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3 Steps for Overcoming a Lack of Experience

Posted By: Staff Editor In: Entry Level and College Grads
An article for any recent college grad, by Alexandra Levit, the author of They Don't Teach Corporate in College: A Twenty-Something's Guide to the Business World.

You need experience to get a job, but you need a job to get experience. New college grads often find themselves caught in the middle of this classic Catch 22, and may spend months trying to convince someone to take a chance and hire them. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to emphasize the experience you do have, and, while you’re at it, make people think you’re so competent that they forget about everything else!

Step One: Irresistible Resume: The purpose of a resume is to get you invited for an interview, and writing an impressive resume is simple if you keep a few things in mind. First, employers never read a resume in its entirety, and the average resume gets read in about five seconds.

Employers like numbers and statistics – hard facts that show how a candidate was directly responsible for making a company more profitable. Now let’s be real here. When you’re a new college grad, you probably haven’t had the opportunity to own projects in organizations you’ve worked for or interned with. However, the chances are excellent that you’ve had some measurable impact along the way.

For example, let’s say that you sold ice cream at Baskin Robbins for four summers. Maybe, while you were there, you helped the manager develop and execute a campaign to drive traffic from the nearby shopping mall. On your resume, instead of simply mentioning that you passed out free ice cream cone coupons, why not showcase your true contribution with something like: “designed and distributed snack-on-us coupons targeted to mall shoppers, increasing store traffic by 25 percent”?

See how the second statement bolsters the perception of ownership, creativity, and business-savvy? Before sending out your resume, consider how you can position mundane tidbits of experience to become the very items that peak a potential employer’s interest.

Step Two: Ultra-professional Appearance: In her book You’ve Only Got Three Seconds, personal marketing consultant Camille Lavington says that the moment a person sees you, she forms an indelible impression. She immediately evaluates your clothing, hairstyle, grooming habits, facial cues and posture.

In terms of being taken seriously in the workplace, your young age can be a disadvantage. Therefore, you should counteract your appearance as a twenty-something with limited experience by dressing up rather than down. A manager once told me that if I dressed like the VPs, people would be able to picture me fitting in with them instead of the other entry-level girls wearing flip-flops in the elevator.

Even if the environment you’re in is business casual, show up wearing a clean and neatly tailored suit. If you’re a guy, sport a tie, shave close and temporarily remove earrings if you have them. Ladies should invest in two nice pairs of pumps and a few pieces of quality gold or silver jewelry. The way you style your hair can also make you look older and more mature, so think about that too as you prepare to come across like you’ve worked in Corporate America all your life!

Step Three: Smooth Interview: In his book How to Win Friends and Influence People, author and motivational guru Dale Carnegie says that the person who can speak acceptably is usually considered to possess greater ability than he actually has. In my experience, this is true. If you look and act like you know what you’re talking about, people will think that you do – regardless of the reality.

When you’re twenty-something, you don’t have a vast store of knowledge and years of experience to draw from but still need to create the perception of being competent and informed. The key to coming across this way in an interview is to prepare, but not too much. You want to do just enough research so that you know what to expect and can speak intelligently on the points related to your job function.

Determine in advance what type of interview you’ll be having so you aren’t caught off guard. Will the meeting be one-on-one, or will you be sitting in front of a panel of executives? Will you be asked to consider a real-life business problem? Once you have this information, practice giving succinct and articulate responses in front of friends or a mirror. In the actual interview, begin with a strong handshake, speak slowly and confidently, ask thoughtful questions, and listen more than you talk.

Few new college grads have a wealth of experience to boast about, but by packaging your resume and yourself in a skillful manner, you’ll appear seasoned beyond your years and will succeed in getting in the door – and making that doorstop hold.

