For the new job seeker or prospective career-changer, the idea of getting hired in a new field can be daunting.
You’re looking for a job listing like this:
“Exciting company seeks enthusiastic entry-level employee. Competitive salary, great benefits, will train.”
…but what you’ll find is probably more like this:
“Established company has an opening in the ABC department. Prefer 1-2 years of experience, must have references.”
Maybe you skipped the college internship thing, maybe you never found an opportunity that worked for you, or maybe you’re just having a mid-life career crisis and you want something new. Regardless of the reasoning, you find yourself without relevant experience and without the ability to get it – or so you think.
Luckily, the information age has rendered the “no experience” excuse almost completely irrelevant. Consider these unconventional ways to get experience in a variety of fields. Even if your dream career isn’t covered here, this should be enough to get your brain moving in the right direction.
Use sites like VolunteerMatch.com and Idealist.org to locate relevant opportunities. Many of the postings you’ll see are “virtual jobs”, meaning they don’t require you to live in any specific location. Because volunteer work doesn’t pay, the expectations (in terms of both time and experience levels) are generally lower than for a similar paid position.
- Relevant Fields: Almost any. You could find yourself doing a copywriting project for a charity halfway across the country, shuttling cancer patients to and from medical appointments (psychology, anyone?), or soliciting donations for a local non-profit event.
- The Pros: Great for networking, experience, and resumes. You’ll also feel great about yourself. Schedules are typically pretty flexible.
- The Cons: No money.
Freelance Job Sites:
Sites like Guru, Elance, and Rent-a-Coder can be great places to bid on projects that range from extremely simple 1-day assignments to long-term, expert-level jobs. If you have a skill to offer, you should definitely look around to see if anyone’s posting projects that might be able to use your talents.
Since these sites use feedback systems to rate service providers, you’ll probably have to create some of your own work samples and offer low bids to get started. Once you get some positive feedback though, you’ll find that you can earn a nice side income from your efforts.
- Relevant Fields: Computer programming, graphic design, marketing, writing, sales, and administrative duties, among others.
- The Pros: Learn to work independently, build a network of references, and get a wide variety of experience. Oh, and it pays.
- The Cons: It can be tough to get your first assignment, and some sites require a paid membership before you can bid on projects.
In some fields, additional certifications can help you stand out from less driven applicants. If you want to break into big time commercial real estate, it can’t hurt to get started on your real estate license and use it to work part-time while you’re finishing off a business degree. If you see yourself working for a corporation that’s related to sports or nutrition, you could become a certified personal trainer and help out at your local YMCA.
- Relevant Fields: Psychology, Sports & Fitness, Real Estate, Information Technology, Finance & Insurance, New Age fields, Safety, Food Services, Hospitality, and many others. Visit your library to consult the Certification and Accreditation Programs Directory for more fields and relevant details.
- The Pros: Demonstrates your commitment to a field, great learning experience. Many can be completed online.
- The Cons: It can be costly.
Examine Your Hobbies:
If you’re fairly serious about your dream career, there’s a very good chance that you have a hobby that’s at least loosely related. Figure out what that is and find a way to spin it.
Be creative here. You may think your World of Warcraft addiction is useless, but if you’re leading groups of people in battle or conquering the virtual business world by trading fake currencies and goods, you’re developing important skills. I speak from experience on this one, as I had a 100% success rate when I included Everquest activity on my own résumé.
- Relevant Fields: Obviously, an eager future fireman can’t go around creating and putting out fires as a hobby, so there are some limits to this technique. However, any field that could have some form of video, text, graphic, or other physical output is a good candidate.
- The Pros: It’s fun.
- The Cons: You probably won’t get paid.
Become an Apprentice:
Depending on your field of interest, you’ll probably find that there are plenty of unadvertised employers that would love to have a little extra help at no charge to them. You may even be able to arrange a flexible schedule that works with your existing career. You’ll never know unless you ask, and the worst they can do is say no.
- Relevant Fields: Almost any, though you may have the best luck with independent business owners and freelance workers. You could answer phones for a doctor’s office, wash dishes for a baker, help a freelance writer proofread long assignments, or even help a magician with equipment and setup tasks.
- The Pros: You get the opportunity to make a friend in the industry while getting relevant experience.
- The Cons: No pay, and some people may intentionally try to hold you back because they’re threatened at the thought of helping a future competitor.
Traditional Freelance Writing:
Even if writing isn’t your ultimate career goal, it could be a great way to get your foot in the door. Start off by contacting trade publications in your chosen field offering to provide something simple, like short briefs or profiles on companies in the industry. You may need to come up with a few unpublished samples to prove you can hack it, but most trade publications are eager to work with new talent.
- Relevant Fields: Any field that has its own magazine. Sites like Tradepub.com and WritersMarket.com (nominal subscription fee)
- The Pros: Flexible schedule, can pay well, prestige factor.
- The Cons: Can be competitive, depending on the field in question.
Start a Business:
Guess what? Life doesn’t wait for you to deal with whatever’s holding you back. While you may have legitimate issues or career requirements to deal with, there’s no reason you can’t start your own related business in the meantime.
- Relevant Fields: Although you can’t just open up your own plastic surgery business, you can create your own advertising circular, catering service, or independent sales business. The best fields will be those that have no mandatory certifications and require little start-up capital.
- The Pros: You get to be your own boss, get some experience, and potentially create a profitable business. You may even love it so much that you abandon your previous goals.
- The Cons: It can be tough to deal with having a boss later on. If you choose a capital-intensive business, the potential to lose money is fairly large.
Believe it or not, there’s more to eBay than bidding on vintage concert t-shirts and selling old junk. If you do it as more than a hobby, though, you’ll find yourself learning an awful lot.
You’ll have to find a product source, figure out how to market yourself, take photos, handle customers, and maybe do a bit of web design, too. You don’t necessarily have to be an expert in any of the above, but it certainly gives you a good opportunity to show off if you are.
- Relevant Fields: Marketing (especially Internet marketing), Copywriting, Photography, Customer Service, Sales, Web Design (you can apply custom designs to your eBay store), Purchasing, and just about any consumer product category imaginable.
- The Pros: Extremely flexible scheduling and time commitment, can be very profitable.
- The Cons: Standing in line at the post office, dealing with problems, running a one-man show. You’re not likely to make a lot of contacts unless you get to know your suppliers.
So are you ready to boost your experience and move in the direction you really want? What’s holding you back?