Job Search: Knowledge But Not The Experience

This morning I received a note from someone just starting out in her career as a lawyer. She’s recently completed her masters degree, made great grades in school, and worked at some law firms while studying. She wants to know how to find a job when you have the knowledge but not the experience. The points I made in my response to her are ones that I find myself frequently repeating to job seekers. Maybe you’ll find this useful too.

It appears that you’re experiencing a typical job seeker’s “catch-22” (Wikipedia: “a paradoxical situation from which an individual cannot escape because of contradictory rules”).

However, this is a situation you might escape by taking some unconventional approaches to your job search. I have a couple of suggestions (see below), but please be advised that they would take a willingness on your part to think and act creatively. If you’re ready to do that, here are my ideas:

1. Take relevant internships and/or volunteer to gain professional experience. When you are listing this kind of work on your resume, include it under your experience section rather than under the volunteer section. Whether you’re paid as an intern or not paid as a volunteer or intern doesn’t matter – if it’s relevant experience, it should be counted. Just be sure to make the accurate distinction of labeling your experience section as “Experience” rather than “Professional Experience” since the word “professional” implies you were paid.

2. Don’t only apply to open positions. Also figure out what firms you’d like to work for and offer your services to them directly whether they’re advertising or not. Maybe they’re thinking of adding staff but haven’t made the news public yet. It’s possible they’ll say they aren’t able to hire you as a regular, full-time employee. Another option then is to offer to work on a contract basis so as to prove yourself to them. Maybe you’ll make yourself indispensible, and you’ll have created a position for yourself there. However, if after a time they decide they don’t need you, then at least you’ll have more experience to add to your resume.

These are daring actions, but as they say “no risk, no reward.” You have nothing to lose by trying, and the worst that can happen is they’ll say no.

One final thought… consider that while you’re working, even if as a volunteer or intern or temporary contractor, you’ll make yourself more valuable to the market. Many employers seem to place a higher value on employed applicants as compared to unemployed applicants. Perhaps they view the employed candidate they don’t know personally as less risky to hire than one they don’t know who is unemployed. Nevertheless, it’s better for you if you do something to gain relevant experience AND show that you’re being productive while you’re looking for your next great career opportunity.


Angela Loeb is into self-development & personal empowerment, being awed by nature, writing, and being inspired by superhero stories. She’s also a career expert who’s advised job seekers for more than two decades.

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