How to ace an interview without any work experience
Employers look favorably on any work experience—internships, volunteer experience, and burger flipping all count.
If you pay attention to managing your career, just a few years down the road you could be climbing into management yourself and starting to hire a team of your own. When you do, none of those hiring decisions will be easy, but the hardest will always be hiring young professionals right out of school because there is usually little or no real-world experience and that makes for a tough hiring decision. Understanding a hiring manager’s point of view can help get your career off to a faster start.
Interviews and job offers
Let’s explode a dumb myth: You don’t go to job interviews to evaluate whether you want the job—that’s irrelevant until an offer is on the table. Rather, you go to learn how to turn job interviews into job offers; that’s a skill you will use time and again to get jobs and promotions throughout your work career.
The recruiters and hiring managers you meet will look for:
- How well you understand the realities of a job you have never done
- Relevant skills applied in other contexts that could help you be successful in this job
- An enthusiasm for the work and a willingness to take the rough with the smooth that comes with every job
“What type of job are you looking for?” or “What are you looking for in your first job?”
Tell the interviewer that you are interested in an entry-level job, which is what you will be offered anyway. Using your own words, try something along the lines of: "I am interested in an entry-level position. I know I have much to learn, and I’m looking for an opportunity that will let me build a solid professional foundation." You say, 'Jump,' I’ll ask, 'How high?' And then I’ll do it because I understand that earning your trust and support will result in opportunities down the road."
“What jobs have you held and how did you get them?”
Employers look favorably on any work experience, no matter what it is—internships, volunteer experience and burger flipping all count. Any work experience gives you more common ground with the interviewer; and while work related to your chosen profession is best, what you learned from any job can be as important as the work itself.
It’s not the job that defines you, it’s what you bring to the job and how you do your work. Countless successful careers can be traced back to big breaks from going above and beyond with menial jobs. Any job is about making a profit, and making a profit means taking care of the little things. When you are starting out, your job is just dealing with the little things.
In any work experience, you can learn about doing things efficiently, working together as a team, adhering to systems and procedures (they exist for good reasons), and putting in whatever effort it takes to get the job done right. Do this and you demonstrate that you are the candidate most willing to work, learn, and perform.
“What have you done that shows initiative and willingness to work?”
Every job in the world is concerned with the anticipation, prevention, and solution of problems within its area of responsibility. Ideally, your answer should show how you have anticipated and prevented problems in your work and how you deal with them when they do arise.
For example: “I was working in a warehouse and knew that a big shipment was due and there was nowhere to put it. I came in on a Saturday, cleaned up the mess on the loading dock and created the needed space. My boss came in early Monday to do the same thing and was pleasantly surprised.”
With an answer like this, a hiring manager imagines you working like this for his company. It can take you a long way down the road to getting job offers.
Your secret weapon
There are plenty more job interview questions you can face about your work experience. They can all be answered with insights like the ones above, but you’ll need a secret weapon.
By making networking connections with people already in your target profession (your alumni association is a good place to start), you can learn from experienced professionals about the guts of the job and your target profession; you can learn who succeeds, who fails and why; and you can learn all about the challenges this work throws at you every day and how experienced professionals deal with them.
Put all this together and experience the adrenalin rush as your career takes off.