How To Get Experience In A New Field

By Chris Kolmar and Experts - Mar. 9, 2021

Find a Job You Really Want In

It’s a common and frustrating dilemma many people eventually find themselves facing — you’re burned out with your career and ready to try something new. And not just doing the same old job with a different view at a different office, but a fresh start with something new and exciting.

The problem is, for every promising job listing you find in your field of interest, even entry-level positions are looking for specific candidates with several years of experience. You’re probably wondering how can you possibly compete and be taken seriously when all of your experience is in a different field of work.

Don’t despair; even if your dream job happens to be one you aren’t qualified for, you do have options available besides lying on your resume.

How to Gain Experience Without Starting at the Bottom

The sad truth is that “entry-level” doesn’t usually translate to “little to no experience” like it used to. Nowadays, it often means low pay, and in many cases, getting even a low-paying entry-level job comes with the caveat of needing work experience to be considered for the position.

However, experience comes in many forms besides working a full-time job in the given field. If you know that you have the drive to learn and a transferable skill set, you can prove that you’re proactive enough to compete, although further investment is going to be required to build up your resume with relevant experience. Some options include:

  1. Do an internship. This can be either a paid or unpaid opportunity to get acquainted with the career change and ensure that you’re truly committed while also gaining some of the experience that’s been lacking on your resume.

    Internships aren’t just for college and high school students seeking experiential education; a lot of companies offer part-time and remote internships open to anyone.

  2. Take classes. Depending on your financial status and career goals, that might include returning to campus to earn a degree, but it can also be in the form of online classes, webinars, tutorials, certifications, et cetera.

    Before committing to further advancing your education, make sure you do your research and have a clear understanding of the time commitment, pros, and cons.

  3. Volunteer. You might be surprised by how many volunteer opportunities can give you relevant work experience. Organizations that are looking for volunteers usually can’t afford to be picky with candidates, meaning they’re willing to train unqualified workers to get the job done.

    Plus, volunteering in your community, even if it isn’t all necessarily relevant to the job you’re seeking, is a great extra bullet point on your resume.

  4. Start a blog or other relevant channel. Don’t underestimate the power of research. Maybe you don’t have the hands-on experience of working under an employer, but if you can prove that you know your stuff, you just might convince a hiring manager to give you a chance.

    If you’re a writer, build up a blog to use as a portfolio proving you’ve become a self-taught expert. If writing isn’t your thing, consider doing a podcast, creating a YouTube channel, or exploring other social media avenues.

  5. Seek out relevant projects at your current job. Without compromising your responsibilities, reach out to other departments and see if you might be able to assist with projects and tasks that interest you.

  6. Get your foot in the door. Many companies like to hire from within, so you may increase your chances of offsetting the lack of experience by starting in a different department, even if you’re overqualified for the position and that’s not where you want to be in the long run.

    If you can prove to the company that you’re reliable, enthusiastic, and eager to learn, they’re likely to take a chance on you later when you do apply for the job you want. And in the meantime, keep putting in the extra work to continue learning and developing your skills.

  7. Freelance. This is a great opportunity to bulk up the portfolio with relevant examples of work that you’ve done for real clients.

    You can often start by word of mouth with friends and family doing pro-bono work if you aren’t comfortable charging yet for your services, then grow your freelance business from there. Not only does freelancing show off your skills, but it also proves to a company that you are dedicated.

    In addition to freelancing, there are other online jobs available that may give you a more flexible schedule and help you acquire skills that can help you land the dream job you want.

  8. Network with people in the career you are seeking. This may include joining different groups or masterminds and attending conferences where you can talk to people, introduce yourself, and exchange contact information.

    You can certainly find a new job without connections, but you might be surprised by how knowing the right person can open a door that was previously locked. A referral can go a long way.

How to Apply for Your Dream Job Without Professional Work Experience

Once you have experience in some form, although preferably at least a few different examples to show that you’re serious, it’s time to polish the cover letter and resume.