Alexandra Levit worked for a Fortune 500 software company and an international public relations firm before starting Inspiration @Work, an independent career consulting business. She's the author of They Don't Teach Corporate in College: A Twenty-Something's Guide to the Business World (Career Press 2004;
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Posted by: Donna
I am on disability from being a registered nurse. I am also 50 years old.  Our financial situation is dire.  I was thinking of going to school for Health Information Management or Medical Billing and Coding.  But they want up to 5 years experience!  My opinion is they are going to continue to squeeze the work of 3 people out of 1 person and that is why they need them to be so experienced.
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Posted by: Dennis
Hello Jonathan A.  Do you have the GI Bill? If so, sometimes it will pay certification fees. You might also want to get another degree. Get admitted to a school that is inexpensive (but accredited) and use the money left after you pay the school to supplement your income. You can obtain degrees via distant learning, which is very convenient. You may also get other well paying jobs based on your security clearance, if you are willing to work outside of the healthcare industry. Some companies will hire you for your security clearance and train you later. Go to for the Veterans Job Board.  The Vet Center of the VA may offer employment assistance. Type ih Vet Center of _______(whatever location you are in).  You have resources available to you that nonmilitary personnel don't.
Posted by: Jonathan A.
My catch 22 is financially depressed, but I remain hopeful as I am financially downgraded since my recent Retirement as a Staff Sergeant in the US Army National Guard, in which I held a Security Clearance rated: SECRET. I held a 3.95 GPA @ MEDVANCE INSTITUTE & Internship @ Neuromedical Center of Baton Rouge,where I have 192 Excellent Rated hours documented for My Honor Graduate Professional Degree as a Medical Billing/Coding Specialist.I can't financially afford the expired fees to belong to the AAPC, all the current medical coding books and the expensive CPC exams for Certification. I have bills that I can't afford to pay. I see people working 2 jobs and looking worn out when I come to work in the morning. I don't want to have all this excellence in life and not be able to use it because I cant afford the initial fees by a supposedly 'growing career field'. How can I grow financially if the growing field wont let me use my tools to plow with in their field? Does any one have a career for me instead of a hourly job?
Posted by: Owen
I graduated in June of 2008 from college with a Associate's in Electronics.  Despite having an internship, I still can't get my foot in because I can't get the experience.  I wonder what it takes to get our economy moving especially here in Michigan!  Another global war, a natural mega-disaster, something to force corporations to reinvest in the citizens of THIS country.  First thing the boardrooms need to do is STOP worrying about their quarterly projections, and concentrate more annual and decade projections.  They also need to stop relying on HR to make hiring decisions and leave those to the managers.  I'd also like the US implement a trade school system that not only allows people to learn a trade, but GENUINELY put them on par with people who are more suited for college.  Anyone else have other ideas?
Posted by: Robert
The word, EXPERIENCE is a frustrating word to say and swallow. Employers don't care about your degree. They only want to see flying colors of experience on a resume. I get to wonder if these jobs we dream of are getting filled at all. It makes me wonder because not everybody is going to have 1-3 years of established experience. I've been on the outside looking in for years. My degree is in broadcast/journalism, but I'm working as a security guard. I might as well be unemployed making only $9.50. It was my fault for pursuing a broadcast degree. So, my next step is unknown. The broadcast industry isn't nice towards entry level people even though I have some work experience in my field. And because I've been branded as not having enough experience, it makes me wonder if higher education is just advertisement than the real deal. Its left me confused and very unhappy with life, overall. If you don't have a high-priced university degree from a well-known institution, then you'll be looking for work all your life. The best advice is to study past winning lotto numbers, pick the best set of numbers and play them continuously...and keep playing. Chances of winning a jackpot might be better than finding that dream job. The stakes are high for both. While sending resumes, I'll keep playing until I win. I hope.
Posted by: EH
OK.  What about us "Old Folks" who find ourselves trained for a new career and find the "law" against age discrimination to be just a bunch of words!  The majority of us out here also need to earn a living and go through the training to do so. How many of the Younger folks keep being told "You could do Volunteer work"!  Talk about trying to get free labor at our expense!
Posted by: Latrisha Blakey
