The biggest challenge every graduate faces when they leave university is overcoming the question: "How do I get experience when I don't have any experience?"
After all, experience and a proven track record is what every employer wants, right? Well... not all of them.
We recently spoke to Ben Gateley, Co-Founder of Charlie HR, a London start-up offering free HR software to companies. Ben takes a very unique approach to hiring: he actively seeks people with little to no experience.
"To me there is really only one thing that’s important and that’s attitude, which we’ve always valued over CVs, experience or grades," said Ben when we asked what he looks for most in applicants. To Ben, although experience can be a clear indicator of someone's ability to actually perform the job, a candidate's ethos and potential to "mesh" with the rest of the team is paramount.
Ben says it's all about building a team you can genuinely trust.
"Running a business isn't easy... you want colleagues who are going to help solve problems, not create more," he says. We all spend a significant proportion of our adult lives at work, and it's clear to Ben that you should feel completely comfortable with the people who make up that workforce: "You need [a team] that you just enjoy spending time with."
When it comes to the difference between experienced and inexperienced employees at work, Ben says that those with less experience have "fewer established habits," which allows him to have more influence over their behaviour within the team.
But how does Charlie HR go about identifying whether candidates meet their personality-driven criteria? And what can you do to prove you're the right match?
"It sounds obvious," Ben says, "I look for something that jumps off the page... I spend more time with CVs that have caught my attention." He clarifies this could be anything from charity work to a witty opening paragraph, but also says that it all really comes down to the first conversation. "I try to have a face-to-face interview with as many candidates as I can," he says. Good news for anyone who's ever thought: "If only they'd give me a chance!"
If you're worried about your lack of real work experience, Ben advises creativity when applying for jobs.
He talks about avoiding the "normal routes" of the job application process. Reach out with emails, then follow up emails, and try to build a relationship. Honesty is essential and Ben says he's always much more impressed by people who acknowledge their lack of experience instead of trying to mask it. "Everyone has to start somewhere," he adds.
"What do your friends not like about you?" is Ben's favourite interview question.
"I'm looking for candidates with good self-awareness and the ability to reflect and grow. I truly believe that these traits are the building blocks of an effective team dynamic."
If Ben sounds like someone you'd like to work for, you better be prepared for a trial and error approach to work and training.
When asked about the level of training he offers new, inexperienced hires, Ben talks about giving people space to fail - as opposed to managing them at every step of the way. Because Charlie HR is such a young company, he says, "we're all trying to create something new, and occasionally fucking things up is part of the journey!"
Finally, we ask Ben for one bit of advice he'd give to someone applying for a job at Charlie HR:
"Just be yourself! Be honest with us from the start. Ultimately, we want to work with the real you: good and bad, warts and all. In the end, the best teams are built on strong, honest relationships. That’s all that matters."