How to Get Experience When You Have None

No one prepares you for what it is truly like to enter “the real world.” When you’re 18, your entire life has been planned out for you: Go to school, graduate college, get a job. That’s how it works, right?

Increasingly, so many of us twenty-somethings graduate only to find out that the jobs promised us by our school counselors and loving parents—if only we obtain that precious degree—are, in fact, a rarity.

A degree is not a magical one way ticket to job land. Just ask any poli sci major.

The catch-22 so many of us post-collegiate pseudo-adults find ourselves in is that you need experience to get a job, but you need a job to get experience. Reality really sets in once you realize you now have to pay back those tens of thousands of dollars in student loans that you took out to get a degree in order to get a job in the first place. But you need a job to pay them. Oh, the madness!


So, what do you do? Regardless of whether you have decided to change careers or are simply looking to land your first job in the field in which you studied, the answer is the same: You need to get yourself an internship. Which means, yes, you need to re-enroll in school.

Now, you can do this by either taking out more loans (highly unadvised) or saving up and paying for your classes as you go. Either way, you need an internship to build experience and get your foot in the door. Oftentimes, you can move from an internship to a full time position within the same company.

Allow me to share an example that comes from my own personal experience.

Upon graduating from college with my journalism degree and about $36,000 in student loan debt, I quickly realized that the starting salary of a journalist at around $25,000 annually coupled with the need to move across state to a small town in order to get experience was not financially feasible. Unless, of course, I was prepared to spend the rest of my life crippled under a mountain of debt, struggling to make ends meet. Spoiler alert: I was not.

My first thought was, “Well, fuck.” My second thought was, “Ok, now what?” I immediately resolved to fix my situation.


I thought perhaps I would be a teacher, despite that having a similarly poor outcome of high debt and low income. Luckily for me, I took a summer job as a day care teacher and quickly came to my senses. It did not take long for me to learn that children are actually well-disguised demons sent here on earth to terrorize the less patient and saintly among us, but I digress. That’s a story for another time.

I decided to find a high paying job that would allow me to utilize the skills and degree I already had. Enter: Marketing. This is about the time that I ran into the conundrum outlined above. So, like any good millennial, I took to Google to find the answer.

This led me to enrolling in classes for a degree that I had no real intention of pursuing and which in no way aligned with the marketing internship I had hoped to procure. The degree, by the way, was human resources development. Don’t ask.

While ingenious, it was certainly not the most honest or forthcoming thing I have ever done, but I did manage to get the marketing internship I so desperately desired. I unenrolled from my classes before the cutoff date to receive a full refund on my tuition, and my employer graciously allowed me to stay in the internship despite my lack of classes. Happily, nine months later I seized the opportunity to move to a full time position to truly begin my marketing career. The rest, as they say, is history.

success go get it

I know someone who has done something similar with much success.

If you find yourself in need of experience in order to change careers or to get your first job, I highly recommend taking an internship. Many people protest the idea of a low salary (most internships pay $10-$15 an hour, if they pay anything at all), but it is well worth the short-term sacrifice in order to achieve long-term success. Enroll in some classes that expand your skill set and you can actually use, unlike what I did. (Hey, do as I say, not as I do and all that…) Work several jobs to supplement your income if you have to. Trust me, it is well worth it when you finally do land that job that gets your career off the ground.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Ganesh says:

    Great post! I have to say though that while we are lucky to have you on our team, something is broken in America when any graduating student has these burdens of student loans which forces you to make such choices.
    Especially given that now more than ever we also need journalists to hold those in power accountable….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Amy Reyes says:

      Thanks, Ganesh! I agree. Some of the blame lies with me for not taking the time to learn about financial matters, but the state of education in the U.S. leaves a lot to be desired. It’s also appalling you can sign up for that much debt (none of which qualifies under bankruptcy laws) when you don’t know any better. I was incensed because, prior to graduating, they make you take “exit counseling” which is where they explain what capitalized and compound interest are on a loan. Like, thanks a lot! Wish I knew that about 5 years ago lol.


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