What's with the obsession with work experience?

Grads Corner
09 November 2017 | Grads Corner | Guest Author


From a young age I have been the girl that everyone comes to for advice. It never seemed to matter what the advice was about, I was the go-to, even when I had no personal experience in the field myself. When I recently asked why, I was told that I am approachable, unintimidating, I don’t judge, and my advice makes sense.

This got me thinking about the need for experience when it comes to working. Sure, it’s useful, but it isn’t the be-all end-all. So why are so many companies asking for applicants to have X many years’ experience?

Catch twenty-two

With the way things are going, graduates and young people in general looking for jobs often find themselves in the catch 22 position. They can’t get a job without experience, and they can’t get experience without a job. Jokes about toddlers starting work in order to have work experience when they’re older appear on social media more often than they should, and it’s sad that society has left entry-level workers feeling this way.

As a young adult fresh out of university, I was concerned that my lack of work experience would hold me back. I had spent my time focusing on my studies and doing things I enjoy, having become a member of both a martial arts club, and the community orchestra. The only work experience I had was a summer job at a kennels when I was 15. It just didn’t seem relevant.

Common sense

My advice to those friends from way back when, all the way to the present day, has always just been what I think makes the most sense. I couldn’t draw on experience, but I never needed to. And it’s the same for work.

In the very brief time I have spent looking for work this year, I have gained experience in application writing, casual interviews and (of course), existing in a workplace environment.

Make mountains out of molehills

You can pull experience from anything. Your life up until this point is a rich well to draw on. Maybe you’ve participated in a performance with school? Experience in performing. Were you part of a sports team at any point? Team skills and trust. Member of any clubs? Networking. Do you like computing, games, books, music? What have those hobbies taught you? Think of a time that you coped under pressure.

All this counts as relevant experience that you can tailor to fit each position you apply for. For me, my application for a copywriting role at Parker Software focused on experiences from university that demonstrated skills relevant to the role. The company produces live chat software and business process automation. Unsurprisingly, these weren’t areas that I’d written about during my studies.

But that wasn’t as important as you’d think. I didn’t know about the technology yet, granted, but I knew how to write well, I knew how to produce content quickly, and I knew how to adapt my tone to suit different needs. Ultimately, those were the skills that won me the job. The fact that I had gained much of my experience through extra-curricular activities worked in my favour, rather than to my disadvantage, as it demonstrated a genuine passion and interest in the use of relevant skills.

As you can see, you can turn anything you’ve ever done into experience that is relevant to your application. You just need to get creative!

The interview

After you’ve successfully extracted snippets from experience and put them in your CV, you may well find yourself invited to an interview. For me, this happened just two days after handing my application in.

I was given document, upon document, upon document. All of them full of advice regarding how to impress at interviews. Some of the advice made sense, and I researched Parker Software almost tirelessly. I combed through their website, looked for information on competitors and products and values.

But, the advice also told me to answer questions about myself in a way regardless of the truth, so long as it answered the job description. I couldn’t understand why I should stretch the truth or tailor opinion answers in my interview — the truth would only come out later, I reasoned.

So, I chose to be honest, genuine and positive when I approached my interview, and for those questions, I chose to throw out the rule book. This doesn’t mean I disregarded what the job description asked of me, I just didn’t prepare my answers. I wanted what I said to demonstrate a genuine and modest character, and to show that I’m able to turn negatives about the job into positives.

Escaping the limbo

I achieved my first role through an internship at Keele University. Internships and apprenticeships are a fantastic way to claw into competitive job roles, because they often increase outreach to people without ‘work experience’ or even experience specific to the designated field, and offer training to cover such areas. For example, in my short time here at Parker Software, I have already learnt countless marketing skills, search engine optimisation, and the kinds of software available to help other businesses thrive.

Another important thing to remember on your job hunt is that most good employers will also hire for cultural fit, meaning an emphasis on your attitude and demonstrated skills rather than experience. This was how I really got my foot in the door at Parker Software. They had opened the way to me by advertising an internship role, I just had to make the leap. Personality and friendliness go a long way, so at every interview, in every correspondence and every application, always do your utmost to be your positive self.

Good luck with your applications. And remember that work experience isn’t the only experience. Show that you can shine.

About the author:

Niamh Reed is a Keele University graduate, fox lover and budding copywriter at Parker Software. By day, she writes about technology and her experiences as an intern. By night, she draws, plays the violin, and hip-throws to her heart’s content in jujitsu.

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