This past week, I received several emails from college students with the same resounding question: “How can I expect to find a job when I have my degree and no work experience?” One frustrated person after another shared their story, their concerns, and their angst about their future. I managed to find a commonality woven into the fabric of all of the messages and it was a lonely thread of uncertainty. There was a silent cry for help because ALL of the employment candidates desire success; some of them making it to an interview only to find out that even with a degree, they STILL aren’t qualified! So, if you want to change lanes from education to experience, you might want to consider working without pay. Of course this isn’t the only way to gain experience, but let’s take a look at a couple of options and you can decide what’s best for you.

Option #1: Working, but not in your field. If you have any work experience at all, you should be able to identify your strengths based on certain skills that you possess. True story, I started a career in banking without any banking experience. I didn’t have a degree at the time and I was a retail store manager who was looking to have Sundays off to attend church. My resume displayed my skills as well as my experience which translated into similar qualifications of a branch manager. If it happened for me, it can happen for you-but you must be able to identify your skills. Next, your resume has to show that your work experience and skills translate into the position that you are applying for. My leadership experience and the skills gained as a retail manager qualified me for my role as the manager of a bank. It wasn’t a degree and it wasn’t my banking background because I didn’t have either of those! Last, but certainly not least, don’t give up on the process of finding your new role. I understand that you may not get an interview or that you may not get offered the job, but don’t allow the closed doors to stop you from approaching the open ones. When you stop trying because of closed doors, you are possibly missing out on an opportunity to walk through the open door that you’ve been awaiting.

Option # 2: No work experience, but looking to gain experience. If you have no work experience, it is perfectly acceptable to take a role so that you will at least be employed. This isn’t a bad idea, but if it’s not what you ultimately want to do in terms of career, plan your next move and keep your options open! Another possibility is taking a role that will give you experience, but no pay. True story, I accepted a role as a Communications Officer aside from my typical work duties in a full-time position. Of course the extra responsibility didn’t increase my pay, but it certainly helps to have the communications experience when you are a columnist! I also accepted a Professional Development Officer role to gain experience. As a Career Coach, the gained insight and experience in this particular officer role is priceless. Not being paid for my contribution is a fair trade in comparison to what I’ve gained in experience. My resume now reads: Career Coach, Columnist, Communications Officer, Professional Development Officer and it has truly been worth it for me.

Changing lanes isn’t always easy, but it isn’t impossible. Your path has to be intentional so that you ultimately reach your destination. You might have to take an alternate route, but if I can do it, I know that you can, too.

Ericka Spradley is the President and Founder of My Next Level. She has many years of leadership experience and her understanding of the multi-faceted leadership realm has provided a level of expertise in human resource management and career growth. Among her significant accomplishments, Ericka has served as Vice President of Professional Development with The National Society of Collegiate Scholars, Strayer University Chapter,  she was a columnist for Classroom to Cubicle, an online magazine for college students, and she is currently a Yahoo! Contributor columnist. In addition, her works have been found in Today’s Charlotte Woman and she has also been quoted by The Charlotte Observer.

Visit Ericka’s website, My Next Level, for more information and you can find additional articles she’s written at