Graduate Careers Advice: Getting a Job Without Experience

5 Minutes

After completing your university course, you may face the conundrum of having the necessary ...

By Pareto Team


After completing your university course, you may face the conundrum of having the necessary knowledge and skills but needing more experience to get that first job. Graduate careers advice often focuses on the courses you should take to make discovering a role easier. Therefore, candidates are often left wondering how to build their experience in the working world.

Indeed, in research carried out by Prospects, 45% of university students said they felt unprepared to enter the professional environment after their studies. Surprisingly, this is a larger figure than college and sixth-form leavers—only 36% of whom noted that they felt unprepared to enter a career. Furthermore, over 96% of respondents to Prospect’s latest study highlighted a lack of experience as being the main roadblock to finding a role.

There are several ways to compensate for lack of practical expertise, from graduate training schemes to job interview coaching. In this article, we’ll explore five examples of graduate careers advice that can make a difference to your ability to secure that first crucial role.

Our Top Five Pieces Graduate Careers Advice 

Preparing to jump into the world of work can be demanding as you approach the end of your degree. With different paths to choose from, from internships to graduate training schemes, and plenty of advice being offered by family, friends, and your academic tutors, it can certainly be tricky to make a smooth transition into the world of work. That’s why we’ve compiled a helpful list of our top five focus areas for graduates looking to embark on their post-grad journey.

    1. Focus on Your Strengths

    There’s often a lot of competition when it comes to applying for graduate jobs. This is why job application tips can be so impactful—standing out from the crowd is crucial. When applying for a role, there are some key things that employers and hiring managers are looking to see included in your CV and cover letter, such as work experience, volunteering, and internships.

    Of course, if you’re reading this article, it’s likely that you don’t have any relevant work experience for the roles you’re applying for. This doesn’t mean you can’t build an impressive CV—you just need to focus on your skills and how they make you a good fit for the job. This can be done in a handful of ways: 

    • Extract the skills developed from previous jobs. Before making the assumption that your previous jobs were irrelevant, consider how your duties gave you experience that you didn’t even know you had—even if they aren’t entirely applicable to your chosen field, there are likely to be transferable skills you’ve gained in planning, leadership, or communication.

    • Consider your extracurricular activities. Whilst it might not seem helpful, the skills you’ve developed in playing team sports or taking part in events with student societies can be used to evidence your ability to collaborate and work closely with team members.

    • Create personal projects. If you’re able to create projects related to your areas of interest or study, you can utilise these in the interview environment to evidence your passion for the field and gain in-demand skills, whether you’re building a website or collecting and parsing data. 

    Not having direct work experience doesn’t necessarily have to be a negative. On the contrary, it’s an opportunity to demonstrate your passion and dedication to learning. To emphasise this, you can provide examples of when you’ve shown a commitment to your education, prior work, or any internships you’ve completed.

      2. Build a Network

      Without the necessary experience to get a job, it can be a challenge to get your foot in the door and discover that first opportunity to kick-start your career. When applying for roles in highly competitive fields, you will probably have heard the old saying, “’s not what you know, but who you know”. Whilst this may seem unfair, employers are much more likely to hire you if you come with a recommendation from a trusted source.

      To diversify your professional network, there are several areas you can focus on: 

      • Optimise your social media profiles. Making sure that your social media profiles—especially LinkedIn—are geared towards looking for new roles in your chosen field can be a valuable way to discover professionals within that area that can offer advice, guidance, and mentorship, as well as recommend entry-level roles you may not have considered.

      • Connect with university lecturers and fellow graduates. University provides an excellent opportunity to start building a professional network, particularly with all the available groups and societies. You can also discuss your career options with university lecturers and fellow students, who can suggest organisations to join or signpost helpful resources for graduate careers advice.

      • Attend industry or sector-specific conferences. As a graduate, you will likely be aware of the conferences and professional gatherings going on in your industry. Whilst some of these conferences will have an attendance fee, graduates will often be offered cheaper or free spaces—and presenting at such a conference can be a great way for graduates to highlight their skills and make an impact.

      By only relying on sending off formal job applications, you’re closing yourself off to a wealth of opportunities that can be discovered by communicating with the members of your professional network. 

      Not all graduate jobs are advertised, but if you receive a recommendation from a peer, it’s always worth sending off a CV and cover letter as a speculative application—allowing you to highlight the reasons why you’d be a good match for their company. Even if they aren’t currently hiring for early-career roles, they may keep you in mind for future vacancies. 

      Whilst practised in some industries more than others, speculative applications based on the recommendations of a professional network can be a direct route into entry-level roles or graduate training schemes.

        3. Volunteer Your Time

        If you’re struggling for relevant work experience to add to your CV, then—fortunately—you can create some. Volunteering is an excellent way for graduates to build experience within the professional environment and enhance their network through the connections made. 

