(These tips apply for any new industry, but we've used tech as an example since it's what we know best!)
So you want to get into tech? But every tech job description says you need experience before you can apply?
WTF!? What's a job seeker / aspiring career changer to do?
Here’s the way to break this stalemate: Get tech experience without needing to get a tech job first.
And here’s a step-by-step guide to doing exactly that.
Step 1: Know Your Role
Tech companies don’t just want any old random experience. Instead, they crave specific experience in your desired field.
For instance, if you want a Product Management job, can you demonstrate that you have product management experience?
So before you invest time and energy in gaining experience, check out 12 different tech roles that are open to anyone – even if you’re not a coder. And then focus on the specific role that fits you best.
Step 2: Find Micro-Experiences
Let’s say that you’ve decided that Product Marketing is perfect for you –- you love understanding how other people think, influencing their decisions, and making a big impact out there in the world. So how do you get product marketing experience?
Well, as mentioned, it’s probably going to be tough to get a Product Marketing job right away without at least a little experience. And it’s also probably going to be tough to convince a recruiter that the five blogs you read on the topic make you a product marketer.
But what if there were learning opportunities somewhere between passive reading and getting a full-blown job? There are: Micro-Experiences.
A micro-experience is a project that requires exactly what tech recruiters want (real-world work with concrete outcomes) and what you can reasonably attain (a small, time-limited opportunity that doesn’t require someone to invest heavily in you).
Here are just three ways to acquire these micro-experiences:
- Upwork – The web’s largest database of freelance projects currently features over 10K requests for marketing help
- Catchafire - Instead of supporting small businesses, help a nonprofit with everything from SEO to PR
- Fiverr - If you want to focus on developing a particular skill, list it here to snag a bunch of micro-experiences quickly
LinkedIn itself also has a skilled volunteer marketplace where you can browse projects for organizations with specific needs.
No matter the site, a typical micro-experience for Product Marketing might look like this: “Help us use Facebook to drive more of our audience to purchase a product on our site.” Which is the exact kind of project you can crush and use to demonstrate your success to future employers!
(And if you're a undergrad or grad student (or even recent grad), there's no excuse for not doing a similar free consulting project / independent study. Play that student card ("I'm an MBA looking to build up my skills in product marketing") and tap your alumni network to open doors.)
Step 3: Create a Portfolio
OK, so now you’re starting to line up several product marketing micro-experiences. But don’t rest on your laurels yet. Because as far as tech employers are concerned, those experiences don’t mean anything until you package them up into a consumable portfolio.
Here’s how to do that:
- Before you dig into any micro-experience, make sure that your client will agree to let you share your work and results externally. Even if it means turning down a project or taking a lower fee, this is non-negotiable. Because, again, a project a recruiter can’t see is a project that doesn’t exist in her mind.
- As you start to work on the projects, make sure that you capture your progress at each stage. That way, when you get asked about your social media marketing experience during a Product Marketing interview, you can point to everything that you did and learned along the way: “First, I found out how many Facebook users matched our target criteria, then I set-up an A/B test to try different kinds of messaging on them…”
- Once you finish the micro-experience, be sure to make your results available to recruiters. While you can definitely list them on your resume or a portfolio site like About.me, LinkedIn has the advantage of being both visual (unlike the resume) and where recruiters are already looking (it’s used by 94% of folks in this space). So make sure that you embed any part of your work that's public and/or representative images on your profile (e.g., a screenshot of your top-performing Facebook ad), along with a caption in a results-oriented format (“Conducted A/B test with Facebook ad messaging, leading to a 25% increase in click-through rate and a 10% increase in purchases”).
Now, at last, you’ve got that precious experience that recruiters value in the exact place they’re looking to find it!
Don’t Get Caught-22
We know that looking at tech job description after tech job description with strict experience requirements can feel hopeless –- especially when the only way to get that experience seems to be via the job you can’t get.
But instead of getting caught up in that chicken-or-the-egg conundrum, take matters into your own hands. Get that experience the same way that tech entrepreneurs launch their startups –- by being scrappy, by hacking the system that seems stacked against you.
Because at the end of the day, there’s one tech rule that trumps all others: Seeing is believing. And once tech recruiters see your experience, even those tough gatekeepers will start to believe!