How do you get a job when you don’t have the experience? How do you gain the experience without getting the job?

This timeless career catch 22 – dubbed the “Permission Paradox” – is especially challenging for today’s young professionals and recent graduates, but it can be frustrating no matter what your level of seniority. Fortunately, we've put together a few tips to help you overcome the Permission Paradox at any stage of your career and convince your interviewers that they should take a chance on you.

1. Highlight your potential

One of the keys to overcoming the Permission Paradox is understanding that when you apply for any job you will be evaluated on two key criteria: your potential to add value in future and your proven track record in core aspects of the job. Depending on the seniority of the position these two dimensions will be valued in different proportions. As a general rule of thumb, the earlier you are in your career the more weight the hiring manager will place on your potential.

Don't get too hung up on the fact that you don't have all of the experience outlined in the job description; focus on how you can demonstrate that you have the attitude, work ethic and passion for the company brand to be able to fill those skills gaps in no time.

2. Reframe the Experience You Have

As well as highlighting your potential, you should think about how you can frame your experience to demonstrate the capabilities that the hiring manager is looking for. 

For example, say you wanted to apply for an entry-level position where project management experience is required. Sure you might not have worked as a Project Manager before, but have you ever organised an event, a backpacking trip, or led an initiative at university? Don’t overlook the valuable experiences you do have just because they didn’t happen in an office or during an internship.  

3. Develop Your Knowledge

You’d be surprised how easy it is these days to learn a new skill and gain some credentials, whether it be in the form of a degree, training courses, internships and volunteer work.

One of the most coveted skills right now is, unsurprisingly, computer programming. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that by 2020 there will be a huge demand-supply gap, with one million computer programming jobs going unfilled. Not enough people pursue traditional computer science programs to meet this need, and then many of us assume that it’s too late to pursue a career in programming or software development.

But it turn out that lots of companies who are hiring programmers don’t require degrees in computer science to land the job. According to The Wall Street Journal, almost 15% of the programmers at Google don’t have a college degree. With free online training from companies such as Codeacademy, which has had 24 million people around the world take one or more of its courses, you can cultivate a strong proficiency in just a few months. With this under your belt, you’ll have enough experience to break in for a first job and then you’ll be in the same position as other entry-level programmers to improve your skills and perform well.

Internships and volunteer work are another fantastic way to broaden your skills set and gain work experience, and they can sometimes lead to permanent employment with that business. The internship market has never been more competitive, so you should be proactive in your search for internship opportunities and treat each application as though it was for a job.

You don’t have to wait for the company to advertise vacancies for internships – if there is a company you’d love to work for, let them know! Email your CV and a compelling cover letter to the Internal Recruiter or HR Manager explaining why you would like to intern with that company specifically and how you can add value. If you can afford it, offer to work without pay. Just a few works of work experience could be the difference between a job offer or a rejection.

4. Do Something To Stand Out 

If you don’t have a technical or specialized degree, think about how you can stand out from the crowd. Volunteer at a start-up or social enterprise; backpack somewhere unusual; manage a website or start a small business; train for a 10k charity run; write a blog; publish articles on LinkedIn. There are plenty of opportunities out there which will help you discover what makes you tick and develop some skills at the same time. It will also allow you talk about what you’ve done, rather than what you want.

You also need to think about how your CV is written and who will be reading it. After all, your CV is essentially marketing material to help you establish your desired personal brand. Even if you lack the job title or a particular skills set, are there transferable skills you need to highlight? How can you craft a personal summary that tells your story and explains why you would excel in that role? To do this you need to research the role, the company and your interviewers as much as possible so that you’re able to effectively highlight your relevant strengths, your potential and cultural fit with the team and business.

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5. Throw Your Ego Out The Door

If you’re a graduate, you might feel overqualified for many entry-level jobs out there. And to be honest, you’re probably right! But you have to start somewhere, and once you have a foot in the door you’ll be able to learn more about the business and move up the ladder. Some of the most successful CEOs out there started on the lowest-paid, bottom-rung jobs out there. For example, Jim Skinner, CEO of McDonald’s, the largest fast-food chain in the world, started out at one of the company’s restaurants as a manager trainee.

There can be enormous value in starting your career in these positions, particularly if it’s customer-facing. In these roles you can learn into what’s really going on in the market and your customers’ needs and frustrations. These insights can help you propel your career, either by allowing you to propose ideas or initiatives that will add value to the business or by providing you with interesting material to raise when interviewing elsewhere.

6. Think Creatively and Problem Solve

If you sense that you are a good cultural fit with the business and have good chemistry with your interviewers, don’t focus on the experience you lack. Think about where you can add value.

Speaking from personal experience, I know that this can work. I had wanted to pursue a career in Marketing for many years, but because I hadn’t been able to get any work experience or internships at marketing agencies I thought the door was closed on this career path. When interviewing for Burns Sheehan, I was able to convince them that my experience in recruitment, my strong writing skills and creativity would allow me to bridge the gap between the recruitment consultants and the Marketing team whilst filling an important gap in their Marketing activity - content marketing. A few months later and I now manage all of our content marketing, social media marketing, website design, and more – I am officially a Marketing professional!

If you really want a shoe in the door of any company the best question to ask your interviewer (or any key decision-maker there) is: “What would you do to improve your business if you had an extra day in your week?” If you can justify how you can meet this need, it’s possible that you’ll be able to work for them in some capacity whether it be part-time work, an internship or even permanent employment. If you have the opportunity to prove yourself and deliver, you will be rewarded for your creativity and panache. And if they don’t hire you permanently? You have an awesome experience to detail in your CV and interview.

The irony is that the Permission Paradox is more often than not a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s your fear of being told ‘no’ that prevents you from getting the job, rather than your lack of experience. While it can be difficult to get the job without the experience, there is a world of opportunity for creative, proactive strategic thinkers who are willing to think outside the box to get ahead.


Written by Izzy Griffin-Smith

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