        It’s important the experience is relevant to your chosen field, of course. In this way, you’re able to evidence your commitment to a particular area of focus or specialism, which can be attractive to potential employers. In addition, volunteering offers many benefits that hiring managers like to see a candidate possess, such as: 

        • Strong work ethic. Voluntary roles show that candidates are genuinely interested in their chosen field and aren’t simply driven by financial rewards.

        • The ability to work in—or lead—a team. Many volunteering roles will work in close partnership with a coordinator and a group of other volunteers, particularly if they’re facilitated by a charity.

        • Openness to learning new skills. Volunteering experience shows that a graduate is willing to put themselves out there. Not all candidates will be familiar with fundraising, event planning or grant writing, but volunteering offers opportunities to develop a strong foundation in these areas and evolve existing skillsets.

        Volunteering gives graduates a valuable way to gain some experience in the modern workplace and can even help candidates who aren’t sure where they’d like to begin their careers to find positions they might not have known existed. 

        At the same time, voluntary roles offer their own benefits: a sense of purpose and the fulfilment gained from offering your free time to a cause that makes a difference are certainly rewards in themselves. They can also help graduates that feel lost after university to find a sense of direction.

          4. Be Realistic with Your Expectations

          If you lack relevant work experience, it’s unlikely that you’ll land your dream job on the first try. Graduates that do manage this are the lucky few—more often than not, finding a role that aligns with your career goals and passions can take some time and a few different attempts.

          As a result, it’s essential to manage your expectations accordingly and avoid getting your hopes too high. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t be ambitious, but you will likely find it more beneficial to target positions that match your experience level when just starting out in your career. 

          There are some things candidates can do to ready themselves for the job hunt: 

          • Prepare for knockbacks. Facing challenges and not making it through the application or interview stage is expected at all levels of seniority, so it’s important to learn how to handle rejection—and, more importantly, to know how to action feedback to ace that next interview.

          • Be open to different opportunities and industries. Whilst you might have focused intensely on one specific field during your studies, you’ll often need to gain experience and develop skills through a role in a related field before transitioning into that dream position.

          • Patience and persistence pay off. Finding a job is a process. Still, it’s vital to stay motivated, work on your skills and CV, and continue to apply for roles.

          Turning your focus towards entry-level positions gives you a higher chance of success in your job search. From here, you can gain that vital experience that allows you to work up the career ladder. 

          You can also open yourself up to the possibility of moving—or having a slightly longer commute—since roles in regional areas outside of cities will often be less competitive, and, naturally, considering jobs further afield will expand your options. 

            5. Speak to A Career Coach

            When you’re looking for guidance on transitioning from university life into a professional role in your chosen field, several services will likely be available to you. If you’re still at university, you can take advantage of careers fairs and recruitment days to meet with professionals and consultants within your discipline. Still, for those graduates that have completed their studies, there is always the option to speak to a career coach.

            These can offer everything from job interview coaching to advice on writing an impactful cover letter, so it’s crucial to figure out where your weaknesses are and which are the most important to target first. Even if you’re undecided on which direction you’d like to take, a career coach can help you identify roles that align with your values and skills.

            A career coach can offer several services tailored to your needs, such as: 

            • Clarity on your career goals. If you’re struggling to discover opportunities that align with your interests, a career coach can help you to identify roles and companies that can fulfil your desires. 

            • Personalised advice. A coach will always aim to offer personally-tailored graduate careers advice based on that candidate’s needs and goals. 

            • Job application tips. Career coaches will work with candidates to identify areas of weakness and understand how to address these in their applications, helping them to develop a strong CV and stand out from the pack. 

            • Job interview coaching. Based on their tailored support, career coaches can also help graduates to improve their interview skills, helping them to properly prepare and giving them the confidence to overcome any nervousness.

            Even if you’re undecided on your dream job, sessions with a career coach can help to identify the right kind of work for you—and give you a competitive edge over other candidates that haven’t put as much work into their preparation.

            Summarising Our Graduate Careers Advice

            In this guide, we’ve seen how navigating the transition from university to the professional world can take some preparation. It’s clear that it’s crucial to focus on your strength and transferable skills, especially when you lack relevant work experience. 

            Building a strong professional network via social media, university connections, and industry events can boost career success. Volunteering is another valuable way to gain experience, expand networks, and explore new opportunities. Most importantly, learning to manage expectations and seek guidance—such as personalised advice on applications or job interview coaching—are vital aspects of achieving your desired outcomes in the job search.

            By implementing these strategies, you’ll be able to enhance your prospects and increase your chances of finding success in a post-graduation career.

            Realise Your Potential with Career Support from Pareto

            At Pareto, our expert consultants have assessed, placed, and trained talented candidates for cutting-edge graduate jobs for over 25 years. We partner with you to ensure you have the in-demand skills to connect with your dream employers with a combination of on-the-job support and virtual or classroom-based learning from our specialist trainers. Contact us to learn how we can help you to get your career off to a great start. 

            Looking to strengthen your Business?

            Let's Talk