What if You've Never Had a "Real Job"?

By: Doug Hardy

What if You've Never Had a

Maybe you're just about to graduate. Maybe you've been a parent and homemaker since you got married. Maybe you left school to care for a sick parent and now it's ten years later, and you're wondering how to start a career. Now you wonder, "How can I convince someone to hire me when I've never had a real job?"

We are so used to labeling one thing "work" and another "home" or "school" that we forget how much they have in common. Give yourself some credit. Every job is a real job if you know how to talk about it.

Employers hire four things: skills, knowledge, experiences and work habits. Even if you've never drawn a paycheck, you can make a case for yourself based on those four. Your task is to present them to an employer.

First, skills: You already have many skills, and the only challenge is to relate them to the job you seek. A good job description will list the required skills, so think about where you've used those skills in the last year. For example, someone who has kept a household budget with Quicken software or managed a schedule with Microsoft Outlook can take on basic money and scheduling tasks in a job. Don't try to fake it, though – if you need to know how to operate a forklift for the job, don't pretend you can or ask, "How hard can it be?" See if they're willing to hire and train you based on your other skills.

Knowledge means having specific information about a subject. I wouldn't last ten minutes as a clerk in a video game store because I know nothing about the games, but my 17-year-old son plays them, his friends play them, and they talk about the features and story lines of dozens of games. The video game store wants his knowledge, not mine. The same goes for non-retail jobs like installation if you know how to use the tools. Apply for jobs where your interests and know-how apply.

Experiences give understanding, which gives good judgment, and relating your work and life experiences to a job is a powerful way to sell yourself. I know a company that sells "Invisible Fences" for dogs; the owner hires dog lovers on the theory that he can teach anyone to lay a wire underground, but the important part of the job comes when the installer gives instructions to the customer. If that installer shows his expertise at handling dogs, the customer will be happier. Where does he look for employees? At animal shelters and dog-walking groups, not technical schools!

Work habits help close the sale with an employer, because they're the great unknown of every employee. The interviewing boss always wonders, "I know he/she can do the job; how do I know if he/she will do the job?" Tell stories about your work habits at school or home, both the basic habits like showing up on time, dressing appropriately, and doing what you say you'll do, and the special habits like staying late if a job needs to be done, or keeping a cheerful, upbeat attitude.

Whether you've helped run a church craft fair, or nursed a sick child or parent, or kept your grades up while still making time for the drama club or basketball team, you have the skills, knowledge, experiences and work habits employers need. If you can speak clearly about them in an application or job interview, and relate them to the job you're discussing, you'll make your case.