The second in our series – Top career questions asked by students is that big question common to many, if not most, students and grads (and people with experience, believe me) – What if I don’t have experience that is relevant to the job? What if I am just starting out, or changing careers – will I not be competing with people who already have skills in my field? How do I set myself apart from those people?

Here are five things to know:

  1. The best person for the job isn’t always the most experienced. Always look at the position description if there is one, or ask about the critical success factors for the role. Experience can often be secondary or “preferred”. Yes if you’re flying a plane, doing eye surgery or operating the Large Hadron Collider, specialised qualifications and a minimum amount of specific experience will be essential. For many roles, however, it is about the employability factors that you bring. Employers know that as a graduate you are essentially “raw material”. They may give you the opportunity to learn that programming language, or in fact have very specific methodologies or business processes that they prefer to teach you from scratch.
  2. It can be hard for employers as well – to find the right people for the job. This is particularly the case where there are skill shortages, but it can also be a factor when hardly any of the applicants have addressed the requirements of the position in their application. This is more common than you think! The recruiting manager has then gone to their networks to find a person that can be recommended to them by someone they know and trust. So if you have been busy networking, you might find your name being mentioned.
  3. You DO have experience, actually. Everything you have done so far is experience. I don’t have time to argue about that, just take our word for it. Ways to remedy lack of relevant experience are volunteering, visiting jobs that interest you, part-time work or internships.
  4. It’s not what you do it’s the way that you do it. Do your research and write a killer cover letter: one that is focussed, tailored and professional, enthusiastic and specific. If, after exams, your mind melts at the prospect of it all, get help with shaping your applications for vacancies or approaches to employers. See a career consultant, or seek a mentor. I love the Step. 4 of The Muse blog: Check in With Someone Knowledgeable Who’ll Tell You the Truth. Great questions to ask this knowledgeable person that will really lift your job-search game. We say this a lot, but if you take the trouble to approach employers directly, follow up by sending a thank-you e-mail after your visit or interview, and really sound as if you know what you are bringing to that organisation it shows that you give a damn. That is the one thing that will make you stand out.
  5. Just try – what’s the worst thing that can happen? There is a much-discussed piece of research by Hewlett-Packard that found that women only apply for jobs for which they feel they are a 100% match; while men do so even when they meet no more than 60% of the requirement. You can read more about this issue, and what to do about it in Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In. Across all genders and groups, there is still a propensity for those of us feeling our way into unknown work territory to make assumptions about what recruiters are looking for and miss opportunities.

Having said all of that – a word of caution. Before you press the Apply Now button, Stop!

  • Are you clear about why you are applying?
  • Did you join the dots between your transferable skills and what the employer needs are?
  • Have you proofread everything to the nth degree?
  • Has a second pair of eyes seen it?

OK – Apply Now.

The worst thing that can happen is that you are not the successful applicant, but you might have impressed the employer. Maybe there is another role coming up and they come back to you about that. Maybe the recruiting manager moves to a new role, remembers you, and thinks you would be ideal for their team. Anything can happen. You stood out.



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Career advice, CVs, Graduate jobs, Job application, Looking for work, Motivation, Networking, Volunteer experience, Work experience


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