9 ways to overcome the Catch-22 of no job and no experience 6

moon Apollo footprint

Let’s talk about a big challenge in the highly technical field of aerospace.  In fact, this applies to a lot of technical fields.

You can’t get a job without experience…yet you can’t get experience without a job!

That’s the Catch-22 dilemma facing many graduates.  It’s also a Catch-22 for professionals who want to make a shift or transition into a different career path.

Do you feel like you are in this position?

I was in this position a few years ago.  My company had a “HIPO” program, for High Potential employees.  For several years I had wanted and tried to get into this exclusive program.

Somehow, I didn’t seem to have the work experience to get accepted into the program.  Not enough positions or assignments with leadership responsibility, apparently.

Yet the one program that would have really opened the doors for those new assignments–I couldn’t get into!

But then I learned a few things about this exclusive program…I’m going to share some secrets about it here with you.

Let’s talk about the principles behind these nine options.  There is a common thread that holds the secret to overcoming the Catch-22 of no job and no experience.

Rocket science isn’t easy.  That’s a well-known fact.

Getting a job in the aerospace field isn’t easy either!

But learning and doing something with rocket science (or aerospace or aviation) is a different matter.

There are many ways to gain experience in aerospace today.  In fact it’s better today than it’s been for most of our history.

There are also many more ways to network, make connections, and build relationships with people.

In many ways, it is easier to get experience in aerospace than to get a job.

Why is that?

Because you don’t need anyone’s permission or invitation to get experience!

What you do need are some other essential qualities:

  • initiative
  • determination
  • courage
  • a growth mindset (willingness to learn)
  • a decision to make it happen

The key to breaking out of the Catch-22 is identifying and doing things that don’t need someone else’s permission.  Finding and doing things that don’t need permission (only your initiative) changed my life, and it can change yours too.

All of these options involve an investment of some kind.  It might be time. Energy. Emotional effort. Money, if you have some.

Some of these options are riskier than others.  I’m going to list them in an order that I believe starts with easiest and least risky things to do.  Read through the entire list and think about which ones you can do.

Here now are nine things you can do to overcome the Catch-22 of no job and no experience:

1. Join a professional society and volunteer for a leadership position.

This leverages the power of association.  You’ll read more about this in Tip #3 in How To Be a Rocket Scientist.  You’ll gain connections, credibility, visibility, and leadership skills.

Not sure what society or organization to join?  If you are looking for a career in commercial spaceflight, there are groups to join.  If you want a career in unmanned aircraft there are groups for that.  If you have another niche, do some web searches.  And if you want the organization that covers everything in aerospace, connect with AIAA.

I’ve served in several leadership positions in various professional societies.  The experiences and connections have been a tremendous benefit to my career and professional development.

2. Join and actively participate in LinkedIn groups

If you had a job or experience in the specialty that you want, where would you be?  If you were a hiring manager looking for someone to join your group, where would you look?

If you were to look for a mentor to advise and coach you into your dream career, what group would they be in?

Some LinkedIn groups are closed and need approval to join.  But you don’t need anyone’s permission to make the request!  Find the group or groups where you want to be a part of and make it happen.

What happens if you have a specific, unique niche in mind and can’t find a group that is dedicated to it?  That’s even more exciting–because you can be the leader to create it!  What better way to stand out and become known as the go-to person for a specialty than to start a LinkedIn group on the topic?

If this seems to scary and daunting for you, let’s have a 1-on-1 discussion to talk about the pros and cons.

3. Find and connect with leaders online or offline

LinkedIn is another great resource here.  If they have articles or blogs online, get engaged with them there. If you want a way to find and track the people and discussions that you should be engaged with, there are powerful tools to do that.

Joining a professional society and going to their local meetings is a fantastic way to network and get connected with leaders in your own city.

4. Start a blog on your area of focus

Here’s a little-known secret: you don’t have to be an expert on a topic to start blogging about it. You can use your blog as a platform to share your learning and your questions.  Everyone is on a journey of learning and growth.

