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Advancing in your career without experience

From Harvard Business School Working Knowledge:

The researchers identified four successful tactics for obtaining stretchwork that were common to both groups:


* Differentiate competence. Anyone hoping to advance must distinguish his or her performance on the job. This is particularly true, however, for contract workers-because they are paid for each short-term job, their employers are likely to subject their work to close, frequent evaluation.

* Acquire referrals. Because high-tech contractors tend to work with a number of clients, brokers, and fellow contractors, they enjoy a broader social network from which to draw referrals than most permanent employees. In the film industry-where most hiring is done based on a production manager’s previous experience with an individual-referrals are a vital aspect of getting any job, particularly if it stretches a worker in a new direction.

* Framing and bluffing. “This is one of the most creative attributes for obtaining stretchwork,” O’Mahony notes. “People who are good at presenting their prior experience in a way that allows for an easy translation to the desired job can narrow the gap between their past experience and future capabilities.” Adopting a hybrid job title to identify oneself-“director-screenwriter,” for example-can also help establish authority in more than one area.

* Discounting. Accepting pay below the market rate is a temporary disadvantage some contract workers are willing to accept, if it means gaining the experience and exposure that will lead to a new position. One technical writer put it this way: “I turned down solid offers from three companies, all paying over $100K a year-I would take a job at $55K if they’re using a totally new technology so I learn something-It’s like playing pool-You hit the green ball with the white ball, and the point is to place the white ball to get the next shot. So I take that job in order to learn skills for my next project.”

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