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I have a degree in electrical engineering and I've been working as a test engineer with an engineering firm, but I'm interested in starting my own company and I'm looking to get experience in sales, management, or admin. My company has nothing available in those areas, so I'm applying to other companies.

It makes sense that sales/management are positions where you get better with experience. As I'm applying to these positions, I can't help but feel underqualified since the only relevant experience I have comes from retail customer service and time spent managing an LLC that went under. I have strong problem solving abilities and a very broad skillset that includes accounting, advertising, and online sales, but nothing that would apply directly to most of the positions I'm interested in. I'm also young, only a few years out of college. I'm a quick learner and I definitely believe that I could learn such a position and become good at it.

In a situation like this, where you are a capable individual trying to break into a completely different area of work, how do you present yourself as being qualified for the position despite your lack of relevant experience?

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You're hoping for a job in a persuading profession. Sales, administration, and management jobs are all about talking people into doing things.

Forget about the idea that you're not qualified. You are qualified.

Your task is to sell an excellent product, a product you know well: yourself. What are your features? What benefits does each feature offer your buyer? How will hiring you solve their problems?

From your question, your features:

feature: I have a degree in electrical engineering

Benefits.

  • I get things done. Completing a demanding university course proves that.
  • I have a solid background in EE. I can understand your technical products and how they solve your customers' problems.

I've been working as a test engineer with an engineering firm

  • I have held down a serious job. I will also hold down your job.
  • I understand, by experience, the difference between good quality and poor quality. I am passionate about delivering good quality to customers.

I'm interested in starting my own company

  • I have an entrepreneurial spirit. But don't tell a potential employer you're going to leave as soon as you learn a few things.

retail customer service

  • I know how to interact with people.

time spent managing an LLC that went under.

  • Wow! This is very important! I have been a business leader in the hot seat. I know what it means to make payroll. You don't have to teach me the importance of booking, shipping, and collecting.

  • I learned xxxxx the hard way. You don't have to teach me that.

I have strong problem solving abilities

Yeah, yeah, everybody says that. Be specific. Pitch this as "I successfully confronted problem x by doing y."

and a very broad skillset that includes accounting, advertising, and online sales,

Here's where you need to tailor your sales pitch to your particular customer. Emphasize a skill matching the needs of your potential employer. Again, be specific, "I ran an online sales program for product q using tech p. It generated a return on investment of r.

Figure out how to tell a similar story for each skill.

I'm also young, only a few years out of college.

  • I have a lot of energy and the ambition to help make your company do well.

I'm a quick learner

Again, be specific. "It took me less than a week of reading to learn enough about product zzz so I could test it effectively. I studied the spec sheets and application notes."

Two specific suggestions

Read up on "solution selling" and maybe a couple of other selling techniques.

If you're in the US, look up your local chapter of SCORE.ORG, and ask the volunteers to review your resume / sales pitch and make suggestions. Free service.

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You need to focus on the skills that apply to most jobs. Things such as communication, multi-tasking, teamwork,...etc and sell yourself based on these skills. The fact that you have work experience demonstrates that you are capable enough to have a job even if it is in a different field.

Just remember that since you are changing job fields and have no experience/education in your new field, you will be limited to entry level positions. Even within those entry level positions, you may be limited by the lack of education in the specific field. In that case there may be other entry level positions that are closely related that do not have the education requirements and allow for growth.

  • There are useful suggestions here, but not listing "being capable enough to hold down a job" as a positive. As an example, the unemployment rate in my country is 1.9%. Even assuming that all those unemployed people "cannot hold down a job", 98.1% of people can. It hardly makes you stand out. If that's the kind of thing you have to explicitly mention, it's going to be clear to an employer that you have no relevant skills or experience. Re-frame other skills so they sound relevant by all means, but "I can hold down a job" is valuable only for the most unskilled and undemanding minimum-wage jobs. – BittermanAndy Jun 2 at 7:46
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Don't "appear" capable. Be capable.

In your current career, would you expect to hire an engineer who'd never done engineering before or had any engineering qualifications or shown any previous interest in engineering, but turned up at the interview and said "I'm a quick learner, how hard can it be"? Probably not.

Take an online course. Take evening classes. Volunteer in a charity shop. Look for entry-level positions or even internships. Heck, coach a local sports team - it shows an interest in leadership, albeit that it's unlikely to be enough on its own.

The point is, if you want to get paid to do something that isn't completely unskilled (or an apprenticeship or similar), you have to be able to demonstrate that you've done it before: whether in a practical or theoretical capacity; academic or professional.

The best - possibly the only - way to demonstrate that you are capable of doing something is to have done it. Otherwise your entire pitch - no matter how much you try to dress it up by claiming completely unrelated activities count just as much as actual experience, something which employers will see through in seconds - is "I've never done this before, so do me a favour please?". It's not very compelling.

With that said...

the only relevant experience I have comes from retail customer service and time spent managing an LLC that went under

Sounds like perfectly relevant experience to me, for a sales and/or management position. Be ready to talk about lessons learned, of course, and why you expect your next position will not end with the company going under; but this is absolutely relevant and applicable experience, isn't it? Don't discount it.

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