Getting a job with no experience

How to Get More Job Offers and Interviews Even if You Have No Experience

Adapted from my answer posted on Quora.

Here’s a question I found quite interesting because I, along with countless others, have been in the same situation:

Why won’t anyone hire me? I’ve applied to over 30 jobs and have not had any luck. Am I doing something wrong, or is this normal?

It can be very frustrating, but it is quite normal.

That being said, there are a couple of thing you can do to improve your odds of being noticed by recruiters and hiring managers.

I’ve included a couple of links to videos by Ramit Sethi that I hope you will find helpful.

The first one will give you some ideas on how you can improve your CV/resume, while the second will show you the value of doing your research and how you can walk in to an interview, fully prepared to capture the attention of your interviewers.

I’d like to add some of my own tips:

  1. Always reframe your cover letter in terms of how you can provide value to their company. Remember, companies aren’t interested in youthey’re interested in themselves, so you need to show them how you can fulfil their needs. This applies to answering interview questions too!
  2. None of that “Dear Hiring Manager” nonsense in your cover letters. Always address your letter with the name of the recruiter or hiring manager. If you don’t know their name, call them up and find out. I cannot stress this enough. This also gives you the added advantage of standing out!
  3. After you’ve made your application, wait a couple of days, and then follow up on your application with a phone call to the company. This demonstrates your level of interest and effort.

 

 

I’d like to add a little more to this answer for your benefit.

What to do if you have no prior job experience?

“I need to find a job, but it requires experience. How do I get experience, without having a job?”

Sound familiar? It’s quite the catch-22 isn’t it?

There is a way to get around this though, and here are some of my recommendations:

Highlight your standout achievements

Not easy for everyone, but if you have any, you can use these in place of job experience. It helps employers see you as an achiever.

For example, if you’ve done well outside of academics, you can highlight your role as the secretary of a university society and include your achievements while serving on the board of directors.

Include your portfolio

If you’ve done anything at all that could be showcased using a portfolio, please jump on the opportunity. To be frank, it’s probably more important than almost anything else that you can put on your CV or resume, simply because it shows exactly what you are capable of.

It’s one thing to list things down, but if employers can see how you’ve demonstrated your work, it can go a long way. This is especially great if you’ve done something like computer science or something creative, but it could work for almost anything: academic writing, journals or publications, a blog, your personal website etc.

Work for free

If you can afford to sustain yourself, this can be an extremely good option to get some experience to put on your CV. Working for free is also an opportunity to build a network, learn the trade and also gives you some great talking points during an interview.

If you have any suggestions or ideas, please feel free to share them in the comments below!

I Made a Mistake With My Degree. Don’t Do the Same.

If you’re reading this, there might still be hope.

If you’re thinking of studying finance in the hopes of becoming a day trader or working with investments, please do yourself a huge favour and read this article before you leap headfirst into one of the worst career decisions possible.

This post is going to be quite specific, so if you’re not thinking of doing this, I won’t blame you for skipping this one, although there may be some similarities with your field!

Now that I’ve come out on the other side, I feel as if it is my duty to tell everyone I know that they need to do their research and be sure that the finance qualification is relevant to what they want to do.

This is of course, opinion based on my own experience, and whether you agree or disagree with me, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments!


If I could have written a letter to my earlier self, this is probably what it would look like:

Dear Meathead,

First of all, congratulations! The future version of you has completed a five year double major in commerce, and now has a near-worthless degree!

Not quite what you were expecting?

Well, it turns out that most proprietary trading firms (prop firms) react something like this to graduates with a finance qualification:

A finance grad! They shriek, waving their arms in terror. Another one! Quick, send them the automated email that says we’re impressed but don’t think they’ll be suitable for this role in particular, but we hope that they’ll apply for future roles! 

Okay, I’ll admit, that’s not quite what they do, but in general, they’re not too keen on hiring finance graduates unless you have some serious quantitative skill, which you probably won’t learn from your degree.

Even in what would seem to be a traditionally finance-related career, companies are shunning finance graduates and opting instead for graduates in fields you wouldn’t even have considered as the competition!

Instead, they’re turning to engineers, mathematicians, computer scientists and physicists for positions that you should have been fully qualified for!

