Getting Experience Without Experience (Jonaed Iqbal)

Jonaed Iqbal

You need a job.

You find something you like. It’s entry level. Great! So you apply.

But here’s the catch: you need experience.

Wait, what?

How does that make any sense? You filtered by entry level. Since when does “entry level” mean 3-5 years of experience?

Unfortunately, this is a common scenario job seekers face. It discourages people from applying. But people have to start somewhere.

So how do you get your start?

First, let’s break down job postings.

Think of a job posting as a wish list. If someone met all the requirements, they would probably be overqualified for the job. The person would get bored easily because they could do everything. So now it makes a little more sense (though still not too much sense!) why job postings are a bit crazy.

You want to make sure to hit about 70% of the requirements for the position. Just make sure that you have an ability to do some of the job, and that you won’t be a fish out of water for the first year. You will have a learning curve but this is true for most jobs. Every place has their own way of doing things and you have to learn how to work with people in the organization.

So now that you understand that you only need to meet about 70% of the requirements, what do you do next if you don’t even meet that?

Get experience!

But wait–you need a job to get experience, right?

Not necessarily.

Look into volunteering opportunities.

A lot of nonprofits are strapped for resources, and they need all the help that they can get. You can help with social media, analysis, research, or whatever else they need to run. This counts as legitimate experience. In addition, it shows that you are proactive and that you are a supportive person. The people at the nonprofit can also act as great referral sources.

Another option is to look into contract roles.

Entry level contract roles typically don’t pay as much, but the roles also are not as competitive to secure. You can get experience at a large organization and then list that organization on your resume. Some contract roles are as short as 3-6 months. Make sure you highlight that it is a contract role if it is short so that people don’t think you are a job hopper. If you impress them and the organization has budget, you may be hired full time. These postings are sometimes listed as term-to-perm. Even ones that are not listed as that can get you permanently hired.

The benefits for these roles will be provided by the staffing agency. Technically they are your employer, and they are who you will receive your salary from. Contract roles are typically to support projects or to cover someone who will be out for some time (such as for parental leave or injury).

Look into helping a small business or a startup for a few hours a week.

How do you go about this? Just ask. That’s sometimes all it takes.

You can literally ask a local business what they need help with and mention that you are looking to gain experience. Local businesses are often strapped for resources. Highlight your skills and make sure you have an idea of what exactly you can help them with. If you want to break into sales, you can help the local business with their sales. I had someone who messaged me on LinkedIn and mentioned they wanted to help a little with my podcast. They added the work they did to their portfolio and they used it to get a client. Be creative and gain that experience!

Courses and projects are other ways to gain marketable skills.

If you have any projects that you take on during the course, list them under the Projects section on your LinkedIn profile. In marketing, you can list things you have done yourself. For software engineering roles, it is very common to have several projects listed under your resume. In addition, courses and projects show that you are serious about your career path and that you are passionate about it. They give you something to talk about during the interview and they show that you can independently learn on your own.

Now that you understand how to get around the “need experience to get experience” paradox, go and get that experience that you wanted to get!

It won’t be easy, but if you follow the advice above, you can get it done. I have seen hundreds of people implement the strategies above. Remember that the first experience is the hardest to get and that finding work gets easier over time.

Good luck!

Jonaed Iqbal @jonaed
I am the Founder of and host of The NoDegree Podcast where I interview people without college degrees and share their stories.

Let Us Know Below:

How did you first gain experience in your field? Did you study it in school, or did you learn from experience?


I started my freelance career by going to a local non-profit who had zero online presence. I offered to do social media, for free, if they gave me the title ‘social media director’ and made it LinkedIn-official. This was 12 years ago! Being part of the local non-profit opened many doors to for-profit businesses, and that is how I got started. I stayed with this non-profit for three years, never charging them anything, but being able to test, try out things and learn lots of lessons! It’s the only time working ‘for exposure’ ever worked out for me.

On the flip side, I had someone reach out to me at the start of the pandemic and ask for an internship. I didn’t need an intern, but I said yes. She’s now my right hand, operates her own business alongside mine and is a fantastic social media professional!

I have #nodegree and started my business at age 40 when my youngest child (of 4) started kindergarten. Nice to meet you Jonaed!


Nice to meet you too!! If you ever want to be a guest on my podcast and share your story!


@jonaed I’d be happy to! :slight_smile: You can email me at [email protected] and I also just sent you a LinkedIn connection request!