How to get employers to give you a chance in an industry where you have no experience

Peter Harris|

Our recent in-depth Thinkopolis report shows that most Canadians now change jobs ever 2-3 years. Most of us can expect to work roughly 15 different jobs over the course of careers. And the majority of people will now work in two or three different career paths entirely in their working lives. (You can read the full report at

And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Frequent job changes allow to expand your range of experience, broaden your network, and keep your skills from getting stale. And those are your real career currency.

But if all of your work so far has been in one field, how can you get employers in another sector to give you a chance to prove what you can do?

The truth is that employers aren’t generally in the business of giving people chances. Giving chances is actually bad for business.

Employers can however, be convinced to take a chance on you. Every time a company hires anyone, they are taking a chance. They try to mitigate the risks as much as possible by surveying resumes for the most qualified people, interviewing those people to find the best fit, and then conducting background checks to check for red flags.

Still, when employers sign that contract, they’re taking a gamble. Resumes can be exaggerated, people who are great in interviews aren’t always great on the job, and background screens miss things. Hiring the wrong person is messy and expensive.

So your job as a candidate is not to get employers to give you a chance, thereby asking them to make a poor business decision as a favour to you. Your challenge is to give potential employers a good reason to take that chance on you. You have to show that you have the skills, the passion, and the willingness to work hard and be an asset to their team.

How can you do that?

The keys to landing a job in an industry where you have no experience:

    Demonstrate your skills and accomplishments
    Take a look at everything you’ve done so far, on the job, at school and in your personal life. List the accomplishments that you have made and see if you can find a way to tailor them to the industry that you’re targeting.

    Think about your skills that can apply across industries, such as project management, communication, research, and relationship-building. Are you a skilled and effective writer or public speaker? Have you led a successful team or taken a project from plan to fruition? Can you manage a budget or schedule multiple tasks for a team of people? All of these skills and experiences can be applicable across industries.

    What accomplishments do you have that demonstrate how you are able to generate successful outcomes? Describe them as examples of what you can achieve in your targeted field.

    Get some more experience
    If you really don’t have enough skills and accomplishments to land an interview, then you’re going to have to go out and get some. Look for internship opportunities, volunteer work or short term contacts where you can pitch in on complex projects, develop your skills (especially the transferable ones mentioned above) and accomplish demonstrable success. You can also use these opportunities to increase your personal network.

    Show passion
    Do whatever you can to land an interview. When it comes, dress professionally and make the right impression. Use this occasion to demonstrate your passion for the industry, the company and the role. People like to hire those who are enthusiastic about the particulars rather that someone who’s just looking for a job. Be upbeat, positive and as charming as possible. People also want to hire someone whose company they enjoy, since once they hire you, you become a part of their daily life. Employer surveyed say that all other things being equal, they will select the candidate who seems the most motivated for the role.

    Take any job, and do it well
    If you’re offered any role at all – even one that is a step down from your past work or what you were hoping for – take it. It’s easier to prove your value and work your way up from the inside. Truly motivated, hard-working, ambitious people do not stay in entry-level positions for long. Come in early, stay late. Take any opportunity to work on projects for other departments so that you can network internally and learn as much as possible about the company. Hard work, enthusiasm and a positive attitude go a long way.

Everything that you do well will convince your employer that they made the right decision in taking a chance on you – and every connection and skill that you learn along the way makes getting your next, bigger and better chance easier. And you’ve earned it; nobody had to give you anything.


Peter Harris
Peter Harris on Twitter


Category: Job Search Strategies
  • juliemango

    I love it. Well thought out article.

  • LHCJ

    First off I have to say I completely think Companies doing background checks on potential employees should be illegal! The background check often reveals things Employers are not legally allowed to ask, like your age, marital status, etc etc etc. And if employers can’t ask those questions in an interview, finding those things out thru a background check is circumventing the law!! Secondly when you have rent to pay, bills to pay and food to put on the table you can’t take any job that is offered. Thirdly when you are are unemployed for a long period of time sometimes volunteering is not always as easy a solution – mostly because those are hours taken away from job searching! Employers should be required to hire people who are on Unemployment or Welfare.

    • CCoach720

      I get what you’re saying about the background checks. The company I work for does background checks but only after the person is offered the job and the only information we get is whether it’s clear or not clear.

      As for taking a survival job.What’s better? Taking a job to earn any income to pay your living expenses, or not making ANY income and letting your bills pile up?You never know where your next opportunity is going to come from. I once took a part time job as a receptionist and within 3 months was given a
      full time salaried position with benefits.