I know what you’re about to say (because I’m you):

“Wait, what? But why?”

Allow me, future Sanjay with 20/20 hindsight, to enlighten you.

Companies are well aware that finance graduates are basically irrelevant in today’s ultra-competitive business world, but it’s not entirely the students’ fault.

Graduates are leaving universities armed with a degree that equips them with a blunt dagger, to bring to a battle that is largely fought with the latest in drone technology. And there you are, outclassed and outgunned.

Why am I saying this? When you’re studying a finance degree in today’s world, the universities you study at are still largely living in the 18th century, when Microsoft Excel was all the rage and possessing knowledge of this single program was the gold standard.

They’re still proudly confusing students with irrelevant theories that will remain impractical and unused throughout their future careers.

Future you once asked a lecturer why we were learning material that isn’t applicable in the working world. He said: “Because we don’t have anything else to teach you.” That essentially sums up most commerce degrees. 

The nature of the coursework means that students never develop critical thinking and problem solving skills that employers value so highly.

My personal favourite is when universities attempt to pass off common sense knowledge as an almost biblical revelation.

To tell you the truth, the most practical and useful business knowledge can be gained by simply visiting a book store and purchasing any of the bestsellers in the field. You can learn from people who’ve actually done it, rather than learning from a textbook written by an author who gained his knowledge from yet another textbook.

I daresay the knowledge you gain from that $14 paperback will be worth far more than any $70,000 commerce/business degree.

As a finance graduate, I am embarrassed to say that I would not have been able to explain to you the basics of how the stock market works or how a simple index fund could earn you returns. I had to figure that out for myself, from books and the internet.

To survive in the business world, graduates require technical skills, like mathematics, statistics and programming. Yet, universities somehow decided that they would shrug of this minor detail and allow graduates to enter the “real” world without any technical skill or practical training whatsoever.

The reality is that quantitive degrees are in demand, because employers value an integral skill above almost everything else: Problem solving.

Move over finance graduates, because the business world is being taken over by engineers, statisticians, mathematicians, physicists and computer scientists.

Sincerely,

Sanjay.

P.S. I would like to thank my (your future) friend Yoni for the discussion that became the inspiration for this post.


Does this apply to your field as well? Let me know what you think in the comments!

How to fix the education system

Education Reform: Preventing the Rise of Drones and Clones

Our current education system excels at churning out millions of homogenous, disenchanted drones every year. Isn’t it odd that students, regardless of ability or interests, are placed into the exact same system, where they are each force-fed an identical curriculum?

In my previous post on this topic, “Universities Kill Your Passion“, I discussed some of the causes of this issue, but this time I’d like to focus on discussing some possible solutions to the problem. There’s no point complaining if you’re not willing to make any changes, so let’s get started.

Possible Improvements to the Education System

I have a number of suggestions that could either be implemented individually or collectively and still be effective. Below is a summary of my ideas on education reform, with detail to follow:

  • Personalised learning pace
  • Students need to know the “why” of what they’re learning
  • Application based approach to 10x understanding
  • Autonomous learning
    • use the internet as a resource
  • Incorporating the arts

Personalised Learning Pace

Imagine for a moment that by law, we were all expected to wear standardised clothing. Every single one of us, regardless of size and height, required to wear a size medium. That would be quite absurd, wouldn’t it? Yet we do exactly this with education. A one-size-fits-all approach that’s expected to work for every individual.

Allowing students to progress at their own pace enables them to maximise their potential. For students who are able to grasp concepts quickly, the standard pace can be very frustrating. On the flip side, for those who require additional time, the standard pace can hamper their ability to understand increasingly advanced concepts, as they would have fallen behind in the basics.

Allowing each student to dictate their own pace allows the quick learners to excel and capitalise on their strengths, while the slower learners are able to catch up and even surpass the rest without the pressure of an unsustainable pace.

There are of course counter-arguments that could be made.

For instance, if you allow a child to study at their own pace, they would slack off. This is true, but then again, isn’t that also true of the current system? Students slack off all the time. I would know, I was a master procrastinator myself. I think it’s a separate issue, and one that needs to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

Students Need to Know the “Why” of What They’re Learning

I’m sure many students have at some point looked at their algebra and wondered when any of it would ever become useful to them. I have certainly done this, not just with math, but with pretty much every subject I’ve ever studied.

