“But I don’t have any job experience”…. “I don’t have the right background”…. “What should I put on my resume?”
Those are all some of the most common responses I get when talking to college students about their career and job search. At this point you might be nodding your head as you read this, thinking about all the jobs you didn’t apply to because obviously you didn’t have the right experience. In full honesty you’ve probably never seen a professional job you were interested in where you match up perfectly with the all experiences and expectations required of you.
Here’s the secret: You already have most of the job experience you need.
Otherwise how would any 18 year old ever land a job or internship? How would a college graduate get a highly coveted job opportunity. After all where would you get the experience analyzing company data and generating insights, or building effective client relationships, or developing qualified sales leads? In fact most industry veterans would fall quite short of some of the standards listed in the average job description.
So what’s the answer? It’s about re-framing your experiences and making them relevant to the opportunities in front of you. In other words, selling yourself.
Disclaimer: In some cases certain technical expertise is needed. Someone who can’t write a line of code would need to gain coding skills to become a software engineer. But in most cases if you’ve never written a line of code you probably aren’t interested in becoming a software engineer.
Chances are you’ve had experiences that fit the criterion of the jobs your interested in, the challenge is conveying that. If you worked at your local ice cream shop and describe your experience as “scooping balls of ice cream and adding toppings”, you probably won’t get a job. But if you really think about it, what is someone you serve ice cream too? A client or a customer.
So instead of “scooping 5000 balls of ice cream”, what if you “provided quality service to over 5000 customers”. What if instead of “getting screamed at by an angry person and secretly having a panic attack” you “maintained your composure in high pressure situations”
I’m not saying there is a magical word or phrase that you need to showcase your experience.
Instead your goal should be to understand the perspective of others and frame your background in a language they will understand.
For instance: one of the defining experiences of my college experience was being a Resident Assistant. When I was talking to my parents about the job, they really just didn’t get everything that went into the role. There was a pretty clear disconnect between our perspectives. However, what I did know was that my parents were constantly sleep deprived due to my 4 siblings (don’t worry there are pictures below) that were at the time still struggling to sleep through the night. I realized that was the context I would need to put it in for them to understand.
“You know how one of Rohan, Aria, Neil, and Anika will wake you up in the middle of the night for something or the other regularly? Now imagine having 30 of them, in a building with a 1000 of them… they might be grown up but they still have plenty of problems. There are still many times you end up staying awake all night and still have to go right into work at 8 am the next day.” Needless to say… they got the idea pretty quickly.
While the conversation I had with my parents is nothing like the one you may have with a potential employer or investor, it highlights the same concept. Framing your experience in a way that makes sense to the person evaluating it. If you organized a Relay for Life bake sale for your fraternity you’ve experienced event management and fundraising. If you were a freelance landscaper (like I was in high school) you learned how to manage clients, meet deadlines, and generate business leads.
In reality the skills you gain in service jobs, entry level work, school clubs, etc. are not all too different from the skills you need later on in life. The real difference is the magnitude behind the tasks you have and the decisions you make.
So what stops most people from getting the jobs they want?
It’s not the experiences or their background. It’s the same reason so few people don’t learn to sell themselves: they don’t think they have to. Too many people have the expectation of having a job fall in their lap just because they went to a “good” school, have a degree, or just live in America. But in reality, that’s not true. Sure you might be able to get a job or find something that “works” but if you want to find “the dream” or build the future you want, its not enough to have a degree. In fact many of the most successful or inspirational people I’ve met have had limited or unconventional educational experiences. As a result of their limited access they’ve known from the very start that they’d have to struggle for every opportunity and its allowed them to rise faster and farther than expected.
What I usually tell people is, if you want a job you have to take it. There should be no way that you can even be turned down. It doesn’t matter what your dream is: launching your own business, working for a fortune 500 company, higher education, international development, freelancing or more. It means giving it your all and being able to sell yourself.
Learning to sell yourself is a skill that takes time and practice to build but there are some steps you can follow to do it:
- Put yourself in the shoes of the person evaluating you. Understand what their perspective and most importantly what their goals are.
- Identify all the reasons you might not get the job (Note: Other applicants are not a reason, why is it that you feel you may not match up to other applicants).
- Find ways to address them all: If you feel the major skill they’re looking for is market analysis, then find a key market, research it, write a proposal or even a summary of some of your findings and send it to them. What would make it even better is if you just made things like this a habit. If you really care about it the fields you work in, you won’t need a reward and in the long run demonstrating your passion and skills through actions and actual work product goes further than a few fluffed up lines on a resume.
- Build relationships, not “contacts”. If you want to go into a certain field or company, get to know the people. Learn who they are and why they do what they do. Offer to help them or just ask to learn from them. Don’t expect anything; just build a real relationship with another human being. The best way to learn is from others so don’t be afraid to ditch the ego, ask questions, and open yourself up to criticism.
- Sometimes there will inevitably be skills you need to gain. This should not be a showstopper. At the risk of being self-promotional, the reason why tools like Lynda.com exist is to help fill those skills gap. Figure out how you learn best and work to build any skills you may be missing. Or be pre-emptive and constantly challenge yourself to learn new things outside of your curry day-to-day experiences. Common high-value skills include Salesforce, Data Visualization, Photoshop, Illustrator, and Excel.
Selling yourself can be broken down into three key pieces:
Understanding others, a combination of self-confidence and self-awareness, and finally real-effort leading to execution to back it up. If you are able to follow the 5 steps listed and practice selling yourself, there is no reason you can’t get to where you want to be and build your success through your career.
So the next time you think you can’t do something, stop yourself and truly reflect on how experiences in your life have prepared you. There’s always more than one way to be prepared for an opportunity, all you have to do it take it.
And a picture of my siblings, just for fun.
This article originally appeared on LinkedIn and is published here with the permission of the author
Read more of Samir’s writing at samirgoel.com