The work experience conundrum can be infuriating. You can’t get a job because you don’t have work experience, and you can’t get work experience because no-one will give you a job.
Before you start going round in circles with this one, check out our top ten tips for getting work experience even without the work part!
Ask the Question
Firstly, be aware of exactly what type of work experience would benefit you most. Ask employers in your desired industry what experience would make them consider you more favourably. Ask them personally and write down what they say.
Maybe you already have the right experience
Now that you know exactly what is required, perhaps you already have it. Experience in a team environment, managing a project, interacting with the public, cash handling and even promoting an event may all be something you’ve done in the context of your school, sports group, church , club or community organisation. (There’s a great worksheet on this in the ‘Job Interview Success Book’).
Turn a failed job application into a successful work experience opportunity
If you’ve been knocked back after an interview due to lack of work experience, take the opportunity to ask for some. Getting to interview stage for the position means you are likely to be of use to the employer, so why not offer your services voluntarily for a time. Even if you didn’t make it to interview stage, don’t let this stop you asking for a work experience placement while you are in contact with the organisation.
You will need an assurance of a written record of work and a reference, subject to your performance.
Volunteering and Internships
When it comes to work experience, having been paid for it is not a requirement. Ask for volunteer opportunities in and around the position and industry that interests you. If nothing is available in your chosen field, look for a similar placement where you can obtain relevant skills. For example, if you want to work as a fitness instructor or personal trainer and no work is available at a gym, perhaps you can assist at a physio, sports centre or sporting goods store. Look for volunteer positions at industry trade shows and events, and make the most of the networking opportunity it offers.
If you need more general experience such as customer service or working with the public, this can be obtained from many organisations, including charities that are always in need of keen helpers. Commit to a reasonable time frame of at least a few months even if only part time and take any extra opportunities that come your way to increase your skills learned on the job.
An alternative to asking someone else to give you work experience is to generate your own. A community project is a great way to obtain work related skills as well as making a positive contribution to a good cause. Examples of community based projects you can organise yourself are beach clean ups, collections for the food bank, weeding a bush reserve, entertainment for a rest home, fundraiser for a school or playcentre, graffiti removal, gardening for the elderly, cemetery maintenance and anything else that benefits the community. Talk to your local council about any projects on public land as they will often assist with materials.
Work experience skills from organising a group of people to take part in a community initiative can include everything from project management and leading a team right through to meeting deadlines and problem solving.
This is a similar concept to the community project in that you gain documentable skills through managing a specific project through to completion. This could relate to a hobby or interest or specifically the position you hope to achieve. For example, if you are aiming for a position with a web design company, create a website for yourself or a friend to showcase your skills. If you are a member of a club, put your hand up to run the next event or ask to facilitate meetings, organise guest speakers or any other tasks that require workplace relevant skills.
Reach out to your community
Make it known that you’re looking for work experience by telling your friends, family and community contacts what you are after and how you can help. Neighbourhood social media pages where local businesses advertise are a great place to find work experience opportunities close to home.
Make your approach in person and treat it like a job interview
Don’t get your Mum to phone up for you! Phone or visit the organisation yourself and have a CV and contact information ready to leave or send. Present yourself appropriately for the workplace and go prepared with some knowledge of the business and a positive attitude.
When someone says yes!
When you get the opportunity to do work experience be respectful and show a good work ethic. Find out exactly what is expected. Ask for more work if you’ve finished. Be aware of health and safety issues
Don’t go away empty handed
Make sure you receive a written record of your work experience whether it was just for a day or several months. Ask for as much detail as possible and remind the person responsible of any extra tasks or challenges you took on and key achievements and skills mastered. It may also be appropriate to ask for a reference to add to your CV.
Not only does work experience give you a great insight into career choices, it can also be an entry point to a paid job.
Work experience gets your foot in the door, without an employer taking a risk on someone with limited or no experience. Of course, it’s up to you to prove yourself once you get this opportunity. When the organisation is hiring, you are now a familiar face, and hopefully, one they want to see more of!