The most popular and engaging blogs are a platform where the author (or authors) are using it for a constant iteration of learning, doing, and sharing.  That’s what I’m doing with mine (which you are reading now) and my other one, Engineer Your Innovation.

Addition 5/16/15: Want more examples of engineers who are using a blog as a platform to demonstrate their existing knowledge and show their passion for a discipline while they are also advancing as a leader in the field?  I’ve compiled a list of engineering blogs.  The initial list was rather short, and more are being added in the comments.  What if we were to add yours??  What would its focus be?

When I reflected on the benefits I’ve seen so far from blogging (or seen from others), I came up with 30 reasons why they are smart and effective today.  Want to gain experience, credibility, and visibility in a technical discipline before you have a job with it?  A blog is a powerful way to do that–while it also increases your chances to attract that type of job or opportunity to you!  (Contact me if you are serious about starting a blog of your own, and I will love to help get you started.)

5. Create a website on your area of focus

This is a step up from tip #4.  Besides a blog, you might want to feature some other information or resources.  Links to key organizations, companies, events, and resources.  Photo galleries.  Videos.  University programs.  Social media groups.

There are ways to make a website like this pay for itself.  And even create a respectable income for yourself.

It’s not a quick or easy path, but it would be a remarkable profile and experience, wouldn’t it?  I’m working with some select people to make this happen with them.  Contact me if you are interested to learn and discuss more.

6. Write an e-Book on your topic

This will involve quite a bit of work, I won’t kid you.  If you aren’t an expert in the field or topic yet, you can tailor the book accordingly.  What would the “you” of 4 years ago want to know about this topic?

The clever thing about doing this is, it gives you a reason to reach out to the experts in the topic!

“Hi.  My name is ____.  I am writing a book about ___.”  Since you are a recognized expert in this field, this book wouldn’t be complete without an insight or quote from you about ____.  If you could say one thing to someone [in your book’s target demographic], what would it be?”

This same approach works great with a blog, by the way.  Interviews with experts are great topics and content for blogs.

How can you get experience and serious credibility on a topic before you have a job?  Write a book on it!

Contact me if you are interested in this idea too. 🙂

7. Conduct a research project

If you are in college, use a class or senior design project or graduate degree to gain valuable work experience and connections.  Make the most of your education!  If you have an opportunity to earn credits with an independent study project, jump on it.

If you aren’t sure what to do or how to do it, apply Tip #9 and Find a Mentor.  Go back to points 1, 2, and 3 to make progress there if you don’t have a mentor yet.

8. Pursue internship or co-op assignments Work in a community or collaborative innovation space

In the original version of this post I talked about internships or co-op assignments.  While those are indeed excellent sources of practical work experience, they require you get hired by someone or a company.

Here is another, better way you can pursue and possibly find some relevant work experience, understand needs in the marketplace, and even find a way to get paid for your work:

find a local “maker space” in your city and start marketing your skills and services.  For instance, Philadelphia has a place called NextFab Studio.  There are people with ideas and projects, looking for ways (or other people) to help design, build, and sell them.

This concept has even moved into online, virtual “shops”.  Check out Assist 2 Develop as one leading example.  I don’t have personal experience with this innovative online collaborative workspace that appeals to engineers, but I would love to hear from anyone who does!

Whether you pursue these options or go for the more typical internships or co-op assignments, you’ll get more insights and ideas from Tip #8 – Know how to apply for a job).  It’s possible to create your own custom internship or work-study assignment if you start thinking and acting like an entrepreneur who looks for problems in the marketplace to solve and reaches out to people who might want a solution.

Which brings us to the final suggestion:

9. Launch your own project and seek crowdfunding for it

Yes, this is a big and bold step!  It might not succeed.  (In fact, it probably won’t the first time.)  But if you launch a project on Kickstarter, for instance, what is the actual cost of failure?  You won’t lose any money (unless you paid for a video or information in the campaign).  It might be aiming too high, which—as of this writing–appears to be the case for this sub-orbital spacecraft design.

