How to Get Your Foot in the Door When You Don’t Have the Right Experience, with Gillian Williams

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In this job seeker’s market, you don’t usually need 100% of the qualifications to apply for your dream job. What you need is clarity on what you want, a resume with relevant experience, and the willingness to step out of your comfort zone, says Find Your Dream Job guest Gillian Williams. Gillian reminds us that even if you faced rejection previously, it only takes one “yes” to change your life. Networking, courage, and transparency are what it takes to get your foot in the door when you don’t meet all the exact qualifications in a job posting.

About Our Guest:

Gillian Williams is the president and founder of  Monday Talent, a national recruitment firm. 

Resources in This Episode:

  • If you’re ready to work with a recruiter who is invested in your career journey, Gillian is ready to help you. Find out more by visiting Monday Talent
  • From our Sponsor: Find Your Dream Job is brought to you by TopResume TopResume has helped more than 400,000 professionals land more interviews and get hired faster. Get a free review of your resume today from one of TopResume’s expert writers. 


Find Your Dream Job, Episode 374:

How to get your foot in the door when you don’t have the right experience, with Gillian Williams

Airdate: November 16, 2022

Mac Prichard: 

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life. 

I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps you find a fulfilling career.

Every Wednesday, I talk to a different expert about the tools you need to get the work you want.

Find Your Dream Job is brought to you by TopResume. TopResume has helped more than 400,000 professionals land more interviews and get hired faster. 

Get a free review of your resume today. 

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You see a job that excites you. 

While it’s not in your current field, you know you could do the work if given a chance.

Gillian Williams is here to talk about how to get your foot in the door when you don’t have the right experience. 

She’s the president and founder of Monday Talent, a national recruitment firm. 

Gillian’s company has a deep commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion and serves people in marketing, communications, and creative services. 

She joins us from Brooklyn, New York.

Well, let’s jump right into it, Gillian. We’re talking about how to get your foot in the door when you don’t have the right experience. What do you mean by the right experience? 

Gillian Williams: 

Yeah, so I think that that term, honestly, as a recruiter and someone who has a recruitment business, can be incredibly frustrating. You’re right. What does the right experience mean? 

Unfortunately, though, we do hear it from a lot of hiring authorities as feedback that this candidate that we sent or this resume that we sent doesn’t have the right experience, and by right experience, typically, the hiring manager or human resources person means relevant experience to the position. 

So, was your previous role in an industry or in, you know, were you in the same function that this new role that you would be taking on is in? So that’s typically what right experience means. 

Mac Prichard: 

Often, you’ll see on a job posting required qualifications. Is it a dealbreaker, Gillian, if you don’t have the required qualifications, or should you still try to get your foot in the door? 

Gillian Williams: 

Absolutely not. I mean, I think it’s a lot harder if you’re just sending a resume for it to get noticed if you don’t have at least some of the relevant qualifications, especially if they are ones that are more important to that company than others. But that’s often hard to know. 

So, I think there’s a lot of times where they will put qualifications, and they won’t specify that these are optional, but a lot of times there is quite a bit of flexibility or wiggle room, especially if they feel like you can fulfill other parts of the position. So there’s definitely a lot more wiggle room than I think job descriptions lead on. 

With that said, I think, you know, there is a line between someone who is applying for a position that maybe, you know, is looking for someone with twenty years in management experience, and you maybe have two years of experience and think that would be appropriate. So, I would say, within reason, there is quite a bit of wiggle room. 

Mac Prichard: 

We’re in a job seeker’s market right now, Gillian. Does that make employers more likely to consider candidates without the right experience? 

Gillian Williams: 

Definitely, I would say, over the past, you know, year plus, we have definitely seen employers be a lot, a lot more open when it comes to experience. I think they realize how strong the competition out there is for good talent. As you said, it is a job seekers market, and so, they understand that they have to be more flexible than they might have been previously when, you know, it really was a client or an employer-driven market. So I do think that there has been quite a shift in terms of companies being more open to background and experiences. 

Mac Prichard: 

What do you think is the biggest challenge a job seeker faces when trying to get a foot in the door without the right experience? 

