Updated 10 November 2022
Hunting for an entry-level job can seem daunting, especially if you’re looking for your first ever role, or changing career paths completely. But whether you’re looking for an entry-level mining job, a gig in artificial intelligence, or your first role in accounting, there are more job opportunities for people with no experience in a given industry than you might think - it’s simply a case of keeping an eye out, spotting the opportunities, and putting your best foot forward.
Before we dive in, check out this video from our Grad Recruitment Guides series where student careers Engagement Manager at UNSW, Anna, provides a snapshot of how you can make the most of your application for your first role out of university:
1. Perfect your Resume/CV and highlight transferrable skills
So how do you write an excellent cover letter or resume for an entry level role, when you have little prior experience in the industry? The key is to focus on your transferable skills - the knowledge, insights and experience that you’ve gained outside the industry, that will still help you perform your desired job to a high standard. If it’s in the job description and you’ve encountered a similar task or challenge before, include it in your resume.
From babysitting and highschool debating to casual jobs, internships, and university projects - all of these can count for something. Draw on your experiences, and use them to demonstrate all that you have to offer to your potential employer. For example, if you were great at debating, you can highlight your ability to think critically, work under pressure, and communicate convincingly - perfect for an entry level role in sales, marketing or real estate.
The same goes for your “soft skills”. These are your most productive personality traits that make you a desirable employee to work with, such as a good attitude, adaptability, creative thinking, strong work ethic, collaboration, decision making, and time management skills.
2. Don’t be intimidated by the job description
Reading a long list of “must-haves” on a job description can feel very intimidating, especially if the company is asking for 2+ years experience for an entry level role. Don’t let this throw you off. Use the job posting as an insight into what your hiring manager considers to be the perfect candidate, from specific knowledge or soft skills to personality traits and working style. Think about how you might demonstrate these characteristics, even if you don’t have the exact experience. A lot of the time, a job description will be more like a manager’s wish list than a “must have” requirement.
Many job descriptions are, unfortunately, not accurate enough or far too demanding in the way they are written - and this has been found to discourage applications from otherwise perfectly valid candidates, often from underrepresented groups and women. In fact, in a recent focus group we ran with students most of the females we spoke to felt that if there is even ONE skill listed they cannot do, they will eliminate rather than apply! Ultimately, it never hurts to throw your application into the mix, as hockey Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky, "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take."
3. Be honest & open
When you’re applying for an entry-level position, the first thing to remember is that the employer already expects you to have little to no experience - it’s in the job description, after all! So there’s no reason to let that stop you from being honest and having a go - and there’s nothing worse than getting quizzed in an interview about a fabricated resume or cover letter.
The best approach is to embrace your inexperience, and focus on demonstrating your enthusiasm to learn, contribute, work hard, and grow in the role. That’s really what companies are looking for from recent graduates and entry level candidates. Being open about your level of experience will reflect well on your character, ensure you feel more comfortable during the selection process, and avoid any awkward questions when you make it to the interview stage.
Link the lessons you’ve learned in life to the job you’re applying for, and go from there. Keep your resume and cover letter professional and honest, and fill it with real, valuable experiences you feel relate well to the role.
4. Make an effort to be passionate & personal
If you’re applying for a new job and don’t have specific experience in that sector, there’s probably a reason why you’re interested in the role and company in the first place - so demonstrate your enthusiasm. Do some thorough background research on the business and the role. Write a customised cover letter and tailor your resume to directly address the company’s job description, values, goals and recent projects.
Prepare to have a thoughtful response for common interview questions like “Why do you want to work here?” and “What will you bring to the role?” - and don’t be afraid to show some personality. Let them know about any interesting experiences, hobbies or passions you have that are appropriate for the interview - such as photography, playing sport, or studying abroad.
Show how those experiences have contributed to who you are today. That personal experience can help demonstrate qualities like flexibility, maturity and commitment, and make for excellent interview talking points.
5. Network to get your foot in the door
Sometimes, who you know really does help. Getting a job referral or even a word on the side by someone at the company you’re applying to can greatly increase your chances of getting an interview or even just help you get your foot in the door.
The tricky part is actually meeting someone from the company and asking them to vouch for you - but there’s a right way to do this and it's not just sending out your resume to recruiters on LinkedIn. You need to be reasonable with your requests and express a genuine interest in learning more about the person’s field of expertise.
Keep a constant eye out for opportunities to network, from educational events and social gatherings to virtual events right here on GradConnection! Chat to your family or friends about your goals - you never know who might be able to help introduce you to the right people.
6. Get more experience with an internship, cadetship or clerkship
If you’re still having trouble getting interviews, it may be that your resume just doesn’t have enough real world experience. Internships, cadetships and clerkships can be a great way to flesh out your resume - and aren’t just for current students! Getting an internship can be a great way to get your foot in the door of your ideal company, test out the job, see if you like it, and gain some resume-worthy skills while you’re at it. Lacking industry experience doesn’t mean your time and skills aren’t valuable. Back yourself and pursue mutually beneficial agreements that will, above all, support you and your career growth.
Getting your first entry-level job can often feel like an uphill battle - but don’t be disheartened. Most hiring managers will be far more excited about an applicant with a clear passion and willingness to learn than ticking some of the “mandatory” details on the job description. Keep applying for jobs, tweaking your resume, and looking out for new opportunities.