I actually touched on this topic in my aforementioned post, regarding how I enjoyed learning when I had a purpose for learning the material. I strongly believe that if students understand why they needed to know something, they would be much more interested in learning and absorbing it.

For example, most students are forced to memorise the multiplication tables. As an 8 year-old at the time, this was an exercise in futility. I (along with most others, I suspect) had no idea why I was being forced to memorise the most boring possible combination of numbers.

I started thinking about this when I was learning the concept of exponential functions in high school. If I had simply been shown that I could use that exact formula to calculate compound interest and find out how much money I needed to become a millionaire in the future, I would have been far more interested in the application of the formula, because now I would understand why or how I could actually use this formula, rather than just knowing it in order to pass the final exam. Instead, the formula was presented to me, I calculated a bunch of random numbers and got the right answer (sometimes). Only, I had no clue what the answer signified.

This simple step appears to be almost non-existent in the education system. It’s almost as if no one actually cares whether or not you understand the true purpose of what you’re learning, as long as you can get to the right answer eventually.

After some reflection, I realised that all my favourite teachers were the ones who took just a couple of additional minutes to explain or demonstrate the “why” behind what we were learning.

That made all the difference in the world.

Application Based Approach to 10x Understanding

This ties in with the previous point about knowing the “why”. If students are given assignments in which they have to apply what they have learned, it would enhance understanding tenfold.

For example, I did a basic course on a programming language a couple of years ago. Initially, the module had been structured in a way that we had to learn all the bits of code and it’s functions, but we would never apply any of it. As you can imagine, this was terribly boring and I quickly gave up.

When they updated the module, they would teach us a part of the code and immediately apply it to an mock-up web page. As the module progressed, we added more and more to the web page until it was fully functional. This time, I had a tangible, finished product, and could see where all the seemingly separate bits of code had come together to form one complete page.

I think many subjects can be redesigned to work this way. Applying what you learn helps you remember and understand it.

Autonomous Learning

I think this one is pretty self-explanatory, so I will just briefly touch on it. I notice that students learn best when they are allowed and encouraged to learn things on their own. Guided learning is not always necessary. In fact, most of the things I have learned have been purely out of my own curiosity. Isn’t that how learning should be?

The problem is, curiosity is stamped out of us in school. On many occasions, a student would ask a question and the teacher would reply, don’t worry, that’s not relevant for the exam. We are trained to excel at examinations, instead of being actively encouraged to learn and discover.

I think the application based approach can help to some extent. Allowing students to work on projects that encourage self-learning would be very beneficial, as the student would have to understand the subject matter thoroughly in order to apply it. The application of that knowledge is extremely important, as it cements what he or she has learned, and helps that understand why what they are learning is useful.

Incorporating the Arts

The arts are simply not given enough recognition in the academic world. However, I believe that a truly well-rounded mind can be developed through the creative process. Learning a musical instrument, dance, painting, or anything else that frees the imagination and allows for creativity is essential to the human mind.

It enables a student to develop excellent discipline through practice, allows them to express themselves, teaches them to think without constraints, and naturally encourages experimentation, all without the rigidity of traditional academia. It enhances the human mind and greatly improves focus, which in turn result in improved academic performance.

An intriguing study funded by the Dana foundation and summarised by Dr Michael Gazzaniga of the University of California, Santa Barbara, suggests that studying the performing arts — dance, music and acting — actually improves one’s ability to learn anything else. Collating several studies, the researchers found that performing arts generated much higher levels of motivation than other subjects. These enhanced levels of motivation made students aware of their own ability to focus and concentrate on improvement. Later, even if they gave up the arts, they could apply their new-found talent for concentration to learning anything new.

Robert Twigger

Below are some resources that demonstrate how art has been integrated into the curriculum.

Cross-Training: Arts and Academics Are Inseparable

Leading to Change / Academics and the Arts

Collectively implemented, I think there’s a good chance that these suggestions would actually increase a student’s interest in learning, which is the main objective. Leave a comment below or send me an email, I’d love to hear what you think!