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So, you’ve secured a job interview without professional experience. Congrats! That’s quite a feat considering that 35% of entry-level job listings demand prior relevant experience.
Given you’re a fresh graduate or someone out of the job market for a while (or exploring new labor markets), it is natural to wonder how to prepare for a job interview without experience.
But let’s face it:
If you’ve made it to the interview stage, the hiring manager already thinks you have something to offer. It’s your job to present it to them in the best light possible. Furthermore, a good recruiter will look beyond your inexperience and focus on your potential.
But how do you prepare for an interview without prior experience? What are the essential things to practice? What should you emphasize and leave out during the appointment?
Well, you’re in luck! This time, I’ve compiled a handy little guide to help you get finely tuned up before that important interview.
Why Relevant Experience is Important in a Job Interview
Before we look at how relevant experience can affect an interview, let’s define it:
Relevant experience is any experience that makes you qualified for the job. That includes personality traits, life experiences, or past jobs that have given you valuable transferable skills. In other words, qualities that will help you perform your new job well.
When applying for a job, it’s tempting to highlight the experiences that seem most impressive. Perhaps you studied abroad in France or interned with a prestigious company while in college.
Sure, they’re valuable and exciting experiences, but they might not be the best to highlight during an interview. Hiring managers are looking for an experience relevant to the role you want, rather than just something that looks good on paper.
So, does it surprise you that 65% of employers require relevant experience from their candidates?
Suppose you’re interviewing for a social media manager position but haven’t ever worked in that field before. It won’t help your case if you spend 20 minutes describing how fun it was when you spent a summer living overseas in France. Instead, you should use that time to talk about your experience managing the Instagram and Facebook accounts for your university’s French club.
However, it’s one thing to have relevant experience that directly applies to the role in question; it’s another to boast some expertise employers can deem suitable.
For example, if you are applying for a job as an IT manager and your only IT-related experience is as an IT security analyst at a small organization, you may think this is irrelevant. However, the interviewer will likely be looking for evidence that you can handle responsibility in IT, and the fact that you were trustable with security at your last job demonstrates this.
Why Relevant Experience Isn’t Everything in a Job Interview
Suppose you’re a recent graduate with little more than a handful of internships. In that case, it can feel discouraging and intimidating to apply to jobs that require a higher experience level.
Here’s the good news: a job interview extends beyond assessing your relevant experience.
Companies see firsthand how quickly they can bring up new hires to speed in roles that require technical knowledge and hard skills. And it’s not surprising that 60% of recruiters prioritize culture fit when making hiring decisions.
So, it’s not just about your qualifications or experience but also about whether your personality would fit in socially and culturally. In other words, are you the kind of person that an employer would be excited to see every day in their office?
Qualities you could leverage as a counterweight for inexperience include:
- Apparent enthusiasm for the job
- Social skills
- Conversation skills
- Attention to detail
- Team player
- Fascinating hobbies and interests
How You Can Still be Successful in a Job Interview With no Experience
Don’t be intimidated: your inexperience might be a disadvantage, but it doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker. But while the interviewer won’t expect you to know everything, they will expect you to know something.
So, how do you stand out from other candidates when your resume is lacking?
The key to succeeding in this situation is understanding the job requirements and letting your values shine through compelling stories.
If you have any volunteer work, internships, or anything else that shows your dedication and interest in what the company does, make sure to bring it up! It’s nice to hear that someone is already invested in their field of interest.
It helps to assess your transferable skills too. These are the skills you can take from one area of life to another. For example, if you haven’t worked in an office before, but you know your way around Microsoft Word and Excel and have good communication skills (you talk to friends and family), that counts as a work-related experience.
Other transferable skills include problem-solving, teamwork, adaptability, and leadership.
You could bring up your hobbies, too! Not only does this help to show that you’re passionate about what you do, but it gives your interviewers a chance to get to know you on a more personal level.
How to Prepare For a Job Interview Without Experience [5 Steps]
Let not lack of experience put you at a disadvantage in the job market. While you may not have the depth and breadth of veteran employees, you can still make up for this in other ways when during a job interview.
With that, here’s how to prepare for a job interview without experience:
- Dissect the job description
- Identify your traits that align with the job description
- Write out stories showcasing how or why you have those traits
- Test yourself with practice questions while highlighting your traits
- Refine and perfect
1. Dissect the job description
When preparing for an interview with zero relevant experience, the most crucial step is understanding the job description.
