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I have almost 2 years commercial experience in web development. Yet every time I apply for a job I get a call back "Sorry you don't have enough commercial experience for this position."

The last 6 months have run like this:

10 Try to gain commercial experience.
20 Can’t get a job because I don’t have enough commercial experience.

I've been applying for PHP developer roles working with existing codebases and requiring between 1 and 2 years of experience.

How can I gain creditable 'commercial experience' when no-one will hire?

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closed as off-topic by Ampt, MichaelT, Dan Pichelman, GlenH7, gnat Oct 16 '14 at 7:14

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Well, stop thinking in BASIC, for a start. :-) – Paul Tomblin Oct 10 '11 at 0:11
What type of role were you applying for? – Permas Oct 10 '11 at 0:13
Do these job postings have minimum experience requirements? Have you applied to positions that require the amount of experience that you have? – Thomas Owens Oct 10 '11 at 0:13
I'll post answers in edits – MattyD Oct 10 '11 at 0:14
If you can't get a job, how did you get 2 yrs of experience? Will no one who worked with you for 2 yrs provide a reference? Consider moving to an area that's not so competitive? – JeffO Oct 10 '11 at 0:15
up vote 14 down vote accepted

I've found that many people find jobs through people they know. At my last two jobs it feels like 70% of all hires were by employee referrals. When hiring managers have two people that have exactly the same credentials and one has an employee recommendation they tend to go with the recommendation. Similarly a employee referral/recommendation can help convince hiring managers that you are capable of performing the job that you may not have the resume for.

Basically my point is that one way to get around this is to know more people in the field, let them see your potential/skills and then let them help you get into places where you want to work. While this may not be easy to do this it is why referral are regarded so highly.

Lastly this is how I got into the position that I am in today. At the time my resume would have led the hiring manager to pass over me but referrals/recommendations convinced them to bring me in and we both have been better off since.

Edit: Another thought on how to get more experience when it feels like no one will let you get any experience is to work on some open source projects.

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Well that's how I got my current job I am in now, but this work is very basic, I desire a challenge... Maybe I'll looking into the referral company – MattyD Oct 10 '11 at 0:19
@MattyD - Why not just suggest you do something more complicated at your current position? I would recommend finding something to suggest rather than asking for a more difficult assignment that your work director would have to research and define. – Chad Oct 10 '11 at 13:55

I like barrem23's answer. In addition, There are other options.

  • Work for free; This isn't very appealing, but you can get professional experience by volunteering your time to an organization that suits your tastes (local clubs are huge assets for this kind of thing, especially when you're a web developer)
  • Find employers that are willing to hire prospects that established firms would consider risky. A startup or small to mid-sized privately owned company are almost always more interested in hiring prospects that know their chops, and may even actively avoid "highly experienced" prospects. There's the idea that experienced developers are either too expensive, or can't learn new tricks; probably bogus but it can work in your favor.
  • Emphasize your skills; Point out every exceptional thing you can do, regardless of experience. Sometimes just showing that you really know some specific technology, especially when that technology is relevant to the opportunity you're trying to get, can trump a lack of experience. Familiarize yourself with the latest buzz words; actually get good at some of them.
  • Lie; This isn't a great option, but sometimes you can spin half truths to get past the HR barrier and make a good (enough) impression. This isn't for everyone. On the other hand, some of the people you're competing with are also lying to get the position.
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Be careful about working for free as illustrated here:… – World Engineer Oct 10 '11 at 4:35
Right; You shouldn't work at a for-profit for no benefit to yourself; On the other hand, there's nothing wrong with providing technical support to an organization you would support in other ways. – SingleNegationElimination Oct 10 '11 at 14:44
Probably other people wouldn't recommend telling lies or half-truths, but I've used it effectively from time to time. Other candidates lie and exaggerate, if you are brutally honest you don't look good in comparison. As an example one of my first programming jobs listed SQL as a requirement, I said I had used it before, when I hadn't. However I quickly studied it before starting the job and didn't encounter any problems. Similarly in my experience most employers lie as well. – Antonio2011a Oct 10 '11 at 23:26

Get on github and start coding for some open source projects. When I see a link to a github profile, I take notice immediately. Code for local businesses. There are loads of small businesses in any given community who would be happy to pay a few hundred dollars for a basic website. No it's not the kind of money you might deserve, but it is worth it so that you can gain a portfolio, experience, and bit of capital to reinvest back into yourself. Where you are at is pretty awful, but trust me, if you really work at it, you will not be in the situataion for much longer. Once your foot is in the door, you should be good as gold.

Also, many companies list positions for experienced senior devs with 20 years of .Net, but just as many will settle for an enthusiastic newb that they can invest in and shape early on. If you bathe at least once a week, are not rude, are not creepy enough to make everyone nervous, and can fizzbuzz every language you put on your resume, then you pretty much qualify for an entry position most places. You might be suprised how little competition there is.

Lastly, don't bother with recruiters, skip (or equivalents), be open to positions not in PHP, don't be intimidated by every random technology listed on a job posting, and do look on local job boards (especially university boards hosted by your local CS department, since companies who post there are likely to understand that hiring the inexperienced is an investment).

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This is good every time I have applied for jobs I get calls from the recruiters and I get the feeling they cannot convey my experience properly – MattyD Oct 10 '11 at 22:07
Good advice. I've had much more luck when I've been able to apply directly to companies rather than through recruiters. However, at the moment it seems that fewer and fewer companies are advertising directly. – Antonio2011a Oct 10 '11 at 23:28
Recruiters do not have a whole lot of incentive to get entry level people. Entry level positions pay significantly less (due to higher training costs/risk for the employer), which means they get a much smaller commission. It might seem like fewer companies are advertising directly, but almost every company you would ever want to work for has a jobs page on their website with some sort of developer positions open. Also, I'm serious about those uni CS job boards. I was not even a CS major and got interviews with every one I applied to and there is nothing special about me on paper. – Morgan Herlocker Oct 11 '11 at 12:56

In my first year, I had a lot of free time at job (psst, dont tell anyone) and i was on one of the online forums constantly. Built up enough reputation to become a moderator there. That has helped me gain a fair amount of trust with recruiters and people who havent met me. I also published some of the tools I created which helped during my job. Put that all in a resume, and I was getting up in the cream layer of the noobs.

But so far, the best bet is to have "contacts" :)

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Yeah 'it's not what you know, it's who you know'. I am doing a fair bit of work with start up companies so I guess I can network from there – MattyD Oct 10 '11 at 4:19

Freelance. If you dont have enough commercial experience (which I'm interpreting here to mean experience in making business websites), go out and get it on your own. Then you can go into an interview and show them that you've done quite a bit in the commercial realm.

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I have about 2 or so freelance experience, not major work but enough to know what is going on – MattyD Oct 10 '11 at 3:52

Professional networking helps a lot. Unfortunately, many programmers aren't very good at it. Another option is to have good representation from a recruiter that hiring managers trust. Another is to have publically visible work that you can legitimately show as your own work.

The other thing to remember is that often vague statements like "not enough commercial experience", "not enough experience with [fill in the blank]" or "doesn't fit our team dynamics" are used to cover up more personal reasons they aren't hiring a prospect. Sometimes this can be due to discrimination, such as age or physical appearance. Sometimes it can be because the interview process is just a bit of corporate kabuki to let them hire the person they really want to hire for the position. Or it could be some other office politics that you don't know about.

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