8 Ways to Land Your First ‘Real Job’

Land your first "real" job by using these eight ways to leverage your nontraditional job experience.

This is it — the time to apply for your first “real job.” You’ve worked several summer or part-time jobs, but now you’re ready to enter the workforce for real. There’s only one problem: you have no relevant experience.

Or do you?

It can be easy to assume that your past jobs — odd, part-time, or nontraditional — have nothing to do with an office job that you want. While they may be unrelated on the surface, they can still share one thing in common: you, as an employee!

What matters first and foremost is that you have experience somewhere; you can prove that you are a person who is capable of being employed and getting a job done. Whether you worked in customer service, retail, volunteering, taught for a couple of years, freelancing, interned, or were in a leadership role in a club or group activity, you have some level of work experience!  

If you can communicate exactly how and why you are employable and can get a job done, then you can use those positives to woo your way into the next job you want.

Here are eight ways you can leverage your nontraditional job experience as you apply for the next job you want:

1. Leadership or management

Were you the manager at your job? Were you in charge of people or things in any capacity? Was any one responsibility assigned to you, and you alone? Congratulations, you’re a leader and a manager! Whether you handle one thing or multiple things, you can already demonstrate that you have what it takes to be responsible for something. When you’re interviewing, own what you own!

2. Team player

This one is slightly related to leadership, but rather than managing people, you might work really well with people. This is just as valuable! Many jobs require that you work with other parties, so demonstrating that you work well with a team is very beneficial. Try to think of examples of when you were able to achieve a goal, or overcome some difficulty, by working together with your coworkers.

3. Attention to detail

I’m going to tell you a secret: attention to detail is a rare skill. It’s a great thing to say on your resume, but that doesn’t mean that everyone has it. Attention to detail can come in many forms, however. Maybe in your service job, you had a customer who had an allergy, and you were the only person who remembered — or better yet, you are the person in charge of handling food and ensuring that nobody is exposed to their allergens. Perhaps you worked at a summer camp and were able to remember every single kid’s name and a unique fact about them, helping them feel special and ensuring an overall positive experience. Flex that skill!

4. Innovation

Fixing any problem, no matter how small, is a great way to show off your innovative skills. This can look like making small adaptations to a system to make it more efficient, or making alterations in your personal workspace to get your work done faster. This is even better if you can teach other coworkers and managers how your ideas have created more efficiency or saved more time. That shows how valuable of an asset you are.

5. Hungry for more

When you apply for that first office job, nobody expects you to know absolutely everything off the bat. What matters to your boss and teammates is that you are teachable. In your current job, your next job, and all future jobs, maintaining the attitude of a go-getter, a lifelong learner, and an asker of questions will get you far. Put in a little extra effort wherever you are, and you will increase your chances of maintaining a positive rapport wherever you go.

Here’s a tip: Does a job description include proficiency in a software or skill you’ve never used? Before your interview, do some YouTube research for beginner and introductory videos on how to use that specific skill. Then when your interviewer asks if you have any experience with it, you can demonstrate your willingness to learn by explaining the research you’ve done.

6. Show me the numbers

Do you work with numbers in some way in your job? Good!

Data can help you demonstrate how effective you are, or exactly what kind of work you do. If you have teaching experience, for instance, you might be able to report that you taught “a lot of students” — that’s fine as far as it goes. But it’s much more effective to quantify your impact by saying something like, “As a teacher, I increased student enrollment by 200 percent;” or, “I trained four employees in my seven months at this job.”

7. Meeting and exceeding goals

This experience tends to apply to jobs in customer service or retail. Tracking goals are a great way to show how effective you are at your job. Goals may include how many items you sold, the number of customers you served or members you added, or staying within budget on a project — anything! If you don’t do this already, set some goals at your job and track exactly when and how you meet and exceed them. You may surprise yourself.

8. Leverage your other nontraditional experience

You might come from a context completely different from an office, like doing volunteer service in another country. That means you have unique experiences to leverage that will definitely interest your interviewers. The office job you want might not ask you to create an educational system for illiterate people, but the fact that you underwent that unique experience and even gained soft skills — communication, empathy, respect, enthusiasm, positivity, adaptation, pragmatism, humility, etc. — demonstrate a lot about your work ethic and your determination.

Looking ahead

The job hunt can take time. Rather than get discouraged, see what you can do to add even more to your resume. You may only have so much experience right now, but you can take advantage of more opportunities at your current workplace to beef up your resume even more while you continue your hunt. Ask for leadership opportunities, see if there are any problems you can fix, create and track goals, and find other ways to flex your current skills and gain some new ones.

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