Most people who have just set foot in the working world are “wet behind the ears” when it comes to professional experience. If you’re embarking on your first official job hunt, then you might be wondering: how can I land my first job when even entry-level jobs require professional experience? Whether you’re still a student or are already experiencing the joys of navigating today’s job market, you can still gain the professional experience you need to land the job you want.
If you’re still a student, one of the easiest ways to gain professional experience is to sign up for a co-op program or internship program. These programs are typically facilitated by your school, which then aims to match you up with a company or organization in your chosen field where you will work for a designated time period. As an intern or co-op student, you typically receive academic credit rather than a paycheck in exchange for your work.
Volunteering is another way to gain professional experience, whether you’re a student, unemployed, or currently employed. As a volunteer, you can usually get more flexibility with your time commitment than with an internship, which often requires the same eight-hour days from interns as from employees. Unlike interning, however, volunteering is often less challenging when it comes to gaining hands-on professional experience that is applicable to the type of job you’re preparing for. For example, an intern at a not-for-profit organization may have the opportunity to job shadow another employee and to engage in the same meetings and events as their colleagues, whereas a volunteer may be assigned tasks such as stuffing envelopes, where little on-the-job training is required.
Depending on the industry and type of position you are interested in, you can also gain professional experience through your own personal contacts. This is particularly effective if you’d like to gain professional experience in order to prepare for a career with self-employment/freelance potential, such as a consultant, writer, or designer. In this capacity, you could offer your services to a friend, family member, or colleague who also owns their own business, which would then allow you to feature ties to a professional organization on your resume.