Before you stress about how to show experience on your resume even if you don’t have any, remind yourself that you do have experience. At the very least, you have life experience. You can cite skills that may seem inconsequential but can be quite impactful to a hiring manager, such as time management, teamwork, multitasking, etc.

That being said, make sure you don’t pack your resume with irrelevant experience that might hurt your chances of making a good impression.

The last thing you want is a hiring manager glossing over your various high school jobs working in a restaurant and movie theater and setting your application aside because you didn’t pique his or her interest right away.

When it comes to the critical highlights, expand on every single relevant bit of experience you’ve accumulated. Don’t just list “created a podcast” on a bullet point and leave it at that. Elaborate. Mention your star interviewees and the topics you discussed. In your cover letter, go into more detail about what inspired you to start the podcast.

Remember that both your resume and your cover letter are equally important, but they serve different roles. The resume should be a clean and efficient list of your skills and accomplishments laid out for a quick skim. It needs to serve as a powerful first impression at a glance.

The cover letter is the bridge that connects those pieces on the resume to explain how your particular set of skills, experiences, and goals align with the company’s culture, development, and vision. It’s your first official introduction.

The cover letter is your opportunity to present your best case and layout:

  • How the experience you listed on your resume is relevant to the job

  • Who you are and why you are a candidate worth taking a chance on

  • What steps you have proactively taken on your own to become knowledgeable

The resume is a knock on the door; the cover letter is your three-minute elevator pitch if you’re lucky enough to have the door open for a moment. Both should work in tandem to show that even without professional experience, you are a force to be reckoned with and an asset that the company shouldn’t squander.

By proving your dedication to your desired field outside of a company’s oversight, you’re demonstrating to a potential employer that you will be an engaged, enthusiastic employee.

There’s a good chance that your drive to learn and succeed will make you a more appealing candidate than someone who may have more experience on paper but lacks the conviction and doesn’t seem all that excited about this job. You’re hungrier. You’re ready to fight.

Confidence Is Key

One of the most common pitfalls to avoid when you lack official work experience is a subsequent lack of confidence.

You can beef up your resume as much as possible but still feel like a second-rate candidate, and that’s a mental hurdle you need to focus on overcoming with just as much conviction as you had when going out and gaining experience on your own.

If you start your interview by acting apologetic and admitting that you know you aren’t truly qualified on every single point listed in the job description but you think they should hear you out anyway — that’s not an inspirational introduction.

It’s not always easy to get into the right mindset before an interview, but remember to hold your head high and act like an owner. Emulate confidence. You’re a hard worker and a quick learner. Focus entirely on what you have to offer the company and why you’re a strong candidate for the position.

The interviewer may ask you about your lack of experience or missing skills, but you should not be the one to bring those topics up. When confronted on these points, use the experience you do have to connect the dots and redirect to your strengths.

For example, you might say, “While I was not employed with a company during that time, I feel my experience conducting research, interviewing experts, and writing articles on the topic has equipped me with the knowledge to successfully do this job.”

Final Thoughts

Job experience is important, but sometimes you need to redefine what it means and make your case, especially if your dream job is on the line.

Today’s market often requires employees to have the experience to get a job, but to get that experience, they first need a job. It’s a lose-lose situation, especially for high school and college graduates entering the workforce.

But the experience can take many forms, and by implementing other means to gain relevant experience, you can also showcase equally desirable traits to an employer, including drive, dedication, and a desire to learn and grow.

Don’t sell yourself short just because you didn’t work at a company specializing in a particular field for five years. You have plenty of other skills that make you a valuable asset.

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Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.


Matt Warzel, CPRW, CIR

Matt Warzel a President of a resume writing firm (MJW Careers, LLC) with 15+ years of recruitment, outplacement, career coaching and resume writing experience. Matt is also a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW) and Certified Internet Recruiter (CIR) with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration (Marketing Focus) from John Carroll University.

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