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We’ve all been there: reading that job spec that seems like it was written specifically for us, but the pesky issue of work experience precludes us from even getting an interview. How do we get a start in a role or industry when you already need to have worked there to get a job? It’s a paradox. To navigate it, we need to get creative.
In industries like television and film, the standard route is to begin as a ‘runner’ where the job is often making tea, photocopying and carrying equipment around. The glamourous directors and producers we see on the red carpet often got there throughtireless work, enthusiastic networking, on-the-job learning and making many, many cups of tea. Nobody interviews for ‘film director’ at the first step. They manoeuvre into that role – crab like – from parallel roles.
Similarly, in digital, many of the roles don’t seem to have a clear entry point. A typical scenario; a teenager living in a regional town, the local Uni doesn’t provide digital qualifications, they’ve no friends or family in the industry. How do theybecome a product manager? How do they get a UX/UI job? What do they need to become a digital marketer? In short: they make tea.
Even making tea for little or no money isn’t an option for many people, particularly in big cities where a lot of digital jobs are. We need an entry point where they get paid a living wage. Getting a high-quality apprenticeship is the ideal solution but – while growing fast - places are limited. Often times the entry-level role in companies is Customer Support, so let’s take that example.
The choice of company is key. If the goal is to get a foot in the door and then pivot into, say, digital marketing, then the company needs to match this ambition. Some tips:
1. Be enthusiastic about the job you’re applying for. You’re going to need to ace that job first and foremost
2. That said, it is fair game to ask about career progression within the company when interviewing
3. Make sure the company has a digital marketing function. No point working at a company that is too small for its own marketing team or outsources the function you’re trying to do
4. Aim for a company that rewards loyalty. Does management seem ethical?
5. Is the company large enough to move you to a new team? If you are the only customer support person, it will be more difficult to shift roles
Assuming you’ve found a company that fits the criteria above, you should focus your energies on being a top performer in your Customer Support role and embracing the company culture. Outside of this, read up on your desired role, watch Ted talks, subscribe to blogs, do digital courses that are available to you. Once you’ve established yourself in your core role, engage with the marketing team a little. Discuss their roles and share some of your insights. Perhaps ask for a shadow session, maybe even do it on your lunch hour.
An important thing to recognise is that employers take a large financial risk when hiring. The requirement for experience, even in junior positions, isn’t out of malice or even a presumption that it equates to competence. It is just one of many measures hiring managers use to minimise their risk of a bad hire. If you establish yourself as a high performer and a self-starter, many organisations will actively encourage you to progress up the professional ranks. From the customer service team there’s often a natural segway into social media management. After establishing yourself there, perhaps ask about a learning and development opportunities. Are there any courses that can equip you to move into biddable media to complement your social media skills? The important thing is that you’re earning while you’re learning and enhancing your work experience every month that goes by. We don’t have to be hired directly into our dream job. Sometimes it’s about getting your non-dream job within a company that encourages advancement.