But it could be a more modest yet respectable project like this weather balloon for space exploration.

It just might be a something you can do with a team of friends and colleagues that hits a home run like PowerUp 3.0.

I got one of those for myself. 🙂  It’s an awesome toy for any airplane geek and rocket scientist.

Whatever your project might be, there is nothing like conceiving, planning, and executing a real project like a crowdfunding campaign to give you a remarkable and notable experience that will separate you from most other people.

I’ve run a Kickstarter campaign and some corporate crowdfunding campaigns, so if you have a burning desire to do this I would like to talk with you about that too.

The common theme and question here is, what can you do today to start making some contributions and gaining the experience you desire?

It doesn’t have to be a big step or big contribution.  One small step is a great start.  One small step can lead to historic accomplishments…what step can you make today?

moon Apollo footprint


About Brett Rocket Scientist

Brett creates artful work in engineering, ideas, and innovation. In addition to 2 degrees, 3 patents, and over 15 years experience in aerospace engineering, he is the author of several books to foster STEM careers. He volunteers his time and skills as an officer with professional societies.

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6 thoughts on “9 ways to overcome the Catch-22 of no job and no experience

  • David

    Excellent advice on your 9 steps on how to handle the Catch-22 dilemma! I was (and am currently) immersed in this situation to enhance my visibility and credibility in my network by working through steps 1 to 6. And my decision to pursue a higher degree should enable me to continue on steps 7 and 8. However, step 9 is the ultimate goal for any entrepreneurs looking to start a new venture. What is your process to master all the steps in overcoming this dilemma?

    • Brett Rocket Scientist Post author

      Thanks for your comment David! Kudos to you for working on so many of these steps!
      How to master them? Can I let you know when I get there? 🙂
      We might be in different stages of our own journeys, but I believe it’s a continuous process of learning and growth for everyone. That includes me.
      I believe mastery comes through years of practice, good habits, and lots of interactive learning (learning by doing). Watching and learning from other peoples’ experience is a great way to accelerate your own.
      Mastery can be a goal and vision for yourself, but please don’t wait for that to get started. If you do, it will never happen! Insisting that you are great at something before you get started is putting yourself in another impossible Catch-22 situation! Every famous musician had to start by plucking through the notes too.
      Thanks again for your discussion and question! I hope it helped. Eager to know your thoughts again if you share them. Thanks! Brett

  • Dave

    Great article Brett.

    I couldn’t agree more. Those first experience are often the hardest to come by and the most important part of starting a new career, hobby, or virtually any other endeavor. Furthermore, those experience are often where the bulk of the learning happens — somethings just can’t be taught in a classroom or verified with a standardized test.

    This is the very same reason we created Rebilder — to provide those crucial early experiences through 1-on-1 mentoring and hands-on experiences. We just opened our site to the public so please check it out. It’s a great way for those earlier in their journey to learn and experience a new field/skill, and a great opportunity for those with experience to share their knowledge while getting some help or making a few bucks in the process.




    If I had the time I write my own blog pointing out that really gen y should not be working for free to gain experience in any field. In the past this was necessary only for music/film industry. If you keep allowing established generations to rob the next one what will happen?! Poverty and then civil war that is what. Best way is to use social media as it should be and form unions and protest against this slavery. Even you do as this article suggests and actually succeed a age 50+ can easily be made redundant and then will be too old for any job anywhere.

    • Brett Rocket Scientist Post author

      Thanks for reading and submitting your commentary. I think I understand your concerns. There are many reasons to be unsatisfied and angry about current situations. There are also lower and fewer barriers to doing something about it, as you point out. The best thing, I believe, is to become a productive, ethical, and happy producer in a field you are passionate about and that uses your unique strengths. As someone who is getting closer to age 50 myself, I can see that work is not guaranteed or safe as it might have been assumed to be in the past. It will take initiative, creativity, and persistence for everyone as long as they want to be productive members of society. That will be true for people of every age. Helping younger people realize that and get some insightful tips is why I wrote the book.