This blog post was written in response to the Coffee Shop HR World Café topic: “How can job seekers get interviews when entry-level job postings demand previous work experience?”
While work experience is important – let’s just take a step back and think about what a recruiter is really looking for when they are asking for work experience. Work experience demonstrates the ability to hold down a job, which put simply, means getting to work on time, performing the duties of the position and getting along with colleagues and customers. There are other activities that demonstrate these abilities. The first thing that comes to mind for many of us is volunteer work so I won’t delve into that except to say that it is an excellent way to learn and practice these skills.
I would like to look at how responsibility and creativity are developed in other ways. Being a member of a dance troupe, a sports team or a musical group are ways that applicants can demonstrate the attributes a recruiter is looking for. Each of these activities requires one to show up and perform. Not only that, but in order to be successful on a team or in a musical group, one has to get along with a variety of people, take direction, and often, practice on one’s own. What a great precursor to a job!
When I ask my youngest son how he gets along with his colleagues, he always refers back to his experience on hockey teams. He had to build relationships with his team mates or they wouldn’t pass the puck! They trusted him and he trusted them. He understands management styles because he has had a number of coaches with incredibly different styles, from those who were very demanding to those who were stood back and let the team make decisions.
A recruiter could craft a set of requirements rather than relying on the ‘catch all’ of previous work experience. Why not ask for experience working with or leading a team over a period of time? This would open the door to applicants who have developed their skills outside the workplace.
Another aspect one could explore is training – it is not experience or application in the usual way, but training develops skills that are critical to success in the workplace. In the UAE, teens don’t hold part time jobs. Their first jobs are entry level jobs and they may not have any previous ‘work’ experience. College graduates have worked on team projects (we all know how difficult these can be) and they have usually completed a ‘work experience’ with a company. These are training experiences that segue nicely into an entry level position.
In my experience, students who demonstrate leadership potential in college or university are often offered coaching, workshops, or other opportunities to develop their potential. They might take a leadership role on the student council or in campus clubs. This training and these roles provide the experience students need for an entry level position. Seeing this kind of experience on a resume is a cue that this applicant has been recognized for their potential and has begun to develop their skills.
As part time work becomes more difficult to find – the economic downturn meant that some of those part time jobs disappeared and others were taken by full timers who were downsized, we need to be more creative in our approach to hiring for entry level positions.
While I have written about what I think recruiters can do to dig a little more deeply, applicants can also think about ways to demonstrate their ‘unpaid’ work experience.