For so long the “experience conundrum” has been the biggest hurdle in landing a first job. Employers are reluctant to hire you without experience, but you can’t gain experience without being hired.
But things are changing. The current labor shortages are impacting almost every industry. Help wanted signs are popping up everywhere, wages are increasing and hiring managers are desperate to find good workers. Now more than ever it’s a great time for young people to get that first job.
A strong economic recovery and Baby Boomers retiring in record numbers have outpaced the numbers of Americans over 16 entering the workforce. This has created a real opportunity for young people to not just find any job, but to find one that can give you experience in fields that you’re interested in or passionate about.
The bottom line is workers are needed more than ever and you can find good entry level jobs in retail, fashion, healthcare, law, construction and manufacturing — not just fast food and delivery services that we often think of as first jobs for those entering the job market.
Even with labor in short supply, as a first-time job seeker you must still convince employers that you’re worth taking a chance on compared to other workers — including those who may already have some experience. Hiring managers are willing to take that chance if you can present yourself in a way that shows that you have standout qualities.
If you know someone with a contact inside the company who can refer you, tap into that opportunity. This is a common tactic used more often than you’d think to secure a first job. But if not, you’ll need to develop a plan. Until recently, most companies only allowed online job applications for efficiency’s sake. This was frustrating for job seekers, especially first job seekers. Now, desperate to find good workers, they may be more open to an in-person approach.
To stand out you should:
1. Make a list.
Write down the kind of businesses or industry in which you’d like to work, but understand that you’ll be doing entry-level work. Your main objective should be finding work in which you can meet and network with more experienced employees that will help you learn more about their business and who can make the work experience more enriching.
2. Write a letter to the business owner or hiring manager.
Tell them who you are, what you’re willing to do and why you want to work for them. Make a compelling argument for yourself. Be brief (no more than one page) and to the point, and provide your commitments to them if they hire you — committing to be on time, to be mentally present and to work hard. Even if you don’t have work experience, you do have transferable experiences that can act as proxies. Describe a situation in which you needed to be on time and work hard, such as a volunteer position or an extracurricular activity.
3. Hand-deliver your letter.
Dress for success and try to leave a positive impression. Ask for the owner or hiring manager, but if they’re not available, get the name of the person you leave it with so that you can follow up later. Let them know that you’re interested in their business and appreciate their consideration whenever they may be looking to fill an entry-level position.
4. Prepare well if you get an interview.
Make sure that you think ahead about the questions you may be asked and write out your responses. Practice saying them out loud until you can respond comfortably and confidently. Tell them why you want an opportunity to work with them and why you’re interested in their business. Have a compelling answer to what you hope to add to the organization. It can be simple, such as, “I’m ready to work and to learn.”
5. Don’t give up.
If you don’t get the job keep trying. This is the most important lesson. Ask the hiring manager if there are things upon which you can improve next go round. Realize that even as an inexperienced young person you can stand out by doing simple things that will earn you recognition for your initiative. This is what good hiring managers are looking for.
When you do get the job, go in with the philosophy that you’ll “give first and then receive.” Make yourself of service, and people will take note and be willing to help you learn. Work to overcome your initial anxiety and, as you become more comfortable, think about how you can add value. Be curious and ask questions that will help you do your job better. Little by little you’ll be recognized in return.
Remember we all start somewhere.