Getting Your First "Real" Job Can Be Tough

Here is a way of improving your chance of success

Are you trying to get your first job?  Maybe it’s your first “real” job or maybe it’s ANY job!  Not having any luck?  Don't have enough experience?


Job Seeker Cartoon.pngCredit: Teleranya - 2014



Whether you are a student or a recent graduate, getting the right kind of experience for that job you want can be hard to do.  In fact, it can feel like you are going around in circles, just like the job seeker in the cartoon.  

 If you are in this situation, you know how frustrating and sometimes downright depressing it can be.  If only someone would give you a break!  Why can’t they see what a fantastic worker you’d be?  You have lots of energy, you’re curious about things and you know you’re dependable.  What more could an employer want?  You know you’ll need training, but you’re a fast learner so what’s the problem?

It’s A Risk For Them

Unfortunately, not every employer is willing (or able) to train someone.  It takes time and energy to make sure a new worker knows what they are supposed to do and to teach the skills needed to do it.  If you don’t learn quickly or end up quitting they will have wasted a lot of time and money.  Businesses, especially small businesses, can’t afford that.

 You have to convince your potential boss that hiring you isn’t going to be as painful as they think it is and that it won’t be a waste of time for them or you.  You have to give that skeptical boss evidence that, at least for some things, you have transferable skills and can hit the ground running.

 Of course, you could try being your own boss, but that’s a whole topic on its own.   You either have to set up your own business or buy a franchise and both of those cost money.  And if you can do that, why would you be looking for a job?!

 I am assuming, since you’ve gotten this far, that you are more interested in working FOR someone right now.  Being your own boss is an interesting alternative option to being employed and I heartily recommend it to anyone to try at least once in their life.  However, for now let’s focus on getting your resume filled up with the sort of information potential bosses or managers are looking for. 

So What Does Attract A Manager’s Attention?

There are some specific things that managers look for when they are advertising an entry level job.  Here are the key ones.

Great Resumes

Having a well written resume (and cover letter or email) is a must.  A lot has been written about how to put together a great resume so I’m not going to try to repeat it here.  What you need are things to put INTO your resume.  However, if you could use some help with putting a resume together you can find some great advice by searching the internet using phrases like "how to find (or get) work experience".

Mistakes Matter

As someone who has been a manager for years and employed quite a few people, I look for certain things when I read through resumes.  What I DON’T want to see is something that looks like it has been thrown together at the last minute.  I hope I am stating the obvious when I say that spelling mistakes and bad grammar are an instant turn-off to just about every employer, no matter what kind of job is being advertised.  Obvious errors just scream “sloppy” and sloppy just doesn’t cut it. 

 An employer’s reasoning goes like this…if you are going to make sloppy mistakes on your resume…which is how employers will judge whether you’re suitable for the job or not…why would you be any different at work?  So if you are a terrible speller or grammarian, use the many online and offline tools available to you or get someone to help you edit your resume.

Relevant Experience

“But I don’t have any experience!  That’s why I’m reading this blog.  Remember the cartoon?   My resume is practically blank!“ 

 Actually, there is a really good chance that you do have at least some relevant experience.  You just hadn’t realised that employers would consider it relevant.   What you have to do is use your resume (or your cover letter) to help your prospective employer make the connection between your kind of experience and the kind of experience they are looking for.  It’s not as hard as it sounds.

Problem SolvingCredit: Public Domain Pictures
Use the Experience You Already Have…But Didn’t Know It 

 When I am advertising an entry level or graduate role, I expect that the applicants will, by definition, NOT have all the work experience they need to do that job.  Therefore I look for things that approximate the type of work they will be doing.  Let me give you some examples.

