The catch-22 that entry-level job seekers face: How are you supposed to get experience if every job requires experience? When companies want you to have relevant experience and skills before joining them, how are you expected to enter the job market to start gaining these skills?
As a former recruiter, I’m going to share the best ways to find an entry-level position so you can escape the cycle of needing work experience to find a position.
I’ll also share the common mistakes that hold many job seekers back in this process, so make sure to read until the end.
1. Target True Entry-Level Positions
First, it’s important to note that there are true entry-level jobs in the market.
Experiment with searching different keywords on LinkedIn and other job search engines.
Maybe in your industry, the phrase “entry-level” is overused by companies and leads to you finding jobs that require experience. But perhaps you could find another term like “No experience required,” etc.
Get creative and test/experiment to find what works best in terms of your search process and industry.
If you’re in the US, I also recommend utilizing the INC 5,000 list, an annual list of the 5,000 fastest-growing privately held US companies.
Growth-stage companies tend to hire more entry-level people.
This was a key to my own career success, and how I landed my first full-time work as a recruiter.
I found a fast-growing company that was looking to hire 10 recruiters and would train/develop them in-house… no experience required!
Also, as you conduct your job search, make note of which industries and job types seem to have more entry-level positions available.
You may simply be struggling because you’re targeting a type of position that always requires experience.
You can still obtain that position in the long term (I’ll explain how in tip #5), but it’s smart to break into the industry with a role that has more entry-level opportunities available.
Sales jobs and customer support (sometimes referred to as customer success) are examples of jobs that will often accept a candidate without direct experience, as companies can train you in these skills.
2. Utilize Your Network and Friends in Your Job Search
Networking is a key to finding great jobs at any level.
Employers are often looking for candidates to hire, even if the job hasn’t been posted yet on their website.
Growth-stage companies will sometimes hire great, motivated people even if they don’t have an immediate need.
But this only happens if you talk to people in the company.
Take an active approach to networking and ask friends, colleagues, college professors, and other people if they know of employers who are hiring entry-level people.
Contact some of your former peers/classmates who have found jobs to ask if their companies are looking to hire more staff.
Sometimes, these companies pay a referral bonus when an employee refers new job candidates, so you may even be helping that friend/colleague earn money while finding yourself a job!
Don’t be shy about asking.
This article explains how to cold-message someone on LinkedIn about a job, but these scripts/ideas can also be used for messaging and reconnecting with people you already know.
I recommend reading the advice in that article above.
3. Take an Internship
If you’re still a college student or have just graduated, consider searching for internships.
Paid or unpaid internships can help you get some relevant experience and build new skills quickly.
An internship can immediately help you stand out on your resume/job application and overcome the job search catch-22 of needing experience to land a position.
Also, some internships may directly lead to full-time careers with the same employer.
While an unpaid internship isn’t your end goal, it can still help you land a full-time job faster by giving you some great skills and talking points on your cover letter, resume, etc.
4. Complete Side Projects or Freelance Work
Depending on your industry and desired job, you could perform some freelance work or side projects to build up relevant work experience.
The goal is to get a small portfolio of work that you can show to employers.
Even volunteer opportunities, such as helping a local library with their computer systems, can demonstrate skill in an area and teach you transferable skills that hiring managers will appreciate.
This all depends heavily on your college degree/education/background and what type of paid job you hope to obtain.
But it’s an option worth considering.
5. Identify the Best Entry-Level Career Paths for Your Goals
Some jobs make it easier than others when it comes to landing that first position without work experience.
You can reverse engineer how to get to the job you want by looking at how other people started their careers.
Go on LinkedIn, search for people with the job title you want, and look at their prior work experience.
How did they start their career after college?
What was the first job they landed, and what type of company did they work for?
You may spot all sorts of trends and helpful ideas. You might find that many recent graduates began their careers in a certain industry that you hadn’t considered.
For example, maybe you were looking for software sales positions but you see that many salespeople began in real estate. Now you could apply for jobs in that industry.
You might also see that one type of job often leads to the role you want in the long term, so you can now search for that type of role to gain your initial work experience.
For example, maybe you see that many salespeople started in customer support for one to two years.
That’s great info that you can use to begin your career and target the right job titles and industries.
6. Tailor Your Resume to the Job Description When Applying
When you find a job posting that rare entry-level position that doesn’t require experience, take your time to customize your resume before applying.
Don’t rush the application.
If you have any internships or part-time work experience, make sure the resume bullets and other info are demonstrating how you can step into this next job and succeed.
Review your hard and soft skills to make sure they’re relevant for the job, too.
You may decide to add a few skills for this particular job, remove one or two irrelevant skills, etc.
Reordering content is another aspect of tailoring your resume to the position.
For example, imagine you have a skill or piece of experience on your resume, but it’s near the bottom.
Now, if you see that skill listed at the top of the company’s job description, that’s a sign you should move it higher on your resume.
Doing so will make your resume more likely to catch the hiring manager’s interest at first glance.
7. Keep a Positive Mindset
Many job seekers search for entry-level positions, find roles that they’re interested in, and then scroll down just to see two to three years of experience are required.
This is frustrating, but don’t let it get to you!
Focus on what you can control as a job seeker and keep your mindset positive and productive, or you’ll just hold yourself back from finding a job.
You can’t tell an employer what job requirements to list. It’s frustrating that many employers list an “entry-level” job and then require professional experience.
It’s dishonest and a waste of your time, but all you can control is how you respond.
And the best way to react is to quickly move on and apply to better, more honest companies.
That’s how to find that first job and gain experience, not by getting upset at companies that require experience, even if it’s a dishonest business practice to list entry-level jobs and then say experience is wanted.
Treat your time and attention like the limited resource it is and you’ll find an entry-level job faster.
Conclusion: How to Beat the Catch-22 of Job Experience and Land an Entry-Level Job
If you follow the tips above, you’ll give yourself the best chance of escaping the catch-22 that so many job seekers face after graduating.
Leave your comfort zone and spend time networking.
Use internships, freelance work, and volunteer work to develop your skills and enhance your resume.
And stay persistent and positive. Don’t give up.
Once you gain that first bit of relevant experience, everything in your career will become easier.