Monday, March 7, 2011

Lulu's Mailbag: How do I get a job with little or no experience?

Today's question comes from B., who writes:

I graduated last May and I while I managed to get a temporary job (vaguely related to architecture) that lasted from July through January, I haven't been able to find any work for a firm. I had been hoping that the job market might pick up by now, but no one really wants to keep around, much less pay someone who has very little experience. At this rate, I'm worried that if I don't get any sort of experience, I'll be stuck with a very weak resume. Should I ask nearby firms if they'll take me on as an intern who'll work for free (either full or part time) so that I get experience, or hold out for something that will pay? (I've moved back in with my parents, so right now I don't have to worry about rent, etc). I would really appreciate any advice you would give.

I bet you're not the Lone Ranger on this one, B. While work is coming back, the job market is still slow to respond, as firms are still a little hesitant to hire someone at the risk of having to lay them off only a few months later. Let me first make one thing clear: never, never, never work for free. I've blogged on this before here as well as here, and it's worth repeating: never work for free. When you work for free as a professional with a college degree, whether or not you have experience, it's not only illegal, but it also undersells your skills and your professional worth.

Second, I've done a couple of posts on how to get a job in a down economy (here and here and here, for example). It might help you to get any job right now (perhaps based on a job you had in high school or college?), at least to keep you busy part time and get some money coming in, which might make your parents happy. You could interview with a firm to get even one-day-a-week work, even if it's just archiving their files and being their office manager to start with. Whatever it is, get paid. (I have a post about starting wages for interns here.)

Third, you might be surprised at what firms want. I know of firms that won't hire anyone with less than two years of experience. But where are these interns getting that two years' worth, huh? They're getting it at the firms that like hiring newbies--and those firms do exist. Some firms prefer to do some training of young professionals under the auspices of "teaching them right". Some firms, especially smaller ones of only a couple of people, may like to hire new professionals because, frankly, they're cheap. (Remember, architecture pays you for your experience, not your college degree. Your degree is like a cover charge into the nightclub that is architecture. Once in said nightclub, try not to act a fool on the dance floor or throw up in a toilet stall.) And while you're living with your parents right now to save on living expenses, you may have to move out--far out--to find a job. You didn't say where you live now, but if you're living in a more economically-depressed area (say, Detroit), you may have to be willing to move to another city or even another state in order to find work.

Questions? Comments? Something else you'd like to see discussed here? Let me know in the comments or via email in the sidebar. Thanks!

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