Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

How to convince a recruiter even if you don’t have work experience yet

When you apply for your first job or an internship and don’t have much work experience yet, how can you convince your potential employer that you’re the right person for the job?

We talked to Marlen Lander, HR Business Partner with more than 20 years experience. She has recruited intensively, especially young engineers in the software and mechanical engineering industries. Marlen gave us many great tips on:

  • How a recruiter evaluates a candidate during an interview
  • How you can increase your chances of getting a job even if you don’t have any work experience yet
  • How young talents can get a realistic view of professional life even if they have never worked in a company before
What mistakes have you seen students and recent graduates make when they apply for their first job or for an internship?

Students who apply for an internship are often very vague when they specify their interests and when they say in which area they would like to do the internship.  For us as recruiters it’s then difficult, because we can’t send the student’s application to the entire company. But when we know what the student is interested in, then it’s much easier to  find the right position for him or her. 

Ask yoursef: “What do I want? What do I like?” and be ready to express that in an interview.

Sometimes they do know what they want, but their expectations are unrealistic. For instance saying that you want to start as a project manager directly after your study is not realistic, because you don’t have practical experience yet. Very often I have the feeling that young people don’t know what to expect from the professional world.

It’s normal though to not know what to expect when you have never worked in a company before. What would you recommend that students and recent graduates should do, so that they are better prepared and have realistic expectations? 

Doing an internship always helps you get insights into the professional world.

Another way is to talk to professionals with more experience, maybe people who you admire or who work in the same field, in order to get a better idea what the realities of professional life are and what you want to do.

When applying for a job, how can someone stand out from other candidates when he/she doesn’t have a lot of work experience yet?

If you’ve worked on any projects, did any internships, or worked during your study, then you should definitely mention that. You can also highlight your Bachelor thesis. Or maybe you won a prize for some work you did – that should definitely stand out in your CV.

It’s also important that the CV looks good. Nowadays you can find many templates online.

Even if you have only very little experience, it’s important to list it in your CV, to describe what you did, and to make sure your CV is visually appealing.

When you interview a candidate, what do you pay attention to (except the qualifications listed in the job description)?

I check if the candidate prepared for the interview at our company: Does he or she know anything about our company? Did they inform themselves about the company before coming for the interview?

I also look at whether the candidate brings something for taking notes to the interview, like a notepad and a pen, or if he/she comes empty handed and just sits there. Many candidates bring a notepad with them, but almost none of them take notes during the interview.

It gives the impression that you’re much better prepared if you bring a notepad where you’ve written down some questions you want to ask during the interview.

It makes a great impression if the candidate shows passion for a topic also in his or her free time. If you’re a software engineer, maybe you participate in open source projects in your free time, or maybe you’ve built something for yourself. 

Anything that shows a candidate’s passion for a topic is very interesting for us as recruiters.

During an interview, what questions should candidates ask the interviewer(s)?

More important than the content of the questions is the fact that a candidate asks something and that they thought in advance about what they want to know.

It’s important that the candidate pays attention during the interview and if something is not clear, that he or she asks and is not afraid of asking questions.

Are there any other tips you would give to young people at the start of their careers?

It’s important that you can formulate what you want. 

Going to an interview and just saying, “I don’t know yet what I want, I’m open to everything”, is not convincing.

A person who knows what he or she wants and can show passion for a topic is a lot more convincing. To a recruiter, that shows energy, drive and a positive attitude.