We have all been there. You find the perfect job advertised. The conditions are great, competitive package, interesting challenges, and a fantastic company. And the profile of their ideal candidate—they might as well have written a description of you.
But scan a few more paragraphs and there it is—the deal-breaker: experience wanted.
It is one of the great frustrations of getting your foot on to the career ladder. Many entry-level jobs, despite being entry-level, will still stipulate some kind of experience: a year or two of putting your theoretical training into practice in the workplace. It is a shorthand way of showing your potential employer that you have what it takes to hit the deck running if you secure that job interview.
But how do you gain the experience you need in order to get that first job? How do you get that first job to acquire the experience it demands? Sounds like a no-win situation. But it need not be.
In fact there a plenty of ways you can notch up the experience to get that all important first interview, here are three suggestions.
Internships sometimes come in for a bad press: working for little or no compensation might not sound like an attractive option. But take a moment to think through the advantages.
Take charge of your internship options by shortlisting the companies that you would most like to work for. Do a little research and identify those organizations that most closely map to what you are looking for in a career. Why not approach some of these companies? Get in touch with the HR department and let them know that you are interested in expanding your skill set. Let them know what you can do and, most importantly, think about what you can offer them (that maybe nobody else can.) You never know. The very company that you work for might just end up hiring you if you meet their expectations.
Make internship work for you by being proactive about your experience. If you do get an internship in a great company, be sure to take full advantage to learn as much as you can. Connect with other employees and start building a solid network. Be sure to ask questions, build up your knowledge, and professional competences. And why not find out if they have a mentorship program – and really optimize your time there.
Many companies run mentorship programs for new recruits and interns. Some companies even run mentoring workshops and activities for non-employees and students as part of their giving back activities. Finding a good mentor, who can share best practices, practical insight, knowledge, as well as advice can make all the difference to your skills set and your outlook.
All it takes is a little field research and a willingness to reach out and ask for the right opportunity. And there is nothing to be lost by contacting a company of your choice and asking them if they would be willing to consider mentoring. What do you have to lose by asking: nothing. What do you stand to gain: a fast track to knowledge and most importantly, experience. You can schedule an informational interview as a way to initiate the conversation and learn more before asking someone to be your mentor.
You can also take initiative and try to mentor someone who is junior to you. You might not have experience working in the professional world, but you can offer guidance for education, a sport, etc. Employers will view this experience, if you do it right, as a sign of leadership and initiative. Two qualities that are highly admired and sought after.
How many non-profits are there in your vicinity that need help? Maybe they need technical support or someone to trouble-shoot technical problems that arise? Perhaps they could do with a hand creating a network.
Do not know the answers to the questions above? You should definitely do your research and find out.
Volunteering is a great way to put your skills to practice, pick up really valuable experience, as well as having an opportunity learning out about different sectors and industries. Whether it is a school, a hospital, a charity, or a project, there is a chance you will learn about a new industry. And also notch up plenty of hands-on experience you can attest to further down the line. You will not only gain valuable experience but you will have the satisfaction of giving something back.
Live the Experience
Whether it is an internship, mentorship, volunteering project, or even participation in a competition – there are plenty of ways to build your experience. You can even gain experience by trying your hand at being a technopreneur – combining entrepreneurship with your technical skills. You can also get in touch with your local academy to find out about any opportunities or programs in your region.
Gaining experience is not just about waiting for the right job to come along. It is also about seizing the initiative to learn, to try something new, to hone existing skills and gain new ones. So you can add tangible value to your resume. And remember that most employers see initiative as a plus. Make the most of each opportunity that arises