Are you tired of seeing job ads that ask for 30 years experience when it is an entry-level job? We are too but unfortunately, we cannot control what companies write as their requirements. However, we can help you figure out how to get job experience when you are starting out in a career.
Get Job Experience
Before we get into our tips, you should understand why employers are asking for experience. It is not likely that they make these requirements solely to cut out the young applicants, they have reasons. For instance, employees with experience bring existing knowledge that is applicable to the position. Knowledge holds a lot of power at work and employers know this. By hiring candidates with previous experience, they introduce new knowledge to their workforce and can leverage that knowledge to make improvements.
New employees that get job experience in their industry may also have better performance from day one. Since these new hires have worked in the field they know what to expect, what the workload is like, how things work in general, etc. This leads to faster integration since the employee knows the work and just needs to figure out the workplace-specific processes. An employee with no experience would need to get accustomed to both the workload and the workplace.
Is it always the case that someone with experience is a better hire than someone brand new to the field? Not at all. But when it comes time for a company to hire, they need to think of how to maintain the highest level of productivity while introducing the new employee. As an applicant, you need to find ways to prove you can keep their productivity intact. To help you do this, here are five ways to get job experience when you are starting out.
An easy way to get job experience in a particular field is to volunteer at a local level. Volunteering allows you to gain first-hand knowledge of the industry, expand your network, and start making a name for yourself. Volunteer opportunities are endless and always available which makes them a great option for building experience. For example, if you are interested in working in healthcare, volunteer at a retirement home. Even if you are working on events for the residents or cleaning the home you are building empathy and understanding of what that industry takes.
Another example is for those interested in policing. Obviously, you cannot just start arresting people or investigating crimes as you will end up on the wrong side of the law. Instead, volunteer at events like marathons and offer to be a traffic control person. It is not the most glamorous part of being in policing but most officers have been there at some point. These tasks build your people skills, aide your stress management skills, and improve your ability to be on your feet all day.
While not feasible for everyone because of the costs that are often involved, volunteering abroad offers opportunities to experiment in your field and get job experience. Overseas volunteers can be on either a short-term or long-term basis, though the most worthwhile opportunities are longer term. When employers are looking for experience, they often want long-term experience so these volunteer posts are a great solution.
Volunteer experiences overseas not only give you job experience but also a new work environment and viewpoint. A great example of this is our interviewee, Eileen. She spent time in Nepal doing acupuncture after she did her education in Canada but before starting her practice. Acupuncture is more common in countries like Nepal so she was able to get job experience in a very positive environment and see the results of acupuncture across many people and conditions.
Unlike volunteering, job shadowing is typically very short-term, even as little as a single day. They why do we suggest this option? Because of the depth of experience and knowledge you get from it.
When you job shadow someone, you are spending a day or more with them at their job. You are able to witness what it is like to do that job and may even get a chance to do some work yourself. More than that, you are able to ask questions and learn about their career. All of this builds your understanding and awareness of the industry. You may not compete with other job applicants who have long-term experience but you will stand your own in an interview when asked about your knowledge. In some cases, that may be the edge you need.
Internship and Co-ops
We are big believers in co-op and internship programs so we had to include it on this list. Internships and co-op jobs usually last anywhere from 4- to 12- months and can be paid or unpaid.
These jobs are great because they provide the employee with a chance to get job experience day in and day out. Most of that experience is hands-on as well. In fact, if your internship consists of you photocopying papers while you watch the regular employees longingly, you need to talk to your boss or your placement coordinator. If you have studied in the field, then there should always be some real work for you to do. It may not be what you want to be doing but it should be real work.
You may be even able to “create your own” co-op job in a sense. If there are no jobs that spike your interest on the school job board, it is time to take matters into your own hands. First, check with your placement coordinator to see if you are able to find your own placement. Leave the option for regular placements open just in case. Second, approach people in your network and pitch them the idea of you interning for a short period in order to give them access to your skills. Make sure they know how your presence will benefit them. Finally, connect your new employer to your placement coordinators so they can address the logistics together. Be sure to stay in those conversations as much as possible to avoid anything falling through! No need to lose your hard work.
Of course, we do need to say “beware.” Some internships and co-op jobs are unpaid. While unfortunate, it is a reality. Consider how much job experience you will get from it and compare that to the financial burden. Is it worth it? Then take it. Not able to afford 4+ months without pay? Move onto to someone who pays. There is no shame in that and you could find an even better placement that comes with a paycheque.
Entry Level Jobs
This is the one no one wants to think about but if we are being realistic, entry-level jobs are a great way to get job experience. When you work from the bottom up, you learn a lot along the way.
Entry-level jobs require a long-term commitment to the job and sometimes the career path if the skills are not transferable. These jobs tend to be more physically demanding which means you may feel drained. However, the commitment and demands of the job may make you appreciate any future success that much more.
While some entry-level to professional career paths are straightforward or common like a dishwasher to a chef, or a tutor to a teacher, or even a data entry clerk to a statistician, others might surprise you. It is possible to learn a great deal about architecture if you work for a while in building construction. Perhaps your time as a janitor will make you realize what buildings need to run well and you later become a building manager. The possibilities are endless, you just need to figure out what experience or skills you need to get where you want to be, then find an entry-level job that will get you the job experience.
So when you are applying for a job and see a requirement for experience, reflect on the volunteering, job shadowing, and entry-level work you have done. Could any of that job experience apply to what they are asking for? If so, add it! If you don’t know how to frame this experience on your resume, sign-up for our newsletter to receive our “Guide to the Modern Resume.” It will help you highlight your experience regardless of how much you have.
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