Wow Im so glad im not the only one out there that seems to be having these problems. This is so sad, when we all want the samethings, to get a really good career. I have been in the nursing field since 1998 and I have landed some great jobs and some not so great. I attended a technical school back in 2001 and graduated at the top of my class, even made it to the deans list, had perfect attendence, did well in my externship. I thought I had it made and I would land the career I wanted. Boy was i wrong, they say nursing is in such high demand, for some reason I cant get that career I want. I have been so down on myself employers telling me "they chose another canditate for the position" that honestly hurts to hear that, I have fought this battle for so long and settled for whatever I could land. I enjoy helping others,Im a team player, im a fast learner and would do anything for anyone. I recently returned back to school and Im working on my RN but im so afraid I will get burned again and end up in student debt clear up to my ears. Will someone please tell me im doing the right thing? Thank You and I hope we all get that career we want someday....
Posted by: Dee Beard
I have recently decided to back to school because I was unhappy with my career.  I went back to school to get a four year degree.  This year I finished.  I am now 45 years old.  My degree is in Healthcare Management.  Even though I have years of experience in management.  I don't have any experience in healthcare and I love my field.  I love working with people.  What do I do when every position says you have to have experience in healthcare.  The positions I applied for I could do very easily.
Posted by: Cheryle Cayce
I'm 50 years old and I will be getting a Associates degreee in Medical Assisting/Adminstration in June 2008.  The problem is I am disabled and cannot stand for long lengths of time. I have been a volunteer in my sorority for eight years and I live Detroit.  I used to be an Enviromental Services person at a Detroit area hospital, where I was laid off, but want to work there again.  I love the hospital environment, so I want to pursue my career in that manner. Contact me at  I need some advice. Someone from Detroit or any where for that mattter, can help me.
Posted by: Sandy
I quickly picked up on the frustrated folks reflecting on 'not enough experience' sendoff. Don't omit the corollary: 'You're overqualified' which is code for: We don't pay; we want those 'not enough experience' folks to do the heavy lifting. Sometimes the code talk is for a 'tie-breaker'. You didn't convince the hiring manager as that unseen competitor they recently spoke to. You might add this one, "Which levels of experience would qualify me more sufficiently?" Add, "May we retain contact as my skills develop? I certainly would gain so much from your organization...."Etc. those types of schmooze. Makes 'em feel good.The point being, tease through their barriers and ingratiate yourself.
Posted by: Kenmore Parts
It's a paradox. The thing you said: you need experience to get a job but you need a job to get experience. Poor students finishing college. They have to take jobs that don't require anything learned in college and after that they take a job that let's them do what they learned but for a small payment.
Posted by: Veleka
Hello my name is Veleka Goode and I just wanted to say that I have 2 degrees and have not been able to pursue any one of them. It makes me mad and furious because I have the capabilities to do whatever it takes to accomplish a task or job. I'm always told that your resume is impressive but we are looking for more experience. I wonder why I even waste my time and energy going to school to find out either I'm over qualified or under qualified. That's what gets me. Any suggestions or comments are welcome. Thanks.
Posted by: Lynnette Terry
I have a BA in Sociology and minor in Family and Children Services. I have had at least ten interviews, and get the same "You don’t have enough experience. Most of the agencies that I applied to, don't accept volunteers because of the confidentiality issues. So, what’s a grad to do? I'm considering going back to school to further my education, but will it give me the experience employers require? Help! I went to school to improve my financial situation, but it’s only gotten worse (student loan payments). How can I make my degree work for me?
Posted by: Gabriel H
Good. Let me apply. I will comment thereafter.many thanks
Posted by: Richard B.
CKnight described it perfectly. I was also on the hot seat for the entire time I was in the MBA program. I was continually discouraged by most, except for a few managerial/administration types. 100% tuition reimbursement was a benefit at my facility...except for me. I was told after applying for the tuition benefit that MBA's were not covered. If I was getting an MHA, they would pay for it. Everyone in the medical field knows that the MHA degree went out with poodle skirts and Nehru jackets. I was then left to pay for the degree myself. How conveniently rules can be augmented as people see fit. My advices to CKnight...don’t burn any bridges but you will never achieve your full potential in that type of environment. You are probably being viewed as a threat to the less competent. I believe they call it professional jealousy. Good luck!!