Gillian Williams: 

I think that you know, again, first and foremost, it’s just getting their foot in the door. I think that is sometimes the hardest part, you know, I know, when I’ve searched for a job or people I know have searched for positions in the past, and they’ve been like if I could just get in front of that hiring authority. If I could just get in front of them, I could prove to them that, you know, I have the drive and the personality and the intelligence to get the job done. So, I think a lot of it is just getting that foot in the door. 

So, I think, if you have a contact that you know at the employer, or if you, you know, are in touch with the recruiter, they can be your advocate to get your foot in the door. So, I think, you know, there’s often those kinds of roadblocks where they won’t just look at what you have to offer on paper, which often hinders you from getting your foot in the door because on paper it doesn’t speak to your personality, your drive, you know, largely doesn’t speak to your intelligence. So, I think that you know, people are so much more than they are on paper, and so, I think that’s the biggest thing is just getting yourself in front of the right people. 

Mac Prichard: 

I want to talk about how to do that. Just one or two more questions. Thinking from a job seeker’s perspective, what is the most common reason you’ve found in your work, both with job candidates and employers, that companies say no to job seekers who don’t have that right experience but still want to get their foot in the door? What’s the number one reason people hear no? 

Gillian Williams: 

I think a lot of, you know, we’re all incredibly busy, and people are incredibly busy in their roles, and I think they feel like if someone doesn’t have that right or relevant experience, that there’s going to be a huge, huge learning curve that they just don’t have the time to take on. They don’t have the time for training or development; they need people that can just, you know, hit the ground running from day one and just get things done. So, I think that that’s probably the biggest thing. 

Mac Prichard: 

And there’s so many choices out there for candidates right now, both because it’s a job seeker’s market, but even when the unemployment rate is high, you can go on job boards and find lots and lots of opportunities. 

When you’re a job seeker, how can you tell if an employer’s gonna consider applicants who don’t have the right experience and are gonna be open to getting someone who wants to get their foot in the door? 

Gillian Williams: 

Yeah, honestly, if you’re just looking online and seeing opportunities, it’s honestly very hard to tell if they are going to be open. So, my thing is always, you know, why not try? Why not put yourself out there? Because it is very hard to decipher which companies are or aren’t open. 

I will say that, especially recently, as there has been quite a shift in the corporate world around diversity, equity, and inclusion, and I think there’s been just companies really prioritizing it and wanting to make sure that they are building diverse and hopefully equitable and inclusive teams. 

So, I’m seeing a lot more of certain statements on job descriptions. I saw one in particular that I liked recently, and I forget exactly what it said. But it did say something like, “we know that women and people of color are notoriously, you know, ones that won’t apply for roles if they don’t feel that they are qualified, but we are very open. So we strongly encourage you to apply even if you don’t feel your experience fits.” So, I do think I am seeing more and more of that arise, which is wonderful and motivating to see, and hopefully, you know, gives people hope for, you know, feeling like they can’t get their foot in the door if they don’t have the right experience. 

Mac Prichard: 

Well, let’s talk about how to do that, Gillian, and you mentioned this just a moment ago. One of the first steps you recommend to get your foot in the door if you don’t have the right experience is to put yourself out there. What do you mean by that? 

Gillian Williams: 

Yeah, I think, you know, don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. Try for things that you feel like maybe are a bit out of your reach. Again, as I kind of referenced earlier, make sure it is within reason. 

Like, if you are looking to be a brain surgeon or something, like obviously, you know, that’s probably not gonna work. But if it is something that you feel is tangential or that your previous experience has set you up for success and will allow you to fill this role, even if there is a learning curve, I would say that, you know, do not be afraid to put yourself out there, you know, and ask for it. 

So, whether it’s through applying. Whether it’s through reaching out to different people that are there in your network or that you see on LinkedIn or just in positions that you would love to be in, I would say, you know, definitely, don’t be afraid to do so. You can’t be afraid of the rejection, and you probably will face quite a bit of rejection. Honestly, if you do put yourself out there for positions that maybe don’t directly align with your background, but for all those rejections, you know, it just takes one person to say yes and to give you the opportunity. 

So, I think, you know, you can’t be afraid to ask for what you want, ask friends, colleagues, ask people in, you know, companies that are interesting to you, whether they’re hiring, whether they look at your background. You can even try just directly applying for the position. But I think it’s all about, you know, not giving up and really not letting yourself get defeated. 

