it give you years of experience to wave in front of the hiring manager. 

So how do you get enough experience to get started? 

Stop Being Modest and Start Giving Yourself Credit 

Don’t Underestimate Your Value

In a Robert Half survey, 62% of employees reported being hired for positions when they were underqualified. 

Studies have shown that women in particular feel they need to meet 100% of the criteria in order to apply for a job (men, meanwhile, do so after meeting only about 60%). Because of this tendency to screen themselves out of the process, women end up applying to fewer jobs than men. 

However, you shouldn’t let inexperience deter you from giving it a shot. According to the same Robert Half research, 84% of employers were willing to train the right candidates even if they didn’t yet have the required skills. So, if you’re holding back because you don’t meet all the requirements for a job opening, it’s time to be brave. You could be losing out on opportunities by underestimating your worth to employers. 

Consider Your Transferable Skills

It’s also possible that you’re overlooking transferable skills that you’ve already developed. Consider your work experience in the context of what you’ve learned, not which job titles you had. 

For example, if you’ve worked as a cashier, you’ve learned listening skills, patience, and how to stay calm under pressure, as well as how to make change and balance a cash drawer. Those skills will be valuable in any job that involves dealing with the public, from IT support to pharmacy technician

If you want to highlight your transferable skills, choose a functional resume format that puts your skills front and center. 

Volunteer

If you’re stuck in a job that doesn’t use your skills or feed your spirit, volunteering can be a way to solve two problems at once. Choose an organization you care about, and you can gain a sense of purpose in the short term. Take this time to look for opportunities that help develop job-related skills and experience, and you can eventually move into a job that’s a better fit.

Volunteering can also help you fill a gap in your resume when you’re between jobs in your field. You may also be able to turn your volunteer work into a full-time job

Freelance

According to a study from Freelancers Union and Upwork, 57 million people in the U.S. freelanced this year—that’s 35% of the workforce. If you’re trying to gain work experience and polish your skills, you might want to join them. 

Getting started—especially part-time—is easier than you might think. You can find freelance job listings on specialty sites like FlexJobs or by using filters and keywords on job sites like Indeed. But you can also network your way into freelance gigs by posting your availability and skills on LinkedIn and other social networks.

Consider an Internship or Apprenticeship Program

Especially if you’ve just finished school, you might not be thrilled at the idea of signing up for another internship or training experience. But depending on your situation, one of these programs might be just what you—and your resume—need. 

Plus, an internship or apprenticeship might help you make ends meet until you can lock down that first full-time job after graduation. According to research from the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the average hourly wage for interns is $19.54, and 68% of interns get job offers from their employers. The Department of Labor, meanwhile, reports that the average hourly wage for apprentices is $15, and 91% of them get a job in their field after their program ends.  

For more information on internships and apprenticeships, check out CareerOneStop, a jobs and training resource sponsored by the Department of Labor. 

Ask for Help 

You’ve heard the statistics: up to 80%-85% of jobs are filled through networking.  But if you’re nervous about reaching out, it might help to remember that networking is just a dry name for something humans do every day: make connections. 

There’s also never been a better time to build your network. Thanks to social media, even introverted job seekers can network without stress. Plus, you may be surprised at how many people—even folks who are big names in your field—are willing to help you reach your professional goals. These people might especially be inclined to respond if it involves sharing their expertise or talking about their passion—so don’t hesitate to set up that informational interview.

Key Takeaways

Don’t Sell Yourself Short 

“Experience” doesn’t necessarily mean “paying work.” Include internships, student jobs, and volunteering on your resume.

Look for Other Ways to Gain Experience

Take stretch assignments at your current job, volunteer, or look for part-time or freelance work. 

Tap Your Network

Go on informational interviews, connect with experts in your field, or consult with a career coach. 

Don’t Be Afraid to Go for It

Remember that many employers include “nice-to-have” skills and experience as job requirements. Aim high and don’t hold yourself back. 

Article Sources

  1. CQ: TalentWorks. "The Definitive Guide to the Science of the Job Search — 2018 In Review." Accessed Sept. 21, 2020.

  2.  Robert Half. "Survey: 42 Percent of Job Applicants Don't Meet Skills Requirements, But Companies Are Willing To Train Up." Accessed Sept. 21, 2020.

  3. LinkedIn. "Gender Insights Report: How Women Find Jobs Differently." Page 7. Accessed Sept. 21, 2020. 

  4. Robert Half. "Survey: 42 Percent of Job Applicants Don't Meet Skills Requirements, But Companies Are Willing To Train Up." Accessed Sept. 21, 2020.

  5. Freelancers Union. “Freelancing in America.” Accessed Sept. 21, 2020. 

  6. National Association of Colleges and Employers. "2020 Internship & Co-Op Survey Report: Executive Summary." Page 3. Accessed Sept. 21, 2020. 

  7. U.S. Department of Labor. "Apprenticeship Toolkit: Frequently Asked Questions." Accessed Sept. 21, 2020.  

  8. LinkedIn. "New Survey Reveals 85% of All Jobs are Filled Via Networking." Accessed Sept. 21, 2020.

  9. CNBC. "How to Get a Job Often Comes Down to One Elite Personal Asset, and Many People Still Don’t Realize It." Accessed Sept. 21, 2020.