How do I land my dream job with little experience?
June 1, 2013 4:18 AM   Subscribe

I'm about to enter the work force with a Masters degree and little applied work experience. What do I do?

I'm about to graduate with a Masters degree in water science, policy and management from a globally respected university with hopes of landing a job in Jordan, a country I have lived and worked in for over two years. The problem is, the work I was doing previously has little to do with the type of work that I'd like to be doing now (namely, working for the UN or large international NGO). Many of these agencies want at least 5 years of experience. How do I phrase my cover letter and resume to convince them I have the skills needed to successfully carry out the job?
posted by northxnorthwest to Work & Money (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Does your program or university have some form of a career-services office? That's a huge part of what most Master's programs do, is set you up with an alumni network and assistance in shaping your resume and cover letter. Even if it doesn't have a specific office, it's likely that some of the staff at your school has experience or contacts in Jordan or with the UN or large NGOs that would be doing your sort of work in Jordan. Work them hard (and quickly, since university staff tend to scatter in the early summer).

In the absence of that, find a resume-writing service. It depends largely on the jobs you have had, but you can likely spin any previous work into something similar to the work you'd like to do. A good resume writer will be able to winkle out the appropriate details from your history and put them in a format that can be understood by people who haven't dealt with jobs like the ones you've had.
posted by Etrigan at 5:41 AM on June 1, 2013

Others will address what you can do to give more impact to your application.

But in my experience, experience is just that, experience. And no matter how intelligent you are, how good your degree and how reputable the institution you got it from you simply haven't got it. No recent graduate, irrespective of the institution or degree subject, could do my job. That's not because my job is unusually difficult, as far as jobs go that require university level education, but because it requires years of work experience to do my job.

Experience is not just about having individual skills but about developing a range of skills and bringing them together in the most appropriate way for a range of different situations you encounter at work. So experience is not just about learning what to do, how to do it, perhaps detailed technical knowledge required in your field but also project management, dealing with situations, dealing with people and leading people. And in particular, it is about how all of that needs to come together to do the different aspects of your job. A degree can at best introduce you to some of these things. But nothing other than actually doing the work can fully develop, refine and hone these skills until you are actually good (enough) at each of these things and can bring them together in the most appropriate way to deal with whatever your job throws at you.

So at least consider that if a job requires 5 years of experience you really may not have the skills required to do it. That is not to say that you shouldn't give it your best shot and apply for your dream jobs. But at the same time identify what experience you are lacking and actively seek work that will allow you to gain said experience.
posted by koahiatamadl at 5:46 AM on June 1, 2013 [4 favorites]

Many of these agencies want at least 5 years of experience. How do I phrase my cover letter and resume to convince them I have the skills needed to successfully carry out the job?

This is literally not possible and the lack of experience is why you think it might be.
posted by rr at 8:18 AM on June 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Every employer always wants to hire somebody with years of experience doing exactly the job they've posted. Every employee always wants a job at least 1 rung higher up the ladder. Read the posting very thoroughly and highlight the skills you obtained with your degree as they apply to the job, as well as life experience. It may not be obvious from your resume that you lived in Jordan, or even if it is, your letter can say During my time in Jordan, working with XYZ Co., I became involved with ABC cultural group, and also became very familiar with QRS cultural aspect. In your resume, be honest but not shy about your language skills. If you can find an internship while you job hunt, all to the good.
posted by theora55 at 8:25 AM on June 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses. A lot of the advice is a bit harsher than expected, which is fine. Apologies if I came off as naive. However here's the catch 22 that I and many people my age find ourselves in: you can't get a job without experience, however you cannot get experience without a job. I have significant international expertise in the Middle East, just not specifically in the WASH sector. My degree combined with my international experience is something. So thanks to those that gave constructive advice. It's a lot harder to get jobs than it was six years ago, folks.
posted by northxnorthwest at 9:06 AM on June 1, 2013

Just yesterday, while searching job opportunities, i was thinking i wish i had studied water. Water jobs are everywhere, my dad was a well known Water Resources fellow. He ended up with UNESCO, through connections in the 1980's, before probably have more connections and experience than you realize. Try to connect with a senior colleague, ask for mentorship. Be eager to learn, be respectful and smart and you and go far. Dream jobs take time to earn, my dad moved us all over the US, moving up one step at a time, gaining respect, writing books and finally getting an amazing position in Paris. You can realize your dream job, in time.
posted by jennstra at 9:47 AM on June 1, 2013

However here's the catch 22 that I and many people my age find ourselves in: you can't get a job without experience, however you cannot get experience without a job. ... . It's a lot harder to get jobs than it was six years ago, folks.
Folks were voicing this exact same lament in the 1960s, 70s, 80s, etc. The employment situation has always been "they want experience, but I can't get experience without a job!" And, as a rule, that complaint is usually most vocal among recent grads. Sorry to rain on your parade, but just because you have a particular degree does not mean you are equipped to step into your dream job. For the most part, you usually have to settle for something more entry-level-ish to get your feet wet and learn the ins and outs of the business/organization/whatever. That's why a lot of recent MBAs end up taking clerical jobs, just to get a foot in the door and to learn the corporate climate...they then methodically work their way up the ladder.
posted by Oriole Adams at 1:28 PM on June 1, 2013

Volunteer, blog, research and publish, find mentors in the field.
posted by Riverine at 2:37 PM on June 1, 2013

Also, consider working somewhere that isn't those places but will give you the experience that will lead to them. Work for Theiss in the middle east or something, baby steps, dude, frustrating as that may be.

FYI, you may know this already, but two things to be aware of with the UN:

1) In some (not all) areas of the UN, there are strong elements of nepotism/clientelism, which can make getting a job there without an "in" of some description more challenging than it really should be. Start cultivating some contacts.

2) Being able to speak at least two of the UN languages is a significant asset in getting hired there. If you are currently monolingual, it is definitely worth picking up another UN language to some degree.
posted by smoke at 3:50 PM on June 1, 2013

You can't get your dream job without experience, no, but I'm betting if you work hard enough you can get a job in your field. You're luckier than most because you already have the part of the experience you need that is usually the most difficult to get, i.e. the in-country experience. Finally, masters degrees are good but in many, many professions now they're the minimum expected educational qualification for starting out on a career. You're a new grad and you have to pay your dues like everyone else.
posted by hazyjane at 12:10 AM on June 2, 2013

Oh and my advice is based on getting a masters degree at the end of 2008 when getting a job at all was extremely difficult. I've now paid my dues at jobs few people even wanted, have gotten my dream job off the back of those jobs but still have a lot of work to do to prove myself in that job so I can keep it!
posted by hazyjane at 12:16 AM on June 2, 2013

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