10 Ways To Get Relevant Work Experience (When You Have None)


Which came first, the chicken or the egg? We may never really know, but the same dilemma often applies to career change - how on earth do you go about getting relevant work experience when the majority of roles ask for applicants to already have relevant work experience? It’s a bit of a conundrum.

To help solve this problem, this article seeks to highlight a variety of different ways in which you could increase your chances of gaining relevant work experience, so that your CV starts to look compatible with the roles you are hoping to secure

  1. Connections

    Use your connections, network, friends and family…everyone you know, and everyone they know. I have spoken to many people over the years who have told me that they got their job through an introduction of some sort. Apparently over 80% of roles aren’t advertised either, so using your connections is a great way to put yourself in front of the right people.

    This isn’t about asking these people for a job though. It’s about having informational interviews with these individuals, securing an introduction to that industry and company. The trick is to then build on that relationship from there - can you formulate a skills swap of some sort, can you shadow them for a day or two, could you arrange an informal (or formal) period of work experience or an internship, could you assist them on a project they’re working on, can they introduce you to others they know in the company and/or industry? Anything that would then be substantial enough to put on your CV and LinkedIn (LI) profile would be a great result from developing these connections.

    LinkedIn is a great place for finding relevant individuals and companies to approach. Look for 2nd degree connections, and ask the mutual connection for an introduction. Or reach out direct to 3rd party connections. Ask friends and family if they know anyone remotely connected to the field you’re interested in; and use Social Media to ask this question, too. Join relevant associations and attend networking events for professionals that do what you want to do, following up with those you meet afterwards.

  2. Work Experience, Internships, and Placements

    Since the Pandemic, there has been a rise in virtual work experience placements (e.g. Springpod, Forage, etc), which are a great opportunity to work on a relevant project, which can then be added to your CV and LI profile. A lot of companies also offer formal internships - you might have to go quite a bit of digging to find them, but they do exist. You might still be eligible for a graduate scheme, too. I have also seen a rise in placement and internship programmes, such as OnPurpose and Beyond Academy. These are a great introduction into an industry and relevant companies in your field of interest.

  3. Proof Projects

    I’d not heard of these until I read this article by Careershifters. I love this approach because you are reliant only on yourself to create the relevant work experience you’re seeking. The idea is that you complete a self-led project that clearly demonstrates your interest and knowledge in your field of interest, and that this work can then be shared and seen by the people who need to see it. For example, want to be a journalist or film critic? Start your own blog where you can write and share your very own written articles. Want to be an interior designer? Document the renovation of your friend’s apartment. Want to be a landscape gardener? Create relevant tutorials on YouTube, or upload landscape designs to an online portfolio. You get the idea. You can then add these projects to your CV and LI profile.

  4. Volunteering

    A common suggestion, but a valuable place to gain relevant work experience. There are some great websites that collate volunteering opportunities in your local area and across the country. You could volunteer doing something to develop a new skillset, or something more widely related to your industry of interest. Volunteering can also open you up to new connections, and put you front of mind for vacancies that come about whilst you’re working there.

  5. Bridge Jobs

    You might find that you can use your previous experience to side step into something more related to your ideal role or desired industry. For example, you could use the same skills but in a new industry, or stay in the same industry but change your role (internally first if you can, to make it a bit easier). That way you have credibility and a reputation in your favour, which might see you over the relevant work experience ‘gap’ referenced earlier. For example, you might work in Marketing, but want to work in production for the film industry. Securing a Marketing role for a film studio might be an easier first step to make (which you can then pivot from once your foot is in the door), as opposed to applying for a production role with no relevant work experience whatsoever. Another avenue to explore is whether the company you currently work for has any clients or ‘supply chain’ clients that might be of interest to you. You may find having your company name on your CV helps with the transfer of skills and experience into a different, yet semi-related organisation. For example, perhaps you are a Lawyer but you want to move into publishing - you could start by building relationships and looking at roles with legal publications, as a way to build up your relevant experience in that field. In time, you can then transition further and further towards your ideal role and company.

  6. Further Education

    These days educating yourself in something new doesn’t necessarily mean you have to fork out for another degree, MA or PhD. There are now a huge array on affordable short courses in a multitude of areas (e.g. Udemy, Future Learn, Coursera, etc ) Whilst completing these courses won’t count as ‘work experience’, they will help you develop your knowledge and awareness of certain topics, which you can discuss in your applications and interviews. You can also add them to your CV and LI profile to demonstrate your motivation and enthusiasm around relevant subjects, and bolster any application you make in the future.

  7. Temporary Roles

    My first foray into working in the Criminal Justice field was through a temping agency. I had just finished University but I had no relevant work experience (I wanted to work with offenders at that stage, off the back of my degree in Criminology). I registered with a local recruitment agency and verbalised the areas I was interested in. It turned out she had a temporary administrator position for the local Probation Service. This led to me training as a Probation Officer years later. Recruitment agencies and temp/contract work can be a great way to get your foot in the door, and populate your CV and LI with relevant work experience, too.

  8. A Skills Based CV

    Using a more traditional CV, where you list your work experience, is likely to fall flat if the experience listed has nothing to do with the role you’re applying for. You may have much more success if you use a Skills Based CV designed to highlight your transferable skills. That way you can clearly join the dots for the reader between your perhaps unrelated work experience with the role you are applying for.

  9. Speculative Applications

    If there’s no official vacancy advertised at a company of sincere interest, consider sending in a speculative application, highlighting your transferable skills and the value you could bring to the organisation. If you’ve spotted a gap in the company structure, present your case for creating such a vacancy, for which you’d be the perfect candidate. You can then follow up this contact with a telephone call, and ask for a further conversation, if possible. At the very least, they’ll then have your details on file, should anything relevant crop up in the future.

  10. Your Current Organisation

    You might find that you can gain relevant work experience by creating some of the above opportunities in your current organisation. For example, if you’re looking to change your skillset, there might be opportunities to take on additional projects in that vein. For example, if your role is administrative, but you’re interested in HR or compliance, can you support those departments in some way (in addition to your current role)? Perhaps you could arrange to shadow the relevant people. Or, you could make the case for creating a role unique to you, if you’ve spotted a gap in the way the business is structured.

    At the very least, you might be able to negotiate for the company to fund further education or training in your relevant area of interest, or reduce your working hours to free yourself up to develop relevant work experience elsewhere.

Hopefully some of the above has got you thinking about all the creative ways you can gain relevant work experience in areas where you have none. It might take time, courage, assertiveness, resilience, persistence, confidence, and determination, but it is possible.

If you're one step before this in your career change journey, in that you’re not sure what career you even want to start developing work experience in, then do get in touch and I can you figure out what area you want to move into first.

Alice Stapleton

About Alice

Alice coaches those who want to change career but don’t know what they want to do instead. She offers Career Coaching designed to help graduates, early to mid-level career-changers, and parents returning to work gain a clear vision of what career is right for them, and how to achieve it. She is also an accredited Coach Supervisor, and host of The Career Change Diaries podcast.