Experience can be a dreaded word when you’re doing a job search — especially when you are looking at employment listings for the job you want, and noting that you don’t have the required number of years for doing that kind of work.

It’s not easy. All you want is a toehold, a way in, a chance. It can feel like everyone else has control of your future.

To make my examples concrete, let’s suppose you’d like to work as a writer. Here are some tips for getting the experience you need for the writing job you want.

Spend time learning how to do the job you want.

I’m not talking about informational interviews here. I’m talking about spending time learning. You should allocate time to professional development activities that will increase your skills, making you a better writer. Use the Internet, LinkedIn Learning, and books to increase what you know and practice doing it well. One of my favorite reads is Everybody Writes by Ann Handley. I highly recommend it.

Work for free.

I haven’t met a nonprofit that didn’t need volunteers. Identify an organization in your community and offer to write for them. Volunteer to write for a range of mediums — their social channels, their website, their donor thank-you letters, their newsletter — you get the idea. By working for free, you do two things: you establish a professional reference for the next writing job you apply for, and you build your portfolio. Speaking of which…

Publish a portfolio.

You will need a website with samples of your work. Avoid using course assignments from college as writing samples. Instead, use recent examples (less than two years old) of your best work. I found some great resources when I googled, “How do I create a writing portfolio?”

Do freelance work.

Look for side work to build your experience:

  • Websites like Upwork and iWriter advertise gigs for freelance writers. Yes, the pay is low on some of the assignments; but you are building experience so it’s worth the investment. (Google “best sites for freelance writing” for more. 😉
  • Once you have a bit of a portfolio in place, contact a creative agency near you and ask for the opportunity to freelance. Maybe they have some entry-level assignments they’d be happy to farm out. Or, most agencies have a blog and not enough bandwidth to keep it current with regular posts. Perhaps you can ghostwrite some blog posts as a start.
  • Rely on your network to connect you with people who are full-time, freelance writers. Some professional writers are in need of individuals they can subcontract to when their workload is heavy.

Beyond these tips, you will likely continue to read employment listings, and you should periodically apply for jobs you aren’t qualified for.

My rule is: Let the employer turn you down; don’t turn yourself down.

If a job posting states, 1 – 3 years of experience and you have none, apply. You never know, some aspect of your resume may get the attention of an individual reviewing your application. (Perhaps the HR manager went to the same university you did). And, you don’t know what the rest of the applicant pool looks like. If no one else with 1 – 3 years of experience applied, you may look pretty good next to the competition.

With a little fire in your belly, you can create a track record for the job you want. Good luck!

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