Selling Yourself When You Lack Professional Experience
Hcareers / NOVEMBER 04 2020

We all need to start somewhere and hiring managers looking to fill entry-level positions are well aware of this. So let stress consume you if you don’t have professional experience. There are still plenty of other ways to communicate your job qualifications. 

Certainly, you don’t want to point out your lack of experience in your cover letters, nor during job interviews. You also can’t lie about the professional experience that you don’t have. But you can still proactively show an employer why you’re the right candidate for the job.

First, consider the technical skills required to do the work. If you’re applying for an operations position that requires experience in plumbing and carpentry that you lack, you may want to reconsider the job because it will likely go to “a better-qualified candidate.”

Fortunately, the hospitality industry tends to be more focused on soft skills, especially when it comes to entry-level jobs.  For example, “strong interpersonal communication skills,” “the ability to work within a team,” and “problem-solving skills” are all soft skills. Explaining to an employer how you gained these skills does not need to be done by talking about prior professional experience.

Instead, consider your “transferable experience.” That is, how can you make any unpaid experience that you may have translated into an acquired skill set that’s applicable to the job requirements? 

But let’s take a step back and define unpaid experience. Volunteer work is certainly one form of unpaid experience that can have valuable applications in the workforce. 

If you’ve ever donated your time to work with children, the elderly, people with special needs, or even an animal shelter, you’ve likely improved your communication skills working with other volunteers, the organization’s staff, and of course, the community that it served. You may have also been involved with fundraising, which is experience worth highlighting if you’re applying for a sales or marketing related role. 

Those are transferable skills.

Association membership is another example of unpaid work that may have resulted in transferable skills, provided you were or are an active member of the group. Membership, including student membership, in a hospitality or travel-focused association, is certainly ideal. But really, being an active member of any non-profit group –whether it’s professional, focused on personal interests, or community-oriented—can prove valuable when telling a future employer why you are a team player. 

If you were involved in organizing meetings or other events for the association or its local chapter or even regularly contacting the membership to share news and updates, you can promote all of that experience in cover letters and job interviews. 

Hiring managers will likely want to know what prompted you to join the association. This question will also give you the opportunity to share your motivation to gain work-related experience as well as your passion for the group’s cause. 

Time sent studying abroad is another form of unpaid experience that may have given you skills applicable to the work world. Greater communication is the obvious skill gained from living and studying in another country where the language may not have been the same and there were undoubtedly cultural differences. 

So cultural awareness might be another soft skill to promote to future employers. The hospitality industry is certainly a global business that attracts people from across the globe. Finding common ground with people who don’t share the same background, whether guests or colleagues, is essential in this business.

Planning and organizing your trip are also examples of project management that you should also mention. 

As an entry-level job seeker, hiring managers are also going to want to know why you want to work in the hospitality industry. Your response to this question should be professional and it should reflect some aspect of the business that you want to learn. 

Did you vacation with your family at the same hotel every year where the staff made you feel like they were an extended part of your family? That’s an ideal anecdote for explaining how impressed you were with delivering guest service excellence and why you now want to do that. 

Or maybe you once stayed in a hotel that made you feel like you were transported to another time or experiencing the destination like a local rather than a tourist. Again, you should communicate this to potential employers as you explain why you want to be part of a team that can create one-of-a-kind experiences for guests. 

Hiring managers for entry-level roles are well aware of the fact that job applicants are not going to have much if any, professional experience. But your willingness to learn and gain future experience will help indicate to them just how qualified you are for the job. 

So if you’re involved with any professional development courses, definitely point that out on your resume, in your cover letter, and during job interviews. This is definitely an investment of your time and one that can deliver significant returns for you professionally. But it doesn’t have to be a large financial investment. Just check out these free and low-cost professional development opportunities

Another smart use of your time, while you’re looking for work, is to proactively seek out informational interviews with professionals who work for companies that you’d like to learn more about. Remember that information interviews are opportunities to learn more about an organization or a role within a sector such as revenue management or marketing. 

Although you can’t ask the person who you’re asking for an interview to help get you a job, you can acquire new information that could be valuable during a future job interview. Asking questions such as what he or she likes about the company and how it’s different from other organizations that they’ve worked for could help you in explaining to a hiring manager what motivated you to apply for the position. 

Mentioning a past information interview with someone who is already employed at the company will also illustrate that you are highly motivated to work there. 

For a more comprehensive look at how to secure informational interviews and why they can be important to your future career path, check out this article