So you’ve decided that you want to change careers, but you have no experience in your chosen field.
If this is you, you may find yourself getting discouraged. But you mustn’t let your current lack of experience stop you from following your dreams. Instead, you’re going to need to get some … but how do you do that when no-one will give you a job?
Here are 5 time-tested ways to gain the experience you need and ensure that you can make that leap to a new career.
Work for free
One simple way to do this is to offer to work for free in your target industry or profession. After all, your best career, the true career of your dreams, is one that you’d just keep doing again and again even if nobody paid you for it.
So where can you work for free? It’s actually pretty easy to find opportunities. Do projects for your friends or for your family. Join an organization and volunteer as we’ve already discussed. Look for contests and enter them.
You could ask companies if they’d let you intern for free so that you can gain experience. Larger companies will probably say no, given the legal pitfalls of having unpaid employees, but smaller companies will be much more willing to listen and it never hurts to ask.
There may even be opportunities to gain unpaid experience in your current company. For example, let’s say that you want to work in marketing. Instead of taking lunch, how about offering to help out the marketing department?
If you work in a very small company you might not even have a marketing department. Be the person who volunteers to step in and handle marketing projects. Who is doing them now? Is it your boss? Perhaps he or she would actually like the opportunity to take some work off of his own hands. You’ll never know until you ask.
Make a partial move
Another technique for bridging a large experience gap is to make a partial move towards what you want to do next. For example, let’s say that you’ve been working in food service for a couple of years after college. However, you know that you’d like to get into accounting because you have an accounting degree.
Working for a storefront tax preparation service might offer the partial move that you need to brush up your skills even more. You’ll then have some “related job experience” to offer to employers. If you’re ultimately targeting a large corporate accounting firm then your next step might be to take an accounts payable or accounts receivable job with a very small local company. If it’s a food service company, the transition becomes even easier because now you have something extra to offer (your knowledge of the industry).
Each step helps to close the gap between where you are and where you need to be.
Add to your education
Sometimes you will need more of an education. If this is the case, identify useful classes or certifications. You might need a new degree, or an extra qualification. You may well get more of an opportunity to get to the experience you need after you’ve completed this education.
Even if you don’t require additional education, it might help. Taking classes in your new field will show your commitment and passion for your target career. It will also develop your skills. Finally, it can help you make some new connections that might be very helpful in landing your next job.
Set up your own business on the side
Sometimes you can’t wait for a full-time employer to give you the shot. You have to reach out and take it by setting up your own business on the side. This strategy depends upon what you want to do for a living. Copywriting, graphic design, web design, accounting, event planning, social media, recruiting, administration, software development and video production all lend themselves well to freelance work. You can go out and get clients who do not have the budget to hire a full-time, in-house employee, and earn all the experience you could possibly want while getting paid to do so.
Taking this path isn’t easy. Like Sarah, you might have to work the job at night and on weekends, around your regular job. That’s hard work to be sure, but how much do you want this new career? And who knows, your new business may become so successful that you stick at it and don’t even look for a new job!
Quack like a duck
Finally, you can find other ways to demonstrate your skills. I sometimes call this the “quack like a duck” strategy. Allow me to explain.
I once had the opportunity to interview Nicholas Lore, the career change pioneer behind The Rockport Institute. During the interview he said, “If you want to be a duck, you need to walk, talk, and fly like a duck,” a wonderful metaphor that I have shortened to \”quack like a duck.\”
These days you can demonstrate your expert status by starting a blog or podcast and promoting it on appropriate social media marketing channels, like Twitter and LinkedIn. If you stick at it, and work hard, before long you can become a known name in your field, quacking like a duck along with the best of them!
Being constantly told that you won\’t be hired because you lack experience can be a demoralizing experience, but I hope you can see that there are lots of ways to gain that experience when trying to make a career change.
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