Breach The No-Experience Barrier

First-Time job hunters can take heart. There is a way through the ‘no previous experience’ barrier. However, the breakthrough may require forward planning or short-term sacrifice and job seekers need to regard the process of job search as a job in itself.

Several successful breakthrough techniques have been described by The Focus Group, the Forest Town-based firm of consultants that supplies the full spectrum of human capital management functions for some of the country’s leading employers.

Step One, according to the experts, is to remain positive. Young people should realise that the previous experience barrier is more imagined than real.

Explains The Focus Group director Gavin Sher: “First-time applicants sing from the same hymn-sheet … ‘No-one will employ me because I have no experience, but how can I gain experience if no-one will employ me?’ They dishearten themselves. There’s no need to.

“The no-experience line is sometimes used to gently let down the younger applicant. Think it through and you realise there must be ways around it or how would anyone get a start in any industry?”

Many industries will employ young people – usually well educated – who have no previous work experience. They include the accounting profession, which takes on matriculants, construction companies, which create junior positions for graduates with a B.Sc in Building Sciences, and I.T. companies, which often give a chance to enthusiastic young people with an interest in computers.

Often, the younger applicant can establish a track-record of sorts by taking holiday and weekend jobs in the targeted industry. This part-time work record shows the youngster is willing and is a goal-setter – plus-points for employers.

It is important not to have unrealistic expectations. Job-seekers should be prepared to start at the bottom and take positions for which they might believe themselves to be over-qualified.

For example, someone hoping for a junior managerial post in the retail sector might have to start by packing shelves or working as a cashier.

Applicants might also have to lower their sights by taking something less than a full-time staff position. A short-term contract or a trial period might not be what the applicant is looking for, but if it opens the way to industry entry it should not be rejected out of hand.

It is far from unknown for young people who are passionate about a career path to agree to work for nothing for a trial period in order to demonstrate their worth to a prospective employer.

Some ‘glamour’ sectors like advertising and marketing can take their pick of scores of well-qualified applicants. In these circumstances, short-term sacrifice of an initial pay packet may be the only way in.

Sometimes there may be no opportunities at all in a specific region; though there may be openings elsewhere. It can be a wrench, but the applicant may have to relocate in order to chase these opportunities – even if the jobs are away from the major centres. Young people often prefer the bright lights to work in some semi-rural backwater – but if they are serious about their career tough choices may have to be made.

Says Sher: “The problem is often not lack of work experience, but the high expectations of industry entrants. They have a problem adjusting their sights when they come face to face with reality.

“The kids are not entirely to blame. Some colleges or training establishments are not averse to emphasing high demand and high salaries as a means of increasing course enrolment. Hopes are then dashed and the youngster is at a loss.

“Plan ahead if you can and build industry experience as a student. If not, be flexible and be prepared to start at the bottom and work your way up. Whoever said ‘there’s always room at the top’ was not aware of South Africa’s current jobs situation.”

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