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10 ways to get your foot in the door when you don’t have enough experience

PHOTOGRAPHY BY SEUNG ROK BAEK

WORDS BY ALYCE GREER

Knock, knock. 

If you’re reading this, it’s probably because you’re not particularly over the moon about your current work situation. Maybe you’ve recently finished school or uni, and your resume is about as empty as your bank account.

Maybe current circumstances have made you realise you hate your shitty job, and that it might be time to finally jump ship – hopefully to somewhere with fewer Zoom meetings. Or maybe you’ve lost your job altogether and will work in any industry that’ll have you.

Whatever your situation, I’ve got you. Or more specifically, Emily Bowen and Shelley Johnson have got you. As HR and recruitment experts, and hosts of the My Millennial Career podcast, they know a thing or 10 about weaselling your way into the workforce, or an industry you’ve never dared to explore. 

Em and Shelley say getting your foot in the door starts with conversations – this is the heart of landing a dream job and building a career you love. They’ve provided a bunch of ways to be proactive, spark conversations and get in front of the right people. All you have to do is get off the couch. And maybe dust the chips off your shirt. 

LinkedIn is the new Facebook

Employers are on it, so you need to be too. But just having a presence is not enough. You need to be actively participating: liking, commenting, posting, updating and connecting with anyone you come in contact with. It’s work, but this foundation will serve you well for tips two, five, six, seven, eight and nine, as well as other more traditional job hunting activities. Worth it.  

Slide into DMs (and inboxes)

Reach out, explain a little about your circumstances and ask for advice: do they know of any opportunities, would they be up for a coffee or are there any connections they can put you in touch with? Remember: personalise your message, be polite and don’t set your expectations too high. If it’s a completely cold lead, it’s always a good idea to include some sort of value – what can you offer? If it’s a warm lead, acknowledge that a mutual friend referred you on. Really, what’s the worst that can happen?

Play the long game at networking events 

Networking events are a little harder at the moment but they will come back. When they do, don’t be the guy that turns up once and hands out business cards! And don’t just randomly attend a bunch of different events, or attend the same group sporadically. You need to pick one or two relevant groups and attend all of their events, all of the time, for a long time. As with most things, consistency is key; over a lengthened period you will build genuine relationships and it will pay off, but it will pay off down the track. Trust the process. 

Get schooled 

For now, it’s all about virtual classes, but when life *returns to normal* try to attend training or workshops in person. This way you’ll get a double whammy of technical knowledge/skills and networking opportunities. Connect with teachers and fellow students on LinkedIn; learn about who they know, where they work and share what you are seeking so that they can keep you in mind. Tee up coffees a few weeks after the course and nurture those relationships. If you can’t attend in person, still add them on LinkedIn and ask them for a follow-up coffee over Zoom. 

Stepping stone jobs take you places

It’s critical to accept that your first, second, third (fourth… fifth… ) role might not be your dream job. If we all got our dream jobs in our twenties, no one would ever resign and there’d be no such thing as career progression! The trick? Choose positions that lay strong foundations for your dream job, that take you in the right direction and that allow you to learn. Don’t spend all your energy figuring out what you do like in a job – you also need to work out what you don’t like, too. 

Choose the right kind of volunteering

While work experience and unpaid internships have their place, they’re not the only ‘volunteering’ options. It can be really advantageous to link up with a not-for-profit or charity that benefits from your skillset. That way, you get to give back while building your experience and network. Everyone wins!

Join committees and boards

Networking groups, for example, will have an organising committee or board. There are also industry and other advisory boards. Do some research and once you find a few you are interested in, reach out to learn more about the nomination and recruitment process. It’s another excellent (yet often unknown) way to build experience, grow your network, influence the industry, and open up opportunities.

Change the way you make small talk

Wherever you go and whoever you talk to, use the opportunity to tell your story and share what you’re looking for. It’s a good way to answer dreaded questions like, “How are you?” and “What do you for work?” in a deeper and more interesting way. Take it a step further by saying, “You don’t happen to know anyone who works in [industry], do you?” If they do, ask them if they’d be open to introducing you. The moral of the story? You never know who’s who. 

Build a portfolio – or an Instagram

Whether your work is visual or not, use platforms like Instagram to offer value, share advice and build a community. This will not only allow you to show off your expertise, and act as a way for people to find you, it will become a tangible talking point to turn to when you’re meeting someone important for coffee, when you land an interview, or when you’re pitching yourself via DM. Better yet, it’ll demonstrate initiative, passion and other qualities that put you ahead of the crowd. 

Ask for what you want 

In all circumstances, the best thing to do is just ask. Be courteous and humble, and ask questions that are appropriate to the level of relationship you have with a person. No one is a mind reader, and if you don’t ask you won’t receive! It sounds cliche, but the worst that can happen is they say no – as long as you haven’t been rude or pushy, there’s no harm done.

At the end of the day, there’s sadly no quick fix. To get your foot in the door with minimal experience, you need to put in hard work and do more than the average person. You need to create the opportunities: opportunities for conversations first, and then opportunities for the jobs will come. Hang in there.

My Millenial Career is hosted by Emily Bowen, a recruitment and customer experience specialist who is obsessively curious about the daily collision between business and humans, and Shelley Johnson, a human resources and management consultant whose focus is to see people achieve their personal career goals while enabling businesses to achieve theirs.

Alyce is a contributing writer for Fashion Journal and the director and head writer at Bossy, a Melbourne-based copywriting and content studio. You can find Bossy here and here.

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