Many of us will soon bump up against the employment-experience paradox: we need experience to get a job, but we need the job to get the relevant experience.
The paradox rears its head everywhere, striking young and new workers hardest.
Getting a job straight out of school, landing a job once you have done a degree or a training course, getting an apprenticeship, and often even getting a part-time job - the message is simple: having a job makes getting a job way easier.
A recent survey by Victoria University looked at what employers wanted to find in uni graduates. While soft skills rated strongly for interviewees, a significant number of employers also want evidence of work experience.
One manager interviewed put it bluntly: “If I get a CV from somebody who hasn’t got a record of part-time work, I don’t care how good your grades and qualifications are, I won’t look at you.”
Instead, the experiences this employer rated highly in applicants were “having to work with other people, having to come to work on time, having to adhere to a roster, take instruction, show innovation …”
In other words, they know how to work and show they can front up and do it.
Working out how you fit, not how you've done
Increasingly employers are looking at what they call ‘fit’- how they see you working with their team, and how they see you coping with the demands of the job or role. The problem – the paradox – is that the easiest way to judge both is from other work you have done. That’s something school leavers and uni and polytech grads are usually skinny on.
Employers have long known they can teach you what you need to know to do the job, even with your certificate, diploma or degree. They also know that the number of NZ adults with a degree has tripled in the last two decades (to 24%), so they have plenty of applicants to choose from.
So, how do we get over the experience problem?
So, we need our applications to stand out, to be memorable and to show we actually do have the skills that show we know what work looks like. The dream application for employers has what they call the ‘triple threat’: good grades, part-time job of some sort, and “something extracurricular which looks good”.
So what do you do when the job requires experience that you don’t (or, perhaps, can’t possibly) already have?
Here are some ways you might tackle this problem:
1. Get a part time job. It shows you can turn up, take instruction, be part of a team, take some responsibility. All are good, and even better, studies show students with part-time jobs actually do better.
2. Do some volunteer work. In many cases, volunteering is the easiest way to fill the gap and get hands-on experience in a new field or organisation. Aim to volunteer in the field you would like to work in, or a related area.
3. Re-imagine your background – work out what skills you used, then tailor it for the role you’re applying for. Helped out after school – that’s maybe volunteering. Vice-captain of a sports team – that’s leadership. Helped organise the school ball – that’s maybe financial and event management.
4. Speak to family, friends, other contacts to start to build the number of people who know you are looking for a role or job. You will learn lots and someone may be able to be a positive reference for you.
5 . Always do your research before applying to any business for a job. Know what they do, learn about it, be keen. If you’re not interested, why should they hire you?