Getting work experience and climbing onto the career ladder has always been a difficult task, but in these hard economic times of high unemployment rates, you need a gleaming resume to stand out from the crowd of people fighting for even the most basic jobs. College students are often particularly disadvantaged as they do not have time to work a full-time job, and therefore, often lack any relevant experience or marketable skills when they later fully enter the job market. Getting some work experience without having a full-time job is therefore veritable gold dust for students who want to dive straight into the world of work after graduation.
Official US figures show that there are at least 3 people fighting for each job opening, but that statistic isn’t even the worst of it. College graduates all over the developed world are finding work hard to come by, with 85 graduates competing for each graduate job opening in the UK. So how do you get the right experience (or indeed any experience) to prove yourself and move to the top of the pile?
Not everybody is lucky enough to have the right family connections, but sometimes, you can be surprised with how far you can get by asking your family and friends for some work experience. Just by putting the word out there, you might hear back from an over-concerned aunt or nice family friend about a work opportunity that would otherwise pass you by. For example, your brother’s girlfriend’s sister’s best friend’s husband might just be able to put a good word in for you for an intern position at his office if he hears through the grapevine that you’re looking for some work.
There is no harm in dreaming big as long as you keep your expectations in check, so why not bounce off a few emails, tweets or even snail-mail letters to your dream employers asking for work experience? Your pleas may fall upon deaf ears, but some people get lucky if they are imaginative and persistent enough in their pursuit. Dazzle them with your brilliance (or sheer desperation) and something might just come of it.
Certain minority or disadvantaged groups often do not realize that there are access schemes run by both big business and the government to help them get on the career ladder. If you are from a minority ethnic group or are disabled, then wise up to affirmative action opportunities that are out there waiting to be grasped.
To paraphrase The Social Network, inventing a job is better than finding a job. If you cannot find the perfect part-time job or if you cannot get work experience opportunity, then why not create one for yourself? Whether you are selling hand-knitted puppets on Etsy or printing and pressing t-shirts from your garage, turn it into an official incorporated business and put it on your resume. No matter how silly and small your business pursuit may seem, it says a lot to prospective employers about your entrepreneurial skills, imagination, and willingness to take risks and pull yourself up by your bootstraps.
Businesses often do not have the time or money for official internships, but will sometimes allow you to shadow someone for a week or two to learn how things work in their particular business or industry. Fire off a couple of letters or emails to prospective businesses and place particular emphasis on how your presence will not be cumbersome and how beneficial it will be for you to learn from the best (a little flattery goes a long way). Shadowing is great because although it is not direct work experience, it allows you to make connections and contacts while getting the feel for a particular industry or field.
Freelance work is great for aspiring writers or designers who want to build a portfolio, and the flexible work hours are fantastic for busy students. The Internet is an ocean of employment opportunities, so head online and see if you can get work experience from the comfort of your own sofa. There are even unskilled work opportunities on the web that can be spun on a resume to sound better than they actually are. Proofreading email templates or filling in paid surveys are not the most exciting jobs in the world, but they demonstrate that you are willing to work hard, dedicate yourself and manage your time well.
Charities almost always need volunteers, so why not earn some good karma as well as good work experience by volunteering a couple of hours of your time each week? Doing something as simple as working in a charity shop, for example, can really make a difference for a cause, and also can give you truly valuable retail experience. It is a textbook win-win situation. Best of all, most charities are pretty flexible with their volunteering hours, so you can fit the work around your own schedule.
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