How do you get more experience if no one will give you a chance?
Pretend you need a pair of scissors. You search online for the sharpest pair you can find. You read dozens of reviews to find the best. Purchase complete!
Days later, your package arrives.
As you open the box, you realize the scissors are protected in a dense, plastic case. It is sealed from all sides. You pull, twist, and pry but the case doesn’t budge. It seems you need scissors to cut through the case. Unfortunately, they are locked inside.
Round and round the example goes. The case remains unopened because cutting them out requires the tool within. You are stuck.
Starting a career is similar. Past work seems to be a prerequisite for new opportunities. Employers require experience before they’ll hire you, but how are you supposed to gain experience? If everyone needs experience, where does anyone get started?
We call this the Experience Dilemma.
Here are actionable tips for overcoming the experience dilemma.
- Adjust expectations. Code Schools like to talk about the six-figure salaries their students have earned right out of school, but that’s rare. Lower starting positions or smaller starting companies are usually less risk-averse.
- Amplify your strengths. If experience is a weak spot in your resume, find your areas of strength and make sure those benefits are clearly represented.
- Work your network. Every job I’ve ever had came from knowing someone at the company first. There are other paths, but leaning on your network can be the simplest. You never know which relationships might yield a new introduction or opportunity. Talk to friends and family. Ask for introductions to people they may know.
- Build connections. Companies don’t hire people. People hire people. Find ways to talk to and connect with real people within the company. Don’t push straight for the job, learn about them, and engage in real conversations. It’s hard to reject someone you like, even if they’re underqualified.
You will get told ‘no’. If you’re putting in the work, you’ll probably be hearing ‘no’ a lot. Fortunately, work is one area where a single ‘yes’ is all you need.
Originally, I overcame the experience dilemma by offering to work for free. I realize it’s not realistic for everyone and I’m not suggesting companies shouldn’t pay people for their work.
People should be paid for their work, but offering to work for free for a season reduces the financial risk from the other party and allows you to gain access to something more valuable than money: experience.
The experience eventually leads to more and more money, but there is no amount of money you can pay to replace the value of experience.