Posted by: CKnight
Most of this article is a re-hash of old knowledge. I do agree with Richard B on getting an MBA. Since I received mine last year I am finding it hard to work where I am at yet don't have the needed experience. At work I am discriminated against BECAUSE of my education. As a result I have become the organization grunt to do mostly menial & manual tasks. There are a few fellow employees who view this as "punishment." Yet management keeps giving me these "opportunities" as they call them. When I hear those words coming out of management's mouth I cringe!So instead of taking advantage of my education I am punished - makes sense to me ... NOT! Instead they want me to quit (and I will when I get a job offer) because I am a constant reminder of their incompetence! In summary, the poorer the economy the more abusive the company will be towards their employees. Problem with this is that when the economy turns around they will have a brain-drain which could harm the corporation. But in my case my employer is a local government agency! Ahhhh ... your tax dollars at work - abusing the employees!
Posted by: Eric
To Post #12, Steven Turnley.  It's not just your location.  You always have to know people.  Or better yet, it is who knows you.  It is like that anywhere you want to work. It's not fair, but it's how it is.
Posted by: Antoinette
Reading articles on how to land the job and get the interview are great suggestions.  From dressing for success, what to say or not to say during an interview, how to conduct yourself in a conservative manner, arriving 10 min early and I could go on and on.  The real issue is taking a risk.  Employers do not want to take a risk on hiring the wrong individual, but it happens.  Even the individual with years of experience and has the knowledge to dominant a conversation.  My hurdle is getting through the door, which is why it is tough because I lack years of experience in what I want to do.  I believe that I am a great person, have creativity, can work with a team or individually and still get the assignment complete.  In the past, I have gone on several interviews and did not land the jobs. Why? There could be several reasons and hopefully good ones.  As I read one of the articles, he did everything he was suppose to do and still did not get the job.  That is disappointing.  I believe our confidence lies in actually getting the job because it shows accomplishment and getting through the doors, but how many times will the door continue to shut in our faces when we are out there trying?  This is a catch 22 because you never know why or why not, you did not achieve that job.
Posted by: Richard B.
I agree with this article and have done all of the resume, new suits and a new degree. After 20+ years in the medical field as a supervisor/manager, I decided to complete an MBA in order to pursue a more administrative position in my profession. My problem is not in getting interviews but in securing subsequent offers. It seems that for the most part the people interviewing me have less than half my experience and education. I am wondering if I am being viewed as a threat. Feedback from colleagues seems to point in this direction. I am in that "grey area" where I am over-qualified to do what I previously did and under-qualified to secure the positions I returned to school for. Has anyone else experienced this "Catch 22" scenario?
Posted by: steven  turnley
Posted by: Jean Rais
Much of this may hold true for the recent four year or more college grad that is going into a professional field.  This is much of the same gobbledy-gook I was first taught when I finished my second round of schooling in 1990.  Much of it has basically been a wash for people like me, and far more people are in situations like mine than are professionals. After only being in part-time jobs (which, let's face it, applies to much of the country), I went to college to be a secretary.  I followed all the rules, had all the qualifications, had a professional resume done by the college, passed all the tests they gave me with flying colors, but was always told they hired someone who had experience. If I had had the time to take a two-year course in which they have internships, I might have had better luck, but our financial need was too great. As I ended up still in retail, though I also worked casual dining and fast food, and after being promoted because of my capabilities, I decided to "increase" my chances for better jobs by getting my Associates Degree in Marketing/Management.  Again, all those supposed rules have not helped.  Many service industry managers have worked their way up and have no college; they don't have any idea about these rules we keep being told to help us get jobs. You might be surprised to find out how many store managers are under the age of 25, I once interviewed with a 19 year old manager. When I have had interviews, I have often been told I have an excellent resume.  I have often been told I have wonderful experience.  I also have been turned down for a job because I was dressed professionally (she didn't think I would feel comfortable in a casual environment); have been told they hired someone with more experience (is there such a thing as a 10 year old manager?); often I am more experienced than the manager who would be hiring me.  