Nailing the 'No Work Experience' Interview

You decided to make the leap to a new profession. How do you compete with candidates who have years of involvement?

After a 15-year career as an architect, Julie realized her job wasn't fulfilling her in the same way it used to. So she decided to take a certificate program for college counseling, something she always had been interested in. But when it came time to apply for her first counselor job, she panicked. Her resume didn't have a single example of experience helping high schoolers choose a university.

It can be daunting to figure out how to explain a career switch to hiring managers-and advance past algorithms that sift through resumes for specific words to parse out candidates. Indeed, out of all the resumes that come through the online gauntlet, 4% make it into the hands of a recruiter, and only 2% get a callback.

Tell a brief story of where you came from, what you learned, and why you're doing this now.

But the rise of the nomad economy, in which people are switching jobs every four years, has made a situation like Julie's all the more common. And while you do need to revamp your resume to get through the online systems, you should then forget about your resume and focus on networking, says Brad Finkeldei, a Kansas City-based career coach who specializes in career transitions. After all, 70% to 80% of all positions are filled via a referral. Here's how to get in, even when you have no experience to show in your new sector.

Don't ask for an interview-ask for advice.

Before you even step into an interview, career experts recommend reaching out to people who've had success and asking to chat. More often than not, such folks like to help others who are coming up. "Ask how they got where they are, share what you admire about them, and say that you'd like to see yourself in their type of position in a few years," Finkeldei says. "Go in with the intention of building a genuine relationship-not asking for a job." (And make sure not to ask for the meeting by using the phrase, "Can I pick your brain?")

One of the best questions to ask these people is what their biggest struggle is. By asking this, you can think about how you could solve their problem, which "puts you in the mindset of service," Finkeldei says. Asking this can also help the person remember you and keep you in mind if a job opens up.

Highlight your similar skill sets.

Julie, with the help of a career coach, found more overlapping skills of architecture and counseling than she ever imagined-planning skills, the ability to nail deadlines, and listening to clients. One way to see what overlapping skills you may have is to try this exercise recommended by Korn Ferry Advance coach Val Olson: Go to a job-posting website, cut and paste job descriptions from the position you want, find the skills that show up often, and overlay with your own skills. For the skills you may not have, "you can fill the gaps using a program like Skillshare, Coursera, or LinkedIn Learning," Olson says.

Be able to articulate your why.

Your interviewer-or even the person you take to coffee-is almost guaranteed to ask why you're making the career change, so it's best to have a succinct and smooth answer prepared. What's more, a clear understanding of your "why" will give you the confidence to keep going when things get tough. Career pros recommend you tell a brief story of where you came from, what you learned, and why you're doing this now. "A story of resilience and triumph is so powerful," Olson says.

Set yourself apart from the rookies.

While you're different from the majority of people who may apply for this job because you've switched careers, you can highlight this as a huge plus. With everyone trying to stand out, embrace what makes you different: a novel perspective on an industry that can bring fresh thinking to an organization or a new way of tackling a lingering problem. Try to give examples of your critical-thinking abilities from your previous work by preparing half a dozen examples that follow this pattern: idea generation, research, production, collaboration, and delivery. "The key is to give examples that you enjoyed and that made you feel proud," Olson says. "It'll come across in your energy."

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