Look at each of the requirements, qualifications, and job duties listed in the description. More importantly, highlight or bold the traits (outside the relevant experience) the company expects from the candidates.
Are they looking for someone good with computers? Someone who has solid attention to detail? Personable? A quick learner?
Focusing on those traits will give a hiring manager confidence that you still have what it takes to succeed in the role, even though you don’t have the experience they hoped for.
2. Identify your traits that align with the job description
Next on how to prepare for a job interview without experience is identifying your related strengths and aligning them with the requirements in the job description.
For example, let’s assume you’re interviewing for a financial analyst role. Describing yourself as an analytical thinker with strong attention to detail will provide valuable insight into your personality and your potential to succeed in the role.
Often, you’ll find a word or phrase within the job description not applicable to you directly. In that case, formulate how the listed skill could apply indirectly.
For example, let’s assume the company is looking for someone who is ‘computing literate,’ but you’re only proficient with Microsoft Office. You could mention that you have used search engines in the past to find information.
You should have a pretty clear picture of how your skills match the employer’s requirements when done with this step.
3. Write out stories showcasing how or why you have those traits
Interviewers seek to see your personality in action.
They want to know what you’re like — how you could interact with co-workers and perform under pressure.
Whether working on a group project, leading a team, or tutoring a classmate in math, there are many ways to prove yourself as a leader, problem-solver, or excellent communicator—skills that don’t necessarily require any previous professional experience.
But you don’t just mention these qualities—demonstrate them!
That brings us to how to present compelling evidence and examples demonstrating how you exhibited the traits relevant for the job in the past. It’s about masterfully telling stories that align with what the interviewers want to hear.
Think of times that challenged your personal and professional values. Then craft a narrative based on these questions:
- What was the situation?
- What did other people do?
- How did they behave? How did you solve it?
- Did anything else change because of it?
By sharing how you overcame that challenge, you’ll show recruiters that you can thrive in environments that align with your values — even if it’s difficult at first.
4. Test yourself with practice questions while highlighting your traits
Practicing interviewer questions can help identify any nervous ticks or phrases likely to impact your performance.
Preferably, conduct a mock interview with a friend or family member that can assess your responses and provide feedback. That way, you can see how well you handle yourself in an actual interview environment, which is valuable information that a mirror can’t offer.
There are tons of practice questions online. Glassdoor is an excellent resource with plenty of interview questions from actual companies.
“Why do you want this job?” is a common interview question that can trip up inexperienced candidates not anticipating it. Base your answer on why this role matters to you and why this company excites you more than any other company. Once a recruiter sees that spark in your eyes, they’ll know they’ve found someone special for the team!
Make sure to highlight your traits and characteristics that align with the job requirements through stories and examples of your own experience. In addition, focus on what you CAN do instead of what you CAN’T or haven’t done.
5. Refine and perfect
Don’t just write down and practice answers to interview questions. Work to impress the interviewers with a clear, concise, compelling message.
The more different ways you can answer these questions, the better your chances of acing the interview. Reading the answers aloud helps perfect your delivery, saving you from sounding robotic and memorized when answering in person.
Below are key phrases you could try for the “what makes you ideal for this role?” question:
- What makes me an ideal candidate is…
- The reason I’m a good fit is…
- I know it might seem like I’m lacking in X because… However, what sets me apart is…
Remember, how you deliver yourself is just as important as what you say during an interview. So, let your charisma and confidence shine through good interview manners and positive body language. That includes:
- Being courteous to everyone in the building
- Speaking with a passion but at a more controlled pace.
- Making eye contact
- Offering a firm handshake
- Sitting up straight
- Sending a thank-you note within 24 hours after the interview (yup, 68% of recruiters base their hiring decisions on that 80-150 word note)
These five steps will help you approach a job interview the right way as an experienced candidate. The hiring manager is looking for someone unafraid to show them their capabilities. So, practice answering questions with confidence while intertwining them with compelling stories about your experiences.
Keep in mind that these are only starting points for how to prepare for a job interview without experience. While some of the information might seem obvious, it never hurts to have a reminder.
Most importantly, remember to exude confidence and genuine enthusiasm during the appointment. It’s far better to miss out on the job than not to try at all.