How to Get Work Experience, Even If You Can’t Get Work

    A lack of relevant experience is one of the most common reasons young professionals are denied employment. And, this reason often leaves the intrepid interviewee wondering, “How can I get experience if everyone tells me I need experience before they will hire me?” Add a job market that includes many seasoned professionals looking for work and more Gen Y-ers find themselves fighting for scraps of experience.

    Though traditional work experience is preferred, there are many other ways members of Generation Y can gain real world experience that they can reference during an interview. Having examples that show you are proactively taking steps to gain experience can score big points with prospective employers.

    Unpaid Internship
    Although the thought of “working for free” may not appeal to you, or your landlord, it can create an opportunity. A company may be willing to bring on a bright young mind if it is at no cost to them. Doing so will not only lighten the full-time staff’s load, but you will also be able to show your abilities and demonstrate your value. Having this unpaid job also positions you at the top of the list should a full-time opportunity become available.

    Be careful. Though you want to do great work, you don’t want this unpaid role to get in the way of securing salaried employment. As you continue your interview process to find paid employment, your internship will provide you references that prospective employers can call to see how wonderful you really are.

    And let’s not forget, the unpaid position will provide you the valuable work experience you’ve been looking for!

    Volunteer at a Nonprofit
    Nonprofits are always looking for volunteers to help with day-to-day activities and on-site support. These organizations also provide an opportunity for hands-on engagement, like coordinating a blood drive or managing a team of volunteers. These are skills you can market to potential employers to highlight your leadership and organizational skills.

    Beyond the work experience, your time at a nonprofit tells potential employers that you are a driven individual. You could have spent the time sitting on your couch pitying yourself, but instead you created an opportunity to gain experience and business skills. This is a trait all hiring managers seek in candidates.

    And lastly, let’s not forget volunteering and giving back to your community is a noble act and is something in which you can take pride.

    Take a Class
    With the number of unemployed at near-record levels, anything you can do to differentiate yourself from the competition will pay off. Taking a continuing education class allows you to learn a skill or hone an existing skill set.

    You can often find such courses in your backyard. If you are in a city with a university, college or community college, they likely have a continuing education curriculum for working professionals. Depending on the field in which you are interested in working, you may also find relevant opportunities with a local professional society, or at your local park district or place of worship.

    Some continuing education courses can be expensive, so choose wisely. If you are unsure, you can contact the instructor in advance to get a better understanding of a class and its focus. You should also ask if there is a discount for unemployed professionals looking to enter the workforce.

    Although gaining experience is critical to landing a job, it also helps you determine what you like and don’t like doing. Maybe landing an unpaid internship at your “dream job” will show you that you really don’t want to work there after all. Likewise, the personal satisfaction you get from volunteering at a nonprofit could turn into a career or personal passion you embrace for the rest of your life.

    Many members of Generation Y are finding it difficult to get critical real-world experience, but there are opportunities out there! By taking a new perspective on “experience,” young professionals can equip themselves for their career and better position themselves for their next interview.

    Michael Perrone is vice president and general manager of Detroit operations for Cbeyond, a small business communications provider, and is a proud member of Generation Y. You can reach him at [email protected].

    Previous articleLeadership is about Life in Society
    Next articleNomination: Michigan Economic Bright Spots
    Richard Blanchard
    Rick is the Managing Editor of Corp! magazine. He has worked in reporting and editing roles at the Port Huron Times Herald, Lansing State Journal and The Detroit News, where he was most recently assistant business editor. A native of Michigan, Richard also worked in Washington state as a reporter, photographer and editor at the Anacortes American. He received a bachelor of arts from the University of Michigan and a master’s in accountancy from the University of Phoenix.