How Can I Gain Experience When You Won’t Hire Me In The First Place?

Julie Shenkman
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It’s a vicious cycle and a common complaint we unfortunately hear from many frustrated candidates, “How do I get experience when employers are only hiring people that already have experience?” It certainly sounds like a Catch-22, so we thought it would be helpful to offer some tips on how to solve this conundrum.

  • Accept an Internship. If you’re starting out in a new field, consider being an intern. Internships aren’t just for college kids anymore—remember when Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson did that movie where they were interns at Google? It’s cool I didn’t see it either. But, there’s a new trend emerging—internships for mature workers (their words not mine). They’re typically targeted towards potential employees that have been out of the workplace for at least two years—perhaps you took time off to raise your kids, went back to school, or you were unfortunately laid off. These opportunities are great resume builders, and who knows—you might get hired full time at the end of the program.
  • Volunteer your time. Knowledge you gain from volunteering is valuable experience you should be bragging about. If you volunteer and the experience is relevant to the type of position you’re aiming towards, it should definitely be on your resume.
  • Take a course. If you gained skills from a course you took—that counts for something. Consider including a “Relevant Skills” or “Relevant Courses” section on your resume. This way recruiters won’t have to scavenge through your resume looking for validation of why you’d be a good fit. They can see immediately that you have the skills to get the job done.
  • Educate yourself. There is now so much information available for free online. We’re not saying this should replace any formal training (I mean, I’m not going to go to a dentist that was educated on YouTube), however there are resources like Khan Academy, Udacity, and Coursera (just to name a few) that could supplement your experiences and knowledge. Often these kinds of courses offer certificates that are nice things to highlight on your resume as well.

We hope you find these tips helpful. And yes, it is not always easy to volunteer your time or accept an internship that might not be as lucrative as a full time job, but think of these tactics as investments. An internship could lead to a full time job that leads to a wonderfully fulfilling career.


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  • Carlos F.
    Carlos F.

    Another point worth mentioning: Volunteer work and Internships DON'T count as professional experience.


    after i was downsized from a telecommunicamajortions giant back in 1986, i went the temporary route for a long time, adding all the experience to my resume each time, i have gone from being a cashier in the mid 80's, started out in the mailroom of the major bank i am now, got worked up thru the years to the position i have now, accounts receivables supervisor at the bank, and also volunteer time permitting at the veterans administration, talking about not hiring without erxperience, temping and volunteering is one way to go.

  • Anthony M.
    Anthony M.

    Companies see volunteering as endearing, but irrelevant experience to a persons chosen field..

  • Rosalind S.
    Rosalind S.

    Who cares about nurses? There are so many women who aren't nurses starving in the streets that hate the health profession that is not a solution here.

  • Anthony M.
    Anthony M.

    I have volunteered for 3 of the last 4 tax seasons for the IRS sponsored VITA program to help prepare tax returns for people/families with lower incomes for free.. I have been laughed out of interviews for similar positions because "rich people's returns are more complicated than poor people's" or the company has no idea what the VITA program is. I love helping people out and watching people's faces when I tell them they are getting 200-500 dollars back and they are so relieved/happy they can eat food,yet it has gotten me nowhere in the professional field..

  • Rosalind S.
    Rosalind S.

    I'm from Buffalo, New York and there is so much poverty here it's unbelievable! I'm an ex Hooter's girl and the only way to get money is to beg your parents! I have been to the soup kitchens three times last week. But they closed the soup kitchens and now only open two days a week! And it's so cold here -20 degrees!

  • charmaine parker
    charmaine parker

    in nursing, not all companies based their hiring process on education but on experience. so many managers who didn't have the right education do not know management itself just can function by their experience. And, many people in management can't really handle it well and get stressed out. While people are interested and willing to move forward with their career but lack the experience in management would love to take that responsibility and still don't get the position. I have a higher degree in nursing, but still perform the tasks of nursing in the lower level. It's difficult to grow that way when there's lack of job opportunities. companies have been trying to hire people with experience but there's not a lot out there with experience, would they rather have the position vacant for a long time rather than hire someone who is willing to take the responsibility? Although it's been difficult these days to make a change, but possible I can go back to school. But the stigma is, will i have a better job after with school loans that no company can help you pay better? I have applied for a higher position with minimal experience didn't get the job, but they hired someone who had no experience and that person struggled to learn the new tasks given to her and complained to me, hmmm something to think about.

  • Rosalind S.
    Rosalind S.

    I have been homeless off and on for 15 years and now I'm 37 and no one will hire me! I have a four year degree and a lot of volunteer experience maybe I should try Canada? How could I join a Union when I don't have employment?


