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need work experience to get a job, need a job to get work experience

What to talk about in an interview when you don’t have experience?

You know the feeling. What are you supposed to say? 

You need work experience to get a job — but need the job to get work experience.

The usual challenge lies in confidence. Job seekers have other experience, work ethic, ambition, and more relevant traits. But selling yourself is hard to do. 

And first-time job seekers usually think their previous work experiences don’t have value, because they may not be “professional”.

Make sure you demonstrate that you understand the job you’re interviewing for. 

Discuss relevant skills from other contexts that could help you in this job. 

Things to talk about when you don’t have work experience in a job interview

First, make sure you demonstrate that you understand the job you’re interviewing for. 

Second, discuss relevant skills from other contexts that could help you in this job. 

Here’s a short list of life experiences which you can try to connect to questions. These are some classic things that most people have done by the time they reach their first job interview. 

  • Educational social/subject-based experiences or projects. Did you get involved in a group project at school? Helped your science classmate study for an exam? Write a paper for English class on the same topic as the company you’re interviewing for? Think about how that shows you’ve tailored your approach to the requirements, and how you might do that same thing at work. 
  • Educational choices. Why did you study what you studied? What makes you passionate about it? How does that relate to the job you are going for – feel free to draw on what you liked about your classes or major. 
  • Social experiences at school. If you joined a club, or tried out for a sports team, you’ve most likely had experiences you can relate back to your work. Many high-school level athletes have expert time management skills, balancing practice and schoolwork, in addition to social and leadership skills. Clubs at school (debate, newspaper, yearbook) also offer plenty of opportunities to work on projects that you’re motivated by. Think it through and consider what you have learned.
  • Part time jobs. For example, babysitting requires many skills – time management, responsibility, leadership, first-aid, etc. Retail requires customer service skills (important in any role, there are multiple types of customers) and following directions. Whatever your work may have been, it can still be applied. 
  • Volunteer experiences. If you’ve ever coordinated a food drive, spent time at a pet shelter, or voluntarily provided something to people in need, you’ve got relevant experience. That means you take initiative, you like to take action and follow through.  
  • Family experience. Don’t rely too much on what you might have gained through family professionally (as that may border on nepotism), but do feel free to highlight if you helped out at a family business, organised a family party, or helped grandma manage her finances. 
  • If you don’t have any of these things, then think about a challenging time in your life. Whatever it may have been, you probably learned something that stuck with you, that will help you in your next challenge. Reflect, consider, and prepare. 

When you consider the above list, think about the job you’re interviewing for, what might be required, and which of your past experiences are relevant and appropriate to explain or describe. 

And remember this, which you can always say if you

 don’t know what to say: “I know I have a lot to learn, but I really want to start building my career, and I’m eager to gain experience working for (Company Name)”

Remember the importance of “culture fit” – and that  isn’t about your work experience 

Consider that for more and more companies today, “culture fit” is almost as important as work experience. What is it? Your perspective, attitude, outlook, your social and communication skills, interesting hobbies or interests, approach to work, and more. Remember this and you’ll be helped in getting over the “experience-work” trap. 

need work experience to get a job, need a job to get work experience

How to approach a job interview when you don’t have work experience

When you’re faced with interview questions but don’t have past work experience to draw on, here’s some advice from Mockmate. 

1. Prepare mentally and physically 

Research the company, the position you are applying for, the skills required and, even to learn more about the interviewer, if you know their name. Identify areas that you want to talk about, or where you can contribute. Be ready to address any gaps between the desired qualifications and your skillset on your resume.

Dress appropriately, here’s advice on how, and bring a few paper copies of your resume so you can even refer to it yourself in conversation  

If you come prepared, it shows. You’ll seem like you fit in, don’t waste time, and have a good “culture fit” if you align yourself to the company in the ways you choose.

2. Be confident

 Even if it’s your first interview. It’s just a conversation. Remember that you deserve to be there, they wanted to talk to you. Confidently present your past experiences (whether at work or not) and highlight your added value and learnings. Link it back to the company you’re talking to, so it makes sense you brought it up.

3. Show off your soft skills

People like to work with people, real people with real soft skills. And what does that mean? 

When it comes to soft skills, here are the main ones: listening, attention to detail, and effective communication. 

When you are interviewing you can present these soft skills with or without mentioning them directly.

4. Illustrate every answer with examples and relevant details

 Don’t just say “I pay attention to details”, explain a time when you did this, and what it meant. Use the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Result), here’s our blog post with examples

Even if you don’t have enough work experience to use as examples, you can mention personal experiences depending on the situation.

For example, if you are asked about you organization skills, you could share your experience organizing a family party. Give details, like, “there were more than 100 people from 4 different families” and describe how you managed coordination and any last-minute issues. 

Don’t waste too much time with over-sharing, remember to always link your story back to the question, and the skills you want to highlight.

5. Be memorable

 Memorable is subjective. But, it can really help. 

What do you think makes you memorable? If you don’t know, ask a friend or family member. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, consider someone memorable that you know and like What is it about them? Their personality or behavior? What do people gain from them within a first introduction and why? 

Does the person have a nice smile, listen well, or have something insightful to say? Are they optimistic, think out of the box, or sincere and honest?  It could also be that this person makes everyone feel important. What would you feel comfortable imitating – to make a similar impression?

Focus on what matches best with your personality. 

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If that doesn’t resonate with you, not to worry. You can still create a positive impression with a combination of factors, including, eye contact, open body language (i.e. not crossing your arms), sitting up straight, listening, responding appropriately. Speaking with passion and conviction about topics you care about. When speaking, vary your tone, control your pace and try to captivate your audience’s attention.  

If you are feeling nervous about your next interview, Mockmate’s best advice is to practice, practice and practice again.

Go ahead and take our AI-interview and get immediate feedback on app.

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