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Applying for jobs without experience? Here’s how to build and sell your skills


Looking for work – whether fresh from school, straight from university or as part of a career change – is fraught with difficulties. This is particularly true for people who have gained qualifications or experience that appears to have no relevance to the job they are applying for and passionately want.

So how do you demonstrate to an employer that your skills, education and experience are relevant to the job in hand?

If you are in this frustrating situation it is essential to highlight the skills and abilities you already possess that are directly transferable across to the position you are applying for. You need to demonstrate that you have the ability and desire to constantly learn new skills, as well as have a strong commitment to self-leadership and, in turn, self-improvement.

Knowing the relevance of your skill set

Some educational qualifications, such as law, engineering and medicine, shine clear career paths. In contrast, geography, sport science and criminology are ranked lowest for helping graduates attain employment within six months of graduation.

This isn’t because these courses have no inherent value or use (quite the opposite), it is just that the skills and knowledge obtained are so specific many employees fail to appreciate how they would be of use in a non-specialist field.

That is why it is vital you communicate the relevance of your skillset. For example, take a student who had previously studied, for example, performance studies at university. Wanting to work outside of acting and performing after university, potential employees might see no relevance in your qualifications.

However, the auditioning skills you have learned from acting could give you the confidence to pitch new business to clients. Your ability to project your voice to an audience makes you ideal for giving a company presentation. Knowing how to organise a theatre production gives you excellent event management skills, and having to read an audience and improvise in reaction to their mood makes you a huge asset in meetings.

Think hard, therefore, about what your education has given you the ability to do and how you can apply it to other areas. If studying sports science meant you had to study high volumes of data and process large amounts of information, that is what you need to sell on your CV, LinkedIn profile, or in an interview. Push your relevance to the specific job you want.

Show you can learn, relearn and learn again

The rapid advances in technology in recent years have produced the greatest shift in working culture since the industrial age. The ability to constantly learn new skills is vital for the workforce of the future.

Knowing how to code in a specific language, for instance, may be irrelevant in a few years as new forms of coding make it obsolete. So the key thing for developers to demonstrate to employers is that they have the work ethic and ability to learn any coding language.

Likewise, it’s important to realise new tools and technology do not make your current skills instantly outdated. For example, many older people are wary of social media and think employers will favour younger candidates in jobs involving these platforms. But many forms of social media are simple, easy to learn communication tools. The hard skill is the ability to write clearly and engage with people and, therefore, that’s the skill that needs to be sold to an employer.

Make sure to view new tools and trends with this in mind, you may already have the core competencies in place to master them.

Lead yourself

One skill many people possess but fail to sell is self-leadership. It is the ability to not only be aware of your own feelings, thinking and behaviour, but to constantly look to improve and develop these aspects of your personality.

Whether through setting personal goals, seeking out alternative viewpoints or proactively seeking and responding to professional feedback, self-leadership is about taking personal responsibility for your own actions. The ability to drive your own professional and personal progression can have a transformative effect on an organisation. It is a hugely attractive trait for employers and is, of course, transferrable to all jobs.

In your CV, online profiles and interviews give clear examples of any training completed or qualifications achieved within previous jobs. Make it crystal clear how this has developed you professionally. Don’t forget to highlight skills acquired in personal hobbies, while volunteering or studying independently. Shout loudly about your adaptability, curiosity and openness to ideas.

Show you value feedback and give examples of how you have adapted previously due to both positive and negative feedback.

The skill of self-leadership is eternal, no technology will erase it. So sell it.

Selling yourself is a skill in itself

Don’t just regurgitate a list of your skills and qualifications when communicating with employers. Each time you apply for a role go over all your attributes and look at them from the precise perspective of that particular job. You will most likely need to present the same skill differently to one employer than to another.

This may make job hunting more time consuming than you are used to, but five jobs applied for with precision is better than 50 applications written generically.

If you have the skills, make sure you make the most of any opportunity to demonstrate them. Indeed, just showing you have an awareness of your transferable skills and their relevance to another role indicates that you are someone capable of seeing the bigger picture. That can only be a good thing.

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