    What field are all of you in? Around the gulf coast there are jobs not being filled if you are willing to WORK,

  • Carlos F.
    Carlos F.

    The answer to that question is rather easy: the employer has to take more risks by hiring inexperienced workers. This article makes it seem like it's the employee that has the absolute responsibility in getting himself hired including debasing himself and work for free (and it's never for free, is it? The worker has expenses.). If these tips aren't working then maybe the employee should consider crawling on his knees and beg too...

  • Rosalind S.
    Rosalind S.

    I have been homeless several times and from experience, volunteering is not respected and no one hires interns! I have a four year degree and still face being homeless again from no job experience. Could you write about that?


    I'm always looking for a better job, the company I'm with now can't even get enough applications to think about for the positions we need, maybe your are looking in the wrong place, we need skilled maintenance workers

  • Arthur M.
    Arthur M.

    Hey, Julie, I have all the experience any company could need. My problem is that of ubiquitous "age discrimination". Companies all want my level of experience except they want it packaged in a 25 yr old. Anyone over 40 is the active target of age discrimination. Recruiters have told me many times to have a single page resume to try to avoid having it thrown straight into the trash because I'm perceived to be too old for their taste. And the EEOC just laughs off the emails that I send on the subject. Why don't you write about that?

  • Stephanie Baker
    Stephanie Baker

    I would love to volunteer but I desperately need money. Volunteering doesn't pay the bills or put gas in my car. I'm already taking classes to better myself. I'm so frustrated!!!!!

  • lindelwa N.
    lindelwa N.

    Thanks to inform me and now it my time to get a experience of financial manager whether it's internship or I volunteer.

  • Tami Allen
    Tami Allen

    Why should I volunteer my time. I did that when I was a candy strip at Wynan Park and University Hospital in the 80s at 14yrs. old. Im a pt. care tech and I finished last yr. and myself and my friends ca'nt find employment because we do;n't have experience.,but how are we going to get it if you don't hire us.Thank God I have a certificate in nursing assistant,and experience in dietary. My friends and I called several hospitals about volunteering and spoke to HR and they said it woul'nt help because your not doing hands on with the pts.Iwas recently contacted by a health agency Itook a brake from and they were happy to hear from me and vice versa. Iexplained my situation and she told me to come back and work for them because they hire pt. care techs. God is Awesome.Iwould suggest to anybody you have to stay positive, happy,confident never look back and never have regrets because thats how you learn and most of all Always Encourage Yourself.

  • David Bresnahan
    David Bresnahan

    Thank you, but i ready to give up, i was with a company for 30 years and led sales every year and also purchased 90% of the products wholesale. Then they threw me under the bus and my job was gone, so much for giving your life to a company. Now 54 years old no body wants me, it sucks.

  • Aria Drexler
    Aria Drexler

    What about fields where a 1-year internship is required but they still won't hire you because everyone did the internship? (Dietitian) Do I have to do another internship?

  • Betty L.
    Betty L.

    Thanks for the tips. I already volunteer as an receptionist at JOCCA office in my town.

  • caroline o.
    caroline o.

    I never thought of that!! What a good idea. Thank you for that.

  • Rosalind D.
    Rosalind D.

    What you have suggest is where I'm at it give me something to do as a volunteer and giving back at the same time it takes patience and to who ever is out of work at this time don't give up and hang in there with faith hope and love.

  • Nicholas Kelly
    Nicholas Kelly

    Not all companies offer an internship those that do are either media or advertising firms and office work. You say take a course well many of us have yet companies are asking for 5 years experience and a proven track record. You say Volunteer many people do this weather with a Volunteer fire department, a social charity organization and so this do not mean it will help. New workers will be luck to get a job in the field they have chosen this is fact. it is difficult to break down barriers . Your advice is does not stand in today's work place

  • Sabrina B.
    Sabrina B.

    I truly understand the frustration. It is really hard looking for employment.. period. I have over 20 plus years in Education and over 10 years of Management experience. An Associate Degree in Business Administration, Bachelors in Business Management, and Masters in Business Leadership. I feel if an organization want to hire you they should want to train you the way they want you to work within their organization. And, they tell you to go to school, but you go to school and still cannot get hired. Crazy......

  • Michael Wood
    Michael Wood

    The goal of big business is not to create jobs, but to lose jobs...and, thereby, profit.


    Working for free is never the answer. Join a Union, pick of a trade skill. Seems like those organizations have the real job security in this day-and-age...

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