      I take a very large issue with your opinion on volunteering. Nobody is asking
      you to volunteer full time, but it is an excellent opportunity to get work
      experience, while networking. These days, when you’re unemployed, it can take an average of 9 months (and that’s being optimistic) to get back to work. Is the unemployed job-seeker really going to spend that long doing nothing with their time but “job searching”?

      You know how you’re NOT going to get hired? Spending your days only “job
      searching”. Networking is a HUGE part of the job search these days. You
      can’t just go into a business anymore and ask “are you hiring?” and
      start the next day. Most jobs are found through building relationships and
      through referrals.

      And sure, if businesses were required to hire only people who are on unemployment or on welfare, that would be great and help bring down unemployment. But what about job retention issues? Not everyone who is unemployed were simply laid off due to job shortage (some people need to work out their issues before getting back to work). Are you saying that companies should take a risk and hire people who are out of the labour market, instead of hiring people with up-to-date skills and experience? Does that really make sense? Companies are not in the business of hiring for charity.

      • LHCJ

        Are you aware that in Ontario Under the Human Rights Code you cannot discriminate against an applicant for a job because of past criminal record?? Its law! Now I can see making the law not apply for teachers, or anyone working in a facility with children who has been convicted of child endangerment, sexual assault etc. Or in a Bank someone who was charged with fraud or theft. But all other employers should be forced to comply with the Human Rights act or lose the right to do business in the country!

        If someone on say OW has only been unemployed for a few years but has otherwise office experience and computer experience then yes Companies should be required to hire them and give them the chance to upgrade their skills and experience. And I am talking the people that are deemed to be employable! Networking can be a great resource yes.

        • Jhr

          Most places that require a criminal record check do so for the reasons you just described. It is unlikely that an employer would request a record check unless it was pertinent to the job you were doing. I’ve held many positions and was only required to produce a record check twice. Once when I worked in a daycare and the second time because I was part of a financial institution. Employers ARE forced to comply with the Human Rights Act, that is why they have a Human Resources department and in some/most cases a legal team of some sort.

          I am also not going to argue that discrimination never occurs, because I feel as though no matter what someone’s current circumstances are they can argue that someone discriminated against them at some point. It is very much about networking, but you really have to think about your skills. Someone who has been out of the job market for a long period of time may need to update their skills by returning to school. If they feel that their skills are sufficient then perhaps it’s a matter of not showcasing them properly and in this case – resume builders or Employment Ontario centers (I live in Ontario so this is what I’m familiar with. I am certain there are familiar centers across Canada) can often help in this department. You will never convince an employer to hire someone to help them update their skills. In many cases they don’t want to train you to use excel or give presentations and they won’t risk hiring someone who could potentially cause a drop in profits because they are ill prepared for the position. One person in a team who can’t pull their weight can cause huge delays in a project.

          Arguing that people on OW should automatically be given positions in companies even if they need to upgrade their skills would also be inequitable. If they did that, they would also have to hire new graduates who haven’t had a chance to master their skills, immigrants who may have to tweak skills to meet the standards in their new home, older unemployed individuals because their current skills may not be up-to-date, or younger individuals because they are only just starting out.

          If someone on OW wants a position, then they have to work like the new grads, the immigrants, the unskilled, the unmastered… by networking, returning to school, etc. The government has resources for individuals who are struggling like Second Career and Employment Centers. Sometimes it’s not so much about how hard you’re looking for a job, but how smart you are looking.

          • LHCJ

            Second Career is only available to those on EI, or have had an EI claim in the previous 3 years. OW recipients are limited in how they can upgrade skills, and are often pushed into taking menial min wage jobs regardless of what skills they have and what little upgrading would be required for them to get a decent job! Going from OW to min wage job is just swapping living month to month on the Government money to living month to month at a job.

          • Jhr

            They say that 40% of university graduates are underemployed. By that, they mean these people who have taken loans and spent 50k on their education are also at a high risk of living month-to-month post-university. I don’t believe that there are ever limitations set on people by anyone but themselves. If you believe that you are only capable of upgrading your skills by getting a job that -requires- those skills, then you will never get the job.

            There are many programs and services at the disposal of anyone (including those on OW) to help them find a career that earns more than minimum wage. A google search provided me with a long list of options, including a program by the City of Toronto that provides skill training courses and can give you information on how to get help with travel costs, etc while attending these courses or internships. People on OW have the added bonus of having a case worker who should have the resources at their disposal to help them find a way to upgrade their skills and find better employment.

