One of the hardest things about jumpstarting your career is that even if you've been a valuable member of smaller groups and institutions like volunteer organizations and church groups, or sororities and college clubs, proving that you'll be a great employee in "the real world" can be a challenge.
You have to get a job before you can prove how good you'll be at it, but not everyone is keen on developing untested talent. That job search conundrum is obviously a puzzle for those who haven't yet landed their first big role yet, but despite these odds, continuing to try is the best policy. As the saying goes, you miss 100% of the shots you never take, so try to stay motivated and keep moving forward. Hiring managers are used to seeing résumés from people all across the experience spectrum, and over time, they've seen the common (and creative) ways people with no job experience can score an "in."
"I always recommend that if someone believes they have the experience, knowledge, and understanding to perform the job duties successfully, they shouldn’t shy away from applying for a job, even if they don’t meet all of the listed requirements," says Kelly Marinelli, a principal consultant at Solve HR, and a talent acquisition panelist at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). "That said, if you do apply, the information you submit should be perfect. That means no errors, clear, professional language in your email and/or cover letter, and an easy-to-read résumé that outlines the qualifications you do have that are most relevant to the position."
You also may have experience you haven't thought of highlighting: For example, did you start your own business while you were in school? Have you supervised others, or planned a large-scale event as part of a school event or while volunteering? "These are rich sources of results-oriented stories you can draw from to relate to a required qualification," says Marinelli.
Marinelli acknowledges that some recruiters may skip reading a cover letter if they're inundated with applications, but she also believe that anything that could potentially set you apart from another candidate is worth your time.
Her tips for writing a good one include relating prior experiences to any future results you might be able to deliver to an employer. "A cover letter is a great opportunity to show your knowledge and understanding of the hiring employer and its needs. For example, did you read about an upcoming expansion? Talk about how you can support organizing build-outs for new locations."
Kim Ruyle, the president of Inventive Talent Consulting, says that alongside specific performance indicators from previous jobs and roles, hiring managers will often consider a candidate's potential.
"There are many jobs that can be learned in a very short time by a motivated person working in a conducive environment," Ruyle says. "If you hire people who have reasonably high potential, they will successfully adapt to new jobs."
In her experience, an assessment of someone's potential includes looking at their cognitive capability (smarts and know-how), career motivation (people who are highly motivated to succeed), agility (someone's ability to adapt quickly, and willingness to learn new skills), and EQ (emotional intelligence and ability to get along well with others).
Having "hard" skills and experience matters, but so do more intangible traits that indicate someone will be a productive member of the team or not. If you feel like your résumé is thin, either because you're very early on in your career or you're making a career change, try detailing activities you have participated in that can play up your potential along some of the metrics Ruyle mentions.