When I worked in fast food I performed every job in the store except management functions. When I worked in casual dining I performed every job in the store with the exception of management office work, including training three managers in back-end procedures.  I have removed this from my resume because it goes back farther and is not really pertinent.  When I was first promoted to a third-key position in retail I performed nearly everything the store manager and assistant did, the exception being a few things only the store manager is allowed to perform.  As assistant manager in a couple of other places it was the same. I have always been cross-trained to everything in the store and made improvements in nearly every job I have ever had.  I was considered under-qualified for a store management position because I never had the actual moniker of "store manager", but was often considered over-qualified for an assistant. My last job was as store manager, but I still am having no luck. I have a lot of skills that would serve well in many, many jobs, but never get called for interviews for anything outside of retail.  I presently have several hundred resumes out there, and have had a handful of interviews.  I was in the market for over three years for the last job I had.  I was still working at that time, but was stagnating and wanted room for growth.  At least since I was working I could hold out for something good.  Presently I don't have that luxury, if I am lucky enough to get anything at all; I will probably have to take a lower position with a substantial pay cut.    
Posted by: Staff Editor
For those business professionals looking to enter a new career, this article has some helpful tips.  Keep in mind that you may not be right out of college but have been in the workplace for several years and are now going in a different direction, so when you go out to interview or apply for a job in an industry you have little experience in be prepared to face some set backs (ie. lower salary and less benefits).  When you write your resume be sure to state a clear objective of what skills you bring to the particular position.  Try changing your objective on your resume for each job you apply to.  Match your skills with the required skills of the position you're applying to and employers will see you as the perfect fit.  
Posted by: Robin Eklund
I agree with Ms. Lameyra. This is good information for the new grads. But what about us that have been in the work force for many years.? Many of us are changing carrers now. It is very hard to just get your foot in the door with more and more companies only accepting resumes on line. How do we stand out to get an interview? Granted a good resume helps but there has to be other ways to stand out too.
Posted by: rod
Awesome, Awesome, Awesome!!!
Posted by: mariedel lameyra
After reading your guide and tips on how to package yourself in applying for a new job, all examples you have mentioned are true to life. It’s a combination of having a clear yet simplified resume and grooming your self at the same time. If an applicant cannot look intelligent even when he does not speak, how will he look when he is the main speaker at an event? This article is a great treat for all your members.
Posted by: Sue Dixon
Your article about what to do about no experience was only geared to college grads- "20 something’s". What about older job applicants whose experience is obsolete and they went back to school and are trying to get into a new field? They have no experience plus they are older and in my case a women. I am just not getting any interviews. I wish I was older, less prejudice.
Posted by: Carol
This article rings so true.  Presenting oneself with confidence through the right resume, clothing, hairstyle, posture, and smart conversation will help diminish the nervousness hidden inside.  Looking and feeling good can give just enough of a confidence boost to enable us to walk taller and get our foot in the right door!
Posted by: Alicia Hunt
This was an interesting piece to read even for a 56yr. old!   I never attended college, but have taken a few non-credit courses  through a local Community College.Any pointers for a 56 year old lady for interviews and job search?  I want to get back into the Travel/Tourism industry.Thanks for your help!
Posted by: Darlene
Not a comment, but a question.  What if I have 15 years experienc, but not a 4 year degree?
Posted by: Marcia Smiley
Hi,  I have a Technical diploma in Medical Administration from 2005. I just recently turned twenty one years old and getting a job in that field has been hard. I admit that sometimes I may come off as a little shy or unsure if I can do the job at hand, but in all actuality, I do not have the experience. I tried "Dressing for Success" and walking in with this confidence that still never seems to bag me the jobs. What do you suggest?
Posted by: Diane
What about adding advice for A Forty Something's Guide To The Business World?  How can forty something year olds return back to the work force.  Do you have any ideas?Thanks!Diane Pasadena, TX
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