            I have had family members on OW and I know that they struggled, but I don’t believe that they should be chosen for a job over someone who has put the time and effort into developing their skills as well as the time and effort into building a resume that showcased them properly and networked to get where they needed to be.

            Finding and obtaining the career you want is a full time job all it’s own. Sending out 100 resumes on Workopolis will not be sufficient in today’s market.

        • Maco

          Laws only exist in Canada to be broken or completely ignored….

          • LHCJ

            Ahh well then I do so hope you are responsible for interviewing potential employees for your company…and that you ask questions you are not legally allowed to and that each of the interviewees report you and your company to the Human Rights Tribunal…you will either learn quick enough the law is the law or Your Company will fire you for being so stupid!!

          • uyggyu

            “you for being so stupid!!”

            Internet comment ettique: never hide the fact that you want to throw insults at your opponent.

            Why can’t you all talk like you have no computer monitor to hide?

      • LHCJ

        Oh and by the way I don’t have an issue with volunteering, however its not always a possibility. In fact sometimes finding a place to volunteer is more difficult then finding a job!

  • Maco

    “They try to mitigate the risks as much as
    possible by surveying resumes for the most qualified people,
    interviewing those people to find the best fit, and then conducting
    background checks to check for red flags.”
    No they don’t! Rather, they hire their nieces/nephews/girlfriend/boyfriends/one-night-stands etc, and any fall out from their decisions is borne by consumers in the form of bad goods and/or services, increase in the cost of such goods and/or services, and all kinds of ripoff for which there is absolutely no recourse for consumers, thanks to a government and Judiciary who care only about the interests of corporations not that of the average Canadian….

  • David Gay

    Corporate Canada may not be in the business of taking chances, but they are the source for employment. Jobs just don’t appear out of thin air or grow from a magic garden. Granted, I am not asking business to hire people for positions that involve responsibility for public safety without doing a background check, but really, asking six to 12 months experience for a cleaning job or a cash register clerk? Come on! There used to be such a thing as on-the-job training back when I was younger.

  • David Gay

    It’s true that companies are not in the business to give people a chance at working, but it is important to state that the unemployed make lousy consumers and healthy consumerism means a healthy economy that all companies, including the one doing the hiring, will thrive in. The less people work, the less companies sell. Giving someone a chance is actually a good investment in the economy overall.

  • C.y. Lim

    Hi again, Pete, Have done all the above – doesn’t work.

  • mam

    I am closing my beauty salon after 15 yrs. I’ve been job searching daily for 3 months as an administrative assistant (online) but to no avail. Literally, over 100 applications were filled. One job placement agent returned my call to get more feed back on my job skills. I explained I have a recent diploma as an AA, but she did not consider me to have office skills, after trying to convince her I’ve been running my own business and that all duties related are considered office skills. Such as: bookkeeping, reception duties, arranging appointments, dealing with suppliers, marketing, etc. So, if I cannot convince this job placement agent to take my skills seriously, how can I convince an employer?
    I am totally frustrated as it has been several months and I haven’t got an answer from anyone. Not one contact! I am networking at this time and it seems to be a better solution.

    • David Gay

      You ran your own business, including the accounting aspects yet you do not have office experience. The job placement agent needs to put away the weed.

      • mam

        Lol! Absolutely. Thank you.

      • mam

        RE: I am closing my salon…
        Another feedback I got was -most placement agencies try to cut you down to size in order for the potential employee (me, in this case) accepts a lower wage…meaning, they pocket the order half (or quarter) of your earnings.
        Your thoughts on this?

  • Belinda

    Being unemployed is frustrating and can be scary in today’s world depending on your age and what you do/did for a living. I have been in this situation frequently the last couple of years and it is horrible. Very recently I tried to help myself get ahead by taking a six week course in the afternoon in the hopes it would help me gain employment. However in the infinite wisdom with their crazy rules, our wonderful government says that by doing so I am not looking or even available for work full time and so I will not be paid unemployment benefits for that time. Doing volunteer work would therefore be the same kind of thing because I had also considered doing that while looking for work to keep me from going crazy and getting myself out in the community. Being unemployed also causes those gaps in the CV that employers feel is a problem. You just can’t win for loosing.

  • David Gay

    I disagree with the come in early and stay late part. Employees have become disposable resources and the moment they no longer serve a useful function due to a corporate organization shift, the employers are not going to remember the times that person missed out on their children’s birthday party or was not there to take proper care of an ailing parent because they worked late. They will instead be replaced as any defective cog would be in the corporate machinery.

  • Christopher Pringle

    marry the bosses’ kid