Example 1 -- Likes working with people

If I need someone for a customer-facing role, I want someone who is happy, cheerful and observant.  I also want someone who can stay respectful even if a customer is grumpy or impolite.  So I’ll look for clues in your resume that you’re that kind of person.  I look for evidence like:

  •  Participated in a buddy or peer support program
  • Was president of the class or club (even if it was small class or club)
  • Helped Mum or Dad or extended family at the front counter in their business
  • Worked with people as a volunteer for a not-for-profit (or for-profit) organization
  • And so on…anything that shows that people find you friendly and easy to approach

 My daughter spent 3 months volunteering at a Salvation Army Op Shop when she was a teenager.  She was taught how to run the till, close and open the shop and work with customers.  That experience was a big factor in getting her first “real” job in retail.  Since then, that experience as a volunteer has stood her in good stead and helped her get other jobs as well.

Example 2 -- Influencer

If I need someone who is sales focused I’d be looking for evidence like:

  •  Top fundraiser for X cause in a particular year
  • Helped fundraise for Y cause every year for (insert number) years
  • Made and sold lemonade/cookies/cakes/wooden candleholders/you name it/ to earn pocket money
  • Anything, in fact, that shows you’ve got the ability to get people interested in contributing to or participating in a cause or buying something from you

 I once hired someone for a summer job because she took an active role every year in promoting and fundraising for a well known worthy cause.  Why did her fundraising experience matter to me as a prospective manager?  It told me that she was persuasive, friendly and politely persistent.  I was sold when I found out that she got the principle of her school to dye his hair green because she fundraised so much money. 

Example 3 -- Problem Solver 

If the job calls for logic, reasoning or attention to detail, some really good evidence that you’d be successful in that role might be:  

  • Participation in a debating or chess club  
  • You’ve taught yourself how to code
  • You can give a really good example of a complicated problem at school or at home that you helped solve…especially if you were the person that was leading the effort to fix things
  • A tough situation that you’ve been through or some really complex issues you've had to think through that changed your approach to life as a consequence

I once hired a young man for an IT internship position even though he HADN’T gotten top grades at university AND it had taken him longer to graduate than usual.  However, he made it clear in his resume that he had deliberately taken time off from university to explore the world and had come back very focused on achieving goals, including learning how to support websites in his spare time.  Not surprisingly he turned out to be a valued team member and a hard worker.  

 There are lots of other examples.  Babysitting over an extended period of time signals that you are trustworthy and dependable.  Having a paper or junk mail run shows you’re dependable and persistent (because you’ve got to go out whether you feel like it or not and no matter what the weather is like). 

 Haven’t done anything like that?  Then find a worthy not-for-profit as fast as you can and VOLUNTEER for something!  You’ll get experience you can put on your resume and they’ll get your energy and willingness to help out with whatever needs doing.  You’ll learn things you never expected to learn.  Economist, another writer here on InfoBarrel, also has some advice on the advantages and disadvantages of volunteering.


JudgeCredit: Public Domain Pictures

Do What Lawyers Do…Show Them The Evidence 

So what evidence can you use?  Here are some questions that might jog your memory a bit:

  • Have you ever been a member of a club?
  • Have you ever been asked to take on or been elected to a position of responsibility where you were the one who had to make things happen?  Think churches, youth groups, clubs, school, a local cause, etc.
  • Have you ever been on a governing body, like a student association or an entity (like a club or not-for-profit) that has a constitution?
  • Have you raised money for something?
  • Have you ever started your own little business?
  • Have you tutored your peers in a particular subject?
  • Have you had to solve some really tough problems or had life experiences that might make you more empathetic and understanding of certain groups of people?
  • Do you speak more than one language?
  • Have you ever lived overseas in another culture?
  • Have you won any competitions where skill was the deciding factor?

Unless you’ve been living in a box since you were five, you’ve definitely got translatable skills.  So to summarize…whether it’s a marketing, advertising or working with your hands-type job, the secret is the same.  Make your resume as good as it can be, get rid of all the spelling and grammar mistakes and help prospective employers make the connection between the experience you already have and the job that’s being advertised.  

The list of questions is endless, really.  It’s just a matter of sitting down and thinking about what you’ve done and recognizing that you’ve actually got proof that you’re smart, resilient, kind, persistent, energetic, curious, enthusiastic and amazing!   You CAN work with customers, solve problems and convince people to do things.

Get that evidence into your resume and it will increase the chance that an employer will take a chance on you.  Happy job hunting!