Mac Prichard: 

You mentioned a number of times the importance of knowing what you want. What would you say to a listener who is unclear about what they want in their next position and perhaps thinking, well, I’ll just keep my options open? Is that an effective approach? 

Gillian Williams: 

In a way, yes. I mean, I think I always advise people to never be closed off to certain opportunities because you never know. I’ve seen people who were like, you know if they worked at a brand or company, they were like, I’ll never go to another agency. Lo and behold, a few months later, or I see they’re at an agency, and they’re absolutely loving it and thriving. And so, I think that you can’t. 

It’s really hard to limit yourself and to close yourself off to opportunities. So, I think, to an extent, it is good to be open and to explore. I do think, though, it is good to have some kind of idea of the things that you do like doing and the things that you don’t like doing because I think that is the best way to make sure that whatever you do take on next, it is something that you are passionate about, and that you can throw your full self into. 

So, even coming up with a list of things in your role that you like doing. Whether it’s the writing piece, or the customer service, or things like that, and then, also, a list of what you don’t like. So that you make sure that you know to avoid positions that might be heavy on the things that you don’t like and also draw you to positions that are things that you do like. 

Mac Prichard: 

Well, this is terrific, Gillian. We’re gonna take a break. Stay with us. When we come back, Gillian Williams will continue to share her advice on how to get your foot in the door when you don’t have the right experience. 

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Now, let’s get back to the show.

We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Gillian Williams.

She’s the president and founder at Monday Talent. 

Gillian’s company has a deep commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion and serves people in marketing, communications, and creative services. 

She joins us from Brooklyn, New York. 

Now, Gillian, before the break, we were talking about how to get your foot in the door when you don’t have the right experience. 

You’ve got a number of tips on how to do this, and the first one you shared was putting yourself out there, knowing what you want, and telling people that’s what you want. Your second recommendation for getting your foot in the door without the right experience is to look at what you’ve done in past positions that’s relevant.

How does this help you as a job seeker, Gillian? 

Gillian Williams: 

Yeah, so, I think, and, you know, I think I referenced this as I started to dive into this a bit before the break. But I think there are so many jobs, even if the title is different, and several components of the role are different, that actually have so much overlap to other positions. And so, I think, it’s looking past the title and really looking at, what are the specifics of the role? And trying to understand if you’ve actually fulfilled quite a few, if not almost all of them. Because I do think that there are so many overlaps, you know, of certain types of jobs, and I think also titles. We’re seeing so many new titles, more every day, and a lot of titles could sound completely different, but the job ends up actually being very, very similar with just a few differences. 

So, I think, it’s really, you know, looking past the kind of the title and what you expect the role to be and really diving into what it actually takes to be in that type of position, and you can really see that. You might have so many relevant skills. 

Mac Prichard: 

What’s a good exercise for doing that? You’ve got the job posting in front of you. You obviously know your own background and experiences, but maybe have your resume by your side as a reference. 

How do you take that job posting, and understand and analyze the skills and experiences that are required, and translate it into something that’s gonna be persuasive to a hiring manager? 

Gillian Williams: 

Yeah, so, I think, you know, it’s always important to, I think, for any job seeker to really have a list of things that they’ve done. Whether it’s accomplishments or just what their responsibilities are. Because I think if you do that exercise, even if you’re not looking for a job, it can be incredibly eye-opening. So I always recommend people- I’ve, you know, actually even in my role, sometimes I list what I do, and it’s super helpful to be like, oh, I do this and this, and maybe I can, you know, hand off some of those responsibilities. Maybe they don’t make sense. 

But regardless, I do think, you know,  it is important to always have a running list of everything that you’ve done because you might even think of something that you hadn’t thought of in that immediate moment. You can always go back to that list. 

So if you do have a list of, you know, accomplishments and also responsibilities that you have in your current role or that you’ve done at previous roles, and just kind of keep that, you know, in your arsenal, that can be incredibly helpful when you do go to apply for a job because then you can quickly compare, and be like, oh yeah, I actually did do this at X, Y, Z, company, or I did do that at, you know, this other company. 

