Breaking into an Industry when You Don’t Have Previous Experience

Remember when you were a teenager trying to get your first job, but everything you applied to said, “entry level, must have at least 6 months experience,” and you thought, “WELL, HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO GET EXPERIENCE IF NO ONE WILL GIVE ME A JOB?”

That’s what it feels like trying to get work in a new category or industry. If, for example, you have consumer packaged goods work, but you pine to do automotive advertising, or you work in social media and want to switch to UX/UI, you’ll find the switch more difficult than you’d think. Even if you already have a solid agency background, employers often insist on a certain amount of experience in a product category. And it’s usually for good reason: Many fields are highly technical or have a set of standard practices that it can take years to learn. But it brings you back to that conundrum: How does anyone get experience if they have to have some before they’re considered for a job?

Don’t give up! There are more opportunities than ever to get related experience that can help you get your foot in the door.

Do some editorial work

Product categories like automotive, technology, and even fashion can be hard to break into because they all employ such specific terminology and require in-depth knowledge of the product, its history, and the marketplace. If those are industries that call to you and you’re passionate about them, start writing about them. If this pushes your comfort level a little, start small by contributing smart, well-written Amazon reviews and work your way up.

If you have a true knack for both the subject matter and the writing, pitch your ideas to publications or websites. Better yet, create your own blog on the subject, which will allow you to add content and social media bullets to your resume.

Spec work

Doing spec work in the category you aspire to could help your cause, but only if it’s polished, insightful, and generally amazing. Many creative directors will argue that it’s a lot easier to do spec work than to come up with great creative that solves a client problem and can realistically be executed. Just be honest and don’t try to pass it off as produced work.


True story: I have a friend who was obsessed with fashion, and she organized and promoted dozens of fashion events. She wasn’t making much money, but she created a brand so strong, she was able to get sponsorships from huge companies like H&M, Bloomingdale’s, and Uniqlo. Eventually, she needed a consistent paycheck, and without too much effort and absolutely zero experience in proper advertising and marketing, she landed a senior strategy job at a social media agency that handles Fortune 500 clients — all on the strengths of what she’d been doing essentially as a hobby.

If you come from a traditional background and you want to work in social, there’s nothing to stop you from taking on your own projects. You’re probably already working on your own personal brand; pretend you are also your own agency and promote it on social media.

Network in that industry

Break out of the usual habit of going to the usual advertising/marketing/communications professionals mixers and go to events that cater to your would-be industry. Network the same way you would in your current industry. You might be able to land freelance or in-house opportunities. You’ll also gain insider knowledge about the field and the market by immersing yourself in the culture. You may also be able to join industry-specific associations, and list these memberships on your resume.

Now wrap it up and tie a bow on it

A great way to quickly showcase your emerging skills is to create a page on your website/portfolio that is dedicated to your experience in that industry — even if it’s a mixture of spec work and non-advertising projects such as press releases and blog posts. Include a blurb that talks about your ambitions, but also talks up your previous accomplishments. At the very least, hiring managers will be impressed by your ambition and dedication. And if the work is good and it complements an already-strong portfolio, you may get your chance to work in a category you really love.

Lisa is a Creative Circle candidate and seasoned advertising copywriter who lives in Los Angeles. Her background includes both in-house and agency work on Fortune 500 and global accounts in the consumer and healthcare/pharmaceutical fields. She excels at words, fashion, and cats. If you want to work with Lisa, contact Creative Circle Los Angeles.