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Each time the experience is identical: You sit at your computer for hours, sending out job applications, until suddenly your inbox is full with more than 200 automated responses from “donotreply” addresses that leave you wondering one question: Is anyone actually noticing me?
Many of us have been told that starting a career requires simply applying over and over to different jobs and hoping that something bites back. But the problem with this is that trying to start a career without any job experience or connections is more like tossing one of those messages in a bottle into the sea and hoping it reaches land someday. Your entire fate depends on whether someone by chance comes across your application.
With many entry level jobs requiring 3 to 4 years of experience, it can seem impossible to get your foot in the door for a new or different career. However, if you learn how to market yourself effectively, there are actually several alternate routes you can take to break into any industry. Take it from someone who got into freelance writing without any prior internships or professional journalism connections. Here are five you can do to help get your foot in the door, even if you have no “real” job experience:
1. Create a website that lets your experience shine.
Throughout my years of freelancing, I’ve found one of the most effective ways to market myself to other professionals has been having a website specifically dedicated to showing my accomplishments. This was key when I didn’t have any bylines at major publications and wanted to prove to the publications I was pitching that I was serious about my work.
Back then, my website contained nothing more than a biography, contact page, and, list-format portfolio where I uploaded my academic and creative writing pieces. It wasn’t much, but it was significant for my career because it allowed me to create a digital footprint that was separate from my social life. Think of a personal website as an extended, digital business card: It communicates what you do and the type of services you offer with just a touch more personality. But more importantly, it allows you to come off as trustworthy and professional, even if you have little-to-no paid work experience.
Nowadays, you can use a website builder like Squarespace that will do the technical (and design) heavy lifting for you. It’s incredibly easy to create a totally customizable website that fits your personality while maintaining a professional, polished look. The best part is you don’t need any coding or design experience to use it. Squarespace offers more than 200 different design templates that you can choose from to launch your portfolio. (P.S. if you need any tips on how to build a beautiful portfolio website, you can check out Lauren Ver Hage’s full guide here on TFD.)
Across any line of work, having a website that represents you and your work beautifully can show potential clients and employers that you have confidence in your work.
2. Sell your skills, not your resume
One important thing to remember about the job market is that a reputable professional isn’t necessarily the person with the most Twitter followers or LinkedIn connections. It’s the person that a company can trust to be the “go-to” for whatever they need.
This is where having the professional website we mentioned above comes in handy. While listing a bunch of skills on a resume can come across as disingenuous, highlighting your various skills on a website (example below on Squarespace) — by showing people specific examples of your projects — can show that you’re versatile and well-rounded. If you’re a writer like me, you can attract more clients to your site by designating separate tabs for each type of writing service you offer, whether it’s copy for brochures, blogs about furniture, transcription gigs, or advertisements for local businesses. Not only will this expand your pool of potential network connections, it will also give you the chance to diversify your skills.
3. Make the first move. (Say hi first!)
I totally understand the thought of emailing a total stranger seems daunting to a lot of people. However, reaching out to a company or person you admire and offering them your services can be one of the most straightforward ways to grow your network and gain potential job experience — especially when you don’t already have connections due to a lack of experience. In fact, the only reason I have a writing career at all is because I spent several months cold pitching my fully written- drafts to several different publications, until I finally landed my first byline (which happens to be here on TFD!)
The good news is there are many businesses and startups that are totally willing to work with people who don’t have any on-paper experience, as long as you can give them a clear idea of what you have to offer them. Sometimes all it takes is sending a brief, casual message that says something along the lines of:
“Hi, I’m ____ . I came across your page and really admire t________. I’m currently a ________, and I’d love the opportunity to use my (skills) to support your ________ Sincerely, NAME” with a link to your portfolio or website (or both).
Although there’s no guarantee that you’ll hear a “yes” response, by being the first one to make the move (instead of waiting for people to find you) you’re demonstrating that you’re confident, passionate about what you do, and eager to help someone else succeed. But most of all, you’re putting your name out there. Even if that person doesn’t need your services now, it doesn’t mean they won’t need them one day.
4. Join a social media group that is specific to your industry.
Now, more than ever, we can network with other professionals from the comfort of our couches. Sometimes this can be as easy as joining a Facebook group or online forum that’s dedicated specifically to professionals in your field. Most of the time, these groups consist of young professionals who are also looking to gain experience and share advice, which makes them a great place to start building a network. I’ve personally found the writers groups I’ve joined to be incredibly helpful with earning me some valuable work experience because they connected me with editors who I likely wouldn’t have met in the outside world.
Examples of Groups you could join:
So if you’re not too keen on cold messaging strangers just yet, try joining one of these groups instead and interacting with users in the comment section. Ask questions. Share your experience. Talk about what you’re looking for in a job. It might not always lead to a job opportunity, but it can still be a great way to get your name out there so that people actually know you exist.
5. Start creating content for free.
If you don’t have any work samples to share on your portfolio, no need to worry! You can attract visitors to your website by starting a blog. And this isn’t just beneficial for people who want to become writers; regularly publishing content that’s relevant to your industry signals to potential employers and recruiters that you’re genuinely committed to the work you do and that you’re willing to go out of your way to do a good job. It also enhances your digital footprint by giving you an active online presence that goes beyond your social media feeds. And let’s be real — when potential clients and employers look up your name, your personal accounts probably aren’t the best thing for them to see first.
If you’re looking for a place to start publishing web content, I highly recommend checking out the blogging service on Squarespace. Their user-friendly platform makes it super easy to post text, video, and photo updates that are automatically indexed for search, thus making it easier for people to come across your site. They also feature analytics tools that let you gauge exactly how many people are visiting your posts, so you can edit your content based on what your audience actually wants to see.
As you grow your network and advance further into your career, always remember that presenting the best professional version of yourself is one of the best ways to build trust and earn respect in any industry.
And while there’s no one-size-fits-all approach that will work for everyone when it comes to starting a new career, taking the above steps can help give you a little bit more of a competitive edge in your job hunt, regardless of your level of experience.
If you’re ready to get started building your own personal website, head to Squarespace.com for a free trial. When you’re ready to publish, you can use our offer code “FINANCIALDIET” for 10% off your first website or domain.
Image via Unsplash