Mac Prichard: 

What’s gonna be most persuasive to a hiring manager, once you’ve done that analysis, you’ve looked at your list of accomplishments, and you’re getting ready to put together an application material, perhaps, tailor your resume, and prepare for interviews?

What messages are gonna help hiring managers to see that while you might not have the right experience, you’ve got what it takes to get the job done? 

Gillian Williams: 

Yeah, so, I think, as you were saying, you know, it really goes back to tailoring your resume. I think one of the biggest mistakes or things that people do that I think hurt them is to have one version of their resume that they use to apply to multiple different types of roles. I always think that you need to have at least a couple of versions of your resume that maybe hit some key buckets, and even then, you might need to even tailor down those versions of your resume when you are applying for a particular position. 

I think, you know, you can write all you want in a cover letter or in a, you know, in a proactive outreach message. But usually, the people that are looking at this collateral or content are skimming it super, super quickly. So they won’t want their eyes to immediately go to what is relevant and avoid all of the rest. 

So that’s why I think, you know, I would spend  most time on that resume, and also your LinkedIn profile, and making sure that version of your resume that you send really hits the key buckets and key things that you’ve done that are relevant to the job. And honestly, even if it is a big accomplishment, if it’s not relevant to that position, I typically wouldn’t put it on your resume because then your relevant experience can get lost within the irrelevant experience. 

So, I think that is probably the biggest tip when it comes to, you know, written collateral. It’s just making sure that your resume is super tailored, leaving the things on that are relevant, and taking off most, if not all, of the things that aren’t relevant. 

Mac Prichard: 

What’s your best advice, Gillian, for determining what’s most relevant to a hiring manager you may not see until they review your application or look at your LinkedIn profile and invite you in for a conversation? 

How do you see people suss that out and understand how to present the most relevant experience and skills? 

Gillian Williams: 

Yeah, so I think there’s a few ways to do that. I think one, in particular, could be to do some digging on LinkedIn; look at the profiles of people who are maybe within the department you’re looking to apply to, or even if there is someone else who’s in that same role, and see what they’ve highlighted on their LinkedIn profiles. Hopefully, you know, they have comprehensive LinkedIn profiles where they’ve highlighted certain aspects or certain things that they’re doing in the role. Because that will really show you, okay, this is actually what is being done by people who are in this job, and then you can really see, okay, so those are the most important qualifications or skills or type of experience. Then you can make sure that you are pulling those out over some other things. 

I think it’s also just reading and rereading the job description because a lot of times, you know, in job descriptions, you’ll have required skills, but that, I would look past that. I would look at the responsibilities of the role. I would also look at- a lot of time there’s just, you know, paragraphs at the beginning of job descriptions that describe the role in more detail that I think sometimes people forget to look at, and oftentimes, there can be some really good clues in what’s in the paragraph, and that’s not maybe even in the kind of skills portion of a job description. So really like thoroughly combing through that job description, I think can go a long way as well. 

Mac Prichard: 

Another recommendation you have for getting your foot in the door when you don’t have the right experience is to recognize the power of networking. Gillian, why can networking make a difference when you’re trying to get your foot in the door? 

Gillian Williams: 

Yeah, I mean, I think, you know, networking is everything. I think any recruiter will tell you that. But I think, as we kind of referenced earlier on, on this podcast, is that, oftentimes, the hardest thing is just getting in front of the right people, and so, if you are consistently networking and building a strong community of people that are in your, you know, in your arsenal or in your network, the more of those that you have, the more likely that someone might be working at a company and you can reach out directly to them about a position and they can help get your resume in front of the right people who are much more likely to agree to speak with you, even if on paper they don’t think you fit and if someone at the company is vouching for you. 

So that’s why I think networking is just so important. I think people should be doing it whether they’re looking for a job or not looking for a job because you just, you never know what could come of it. I’ve seen, you know, people meet on, or I’ve heard about people meeting on the line at Starbucks, and next thing you know, you know, they’re getting hired by the person that was behind them in line. So, I think, nothing makes up for that in-person meeting and having people in your network that want to help you and want to support you. 

So no matter how good of a resume you do, having, you know, knowing people, and being able to go directly to someone in your network- that is more critical than anything, or that has more of an impact than anything. 

