How to Gain Experience for Free
“I’m sorry, you don’t have any experience so we have decided not to move forward.” My guess is that most of us at some point early in our careers were slapped across the face with a statement similar to this. This is probably the most frustrating statement to hear because “I understand that I don’t have experience but how on earth am I supposed to get experience if I don’t have any?!”
This problem exists across the board for domestic students, international students, new grads, seasoned professionals and everyone in between. Whether you are looking to land your first job or looking to transition into a new role/industry, the problem persists. I remember graduating from Carleton University and being filled with anxiety. I felt like nobody would give me a chance simply because after my parents’ $120k+ investment in my higher education and 5 years in Canada, I still had no “Canadian” experience.
Most parents of international students ask their children not to work during school so they can focus on getting their degree because they believe the degree is the key to getting a great job. Unfortunately, it’s not 1995 anymore and a degree definitely does not guarantee a job anymore. Employers are looking for tangible skills and experience that translate in a real work environment – not just theory from the marketing textbook made in 2009. I believe there are multiple reasons why international students and new grads are struggling to find jobs. The biggest reasons is that college & university prepare us for a degree/diploma but nobody really prepares us for the transition into the workforce. Across the world today, students are graduating believing they are prepared for the workplace and employers are certain that they are not! There’s a huge gap.
“So how do I get experience if I don’t have experience?”
In my opinion, you only have a few options to scale this chasm that devours hundreds of thousands of people. Everybody knows somebody who is very talent but is either unemployed or settling for a job they are way better than because they have not been able to navigate this transition. Now, everybody’s path is different, but the following ideas are proven to work regardless of where you are. These are ideas and not strategies but they’re a great place to start.
How to get experience without experience:
1. Work on side projects – This is not the same as a side hustle. Start working on something related to the industry you want to transition into or with some gift you have. A page, a blog, a vlog, a podcast using platforms like Instagram, Youtube, Pinterest, Etsy – ANYTHING! You don’t need to make money off this side project, just commit a set amount of time each week to developing it. You don't need 1,000 followers, just start the thing! Use it to learn about the industry and sharpen your skills. My friend Glory Omotayo decided to start a podcast from her living room with borrowed equipment. Soon, she was getting paid to do voice ads, and months later she was able to land an awesome full-time role with a real estate company. She managed to make something out of nothing!
2. Start a side hustle – If you are remotely entrepreneurial, process-oriented or have $100 to spare, start a side business using Shopify. If you have $100, you can launch a dropshipping business using services like Oberlo or Printful. If you don’t have $100, go through your stuff and sell whatever you haven’t used for the past 1 year on Kijiji or Ebay. In 2015, I came across hoverboards and I decided to buy a few from Alibaba and sell them on Kijiji and on my Shopify store. I generated of $10,000 even though I had no clue what I was doing! I learned about sales, marketing and operations in 3 months! That experience helped me land my first SaaS sales job right before I graduated which kick-started my career.
3. Build relationships – The antidote to a lack of experience is an abundance of relationships. More people find high quality jobs through their friends than through cold applications. If you are trying to get into an industry and cannot seem to catch a break, get over your fear of rejection and start reaching out to people in that industry on LinkedIn to learn from them and get guidance. Go for coffee with people whose careers you admire and ask them lots of questions. Marianne Encina who is one of the Co-Founders of 3Skills made the transition from Banking to SaaS when I referred her for a role at my company because we were in the same classes at Carleton University and had kept our relationship!
4. Get a foot in the door – If you’re passionate about marketing and you come across an admin or office manager role in a small company where social media is included in the responsibilities, take the role and dominate in it! Use this to learn about every aspect of marketing and do an awesome job in the role so that your leader is willing to act as a referral when you decide to move on. This is exactly what Anisa Sanipe, Co-Founder and CMO of 3Skills did and today she works as a Marketing and Communications Coordinator even though she went to school for teaching and had no experience just a few years ago.
5. Take online Courses – Coursera, Udemy, Udacity have countless courses that can set you on a whole new trajectory! Replace your Netflix account with one of these for 1 year and you will have acquired enough knowledge to confidently apply for and dominate in a new role. The key here is to learn the content then put it into practice in some way. Reach out to people you know who are just starting out and offer to help for free or minimum wage or just start your own thing and test it! The only way you fail is if you don't learn anything.
6. Volunteer – This is the best way to learn skills for free in a practical environment. If you can successfully execute on goals, build a team or lead a project at a not-for-profit with unpaid volunteers, you can probably succeed in a for-profit company. You also meet countless people and build relationships in environments like that. My friend Jacob Rutarindwa who co-founded my last company SRNDR Clothing with me actually learned graphic design and video production through our local church. Today, 5 years after joining to church, he has over 10,000 hours of real experience which is opening doors for him in the industry.
The antidote to a lack of experience is an abundance of relationships
Whatever you decide to do, don’t just quit or settle for some job you hate because somebody told you that you don’t have enough experience. So what if you don’t have it? It has never been easier to get experience. You don’t need another degree, just apply any of the ideas above and create a space for yourself. It’s frustrating to be told you don’t have enough experience. Majority of the 22 people we've helped land jobs through 3Skills also had none! It’s almost like someone is saying “You are not good enough” but don’t cave under those words, prove them wrong. It’s 2019: If nobody hires you, hire yourself.