Mac Prichard: 

What do you say to listeners who might be uncomfortable with networking or are not sure how to get started? 

Gillian Williams: 

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think, first and foremost, I’ve been in their position even though I am a recruiter. So that might sound crazy that I’ve definitely been in a position where I felt uncomfortable networking. But you’ve just gotta do it. You’ve just gotta push through the nerves. You have to realize that people that you might be networking with were also in that same position, or they still are in that same position where they, too, are feeling uncomfortable or have felt uncomfortable. 

So, you know, rejoice or feel comfort in knowing that, and I think it’s, you know, you can start small as well. You don’t have to just put yourself out in networking events. I know, I think, you know, in this post-COVID world, we’re all a lot more uncomfortable in person. So, there’s a lot of amazing virtual networking that you can do, whether it is just starting to kind of poke around on LinkedIn, looking at people who are in interesting conversations, and asking them, if you don’t want to meet in person, for even a virtual coffee, to pick their brain about how they got into that position. 

And I think it’s also even, just if it’s something that you’re not ready to do proactively it’s just being open to it in your everyday life. So, you know, being open to, if someone smiles at you when you’re online at the supermarket, maybe smile back. They might come and start a conversation, and who knows what that could lead to. 

I know sometimes I’ll go out on the street and be like, I’m not in the mood to interact with anyone. But I think if you have, you know, a different approach to when you go out and approach, you know, anytime you’re interacting in public, that who knows what could come of this. Who knows who I could meet today? I think just even that opening or even being open, or even that shift in mindset, can have such an impact. 

Mac Prichard: 

Well, it’s been a great conversation, Gillian. Now, tell us, what’s next for you? 

Gillian Williams: 

Yeah, I mean, what is next? I think so much. I mean, with Monday Talent, we have quite lofty goals. But I think first and foremost, it is really continuing to use Monday, you know, my recruitment firm as something that is being impactful in terms of building more diverse, equitable, and inclusive teams within the industries that we recruit in and hopefully, you know, eventually, you know, broader industries. 

I think we’re already starting to see how big of an impact we have had, and we can have in a position as a recruiter when it comes to building diverse companies and pushing them to be more inclusive and equitable, and so, I think it’s continuing with that, and continuing that mission is first and foremost the most critical thing of what’s next for us. But, yeah, I think if we can, you know, do it on an even grander scale as we continue to grow, I think that’s the ideal. 

Mac Prichard: 

Well, I know listeners can learn more about you and your company’s services by visiting your website, and that you also invite listeners to connect with you on LinkedIn, Gillian, and if they do, I hope they’ll mention that they heard you on the show. 

Now, Gillian, given all the great advice you’ve shared today, what’s the one thing you want a listener to remember about how to get your foot in the door when you don’t have the right experience? 

Gillian Williams: 

Yeah, I think it really comes down to kind of not being afraid to put yourself out there and just continuing to be open because you never know what could happen. What could come of, you know, the most unlikely situations or from the most unlikely places? 

So I think it’s not being afraid to put yourself out there and continuing to be open and not giving up. I think that a lot of times, it can be incredibly frustrating when you are trying to get a new job, and especially if you’re trying to get a job where you feel like you don’t have the right experience. So, I think it’s just not getting defeated, not giving up, and realizing that all it takes is just one opportunity that can change everything for you. 

Mac Prichard: 

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Next week, our guest will be Anna Morgan. She’s a senior recruiter at the City of Portland. 

Anna began her HR career at the Oregon Health & Science University after working in the entertainment industry, including a stint at The Walt Disney Studios. 

Many job seekers may not consider working in the public sector at all. 

But the opportunities a career in government offers can make it a good choice. 

Join us next Wednesday when Anna Morgan and I talk about why you should get a local government job and how to do it. 

Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.

This show is produced by Mac’s List. 

Susan Thornton-Hough schedules our guests and writes our newsletter. Lisa Kislingbury Anderson manages our social media.

Our sound engineer is Matt Fiorillo. Ryan Morrison at Podfly Productions edits the show. Dawn Mole creates our transcripts. And our music is by Freddy Trujillo.

This is Mac Prichard. See you next week.