I need experience to get a job, but I need a job to get experience. Ok, so you are telling me that I must get experience before I get experience? What's going on!? What’s up with all these “entry level” jobs that require 2 years of experience?
The answer: While a job will provide you with more valuable hands-on experience, it's not the only way to gain experience. In fact, there are several things that you could do to build your experience from scratch. Literally, from zero, from a blank piece of paper. How? Let’s dive straight in:
1. Reflect. Take a minute to reflect on your journey over the past few years. Think about the classes you took, the projects you presented in class and the concepts and specific knowledge you learned in class. Do not discount your studies; many people don’t realize that what you have accomplished in class is a part of your previous experience. Your lab work, your in-class proposals, your case analysis, and your research paper that you spent several days putting together - they all add to your experience. Here are some skills that you might have accumulated but didn't realize: research skills (quantitative or qualitative, or both), critical thinking skills, project management skills, analytical skills, and interpersonal & communication skills just to name a few.
2. Volunteer. Here’s a common misconception: Volunteer experience is totally irrelevant and not useful; employers don’t care about my volunteer experience! The truth is that if you are reading this, you are probably looking to land an entry level position, not an executive level senior position. In which case, volunteer experience does count and does make a difference. How much of a difference it makes completely depends on the nature of the volunteer work. For example, you could be volunteering at a car wash event, washing cars nonstop. This would be a great résumé entry under experience if you wanted to work in the car related industry for example. On the other hand, you could volunteer at the exact same car wash event but instead of washing cars, you could be overseeing the entire campaign and managing the operations. Now this would be excellent event / operations management experience that you could highlight on your résumé. There are many wonderful volunteer opportunities out there, and all you need to do sign up for those that will bring value towards building your profile.
3. Conferences & Workshops. This is a great way to build experience and learn the skills you need to get that entry level position you’ve been eyeing. It’s simple, we pormise. Do some brief research on the kind of entry level positions you’d like to try and the kinds of skills / qualifications they ask for. Next, go on Google or Bing, or whatever search engine you use, and type in the skill plus the word “workshop” or “conference”, and your city/location. For example, if you are looking for a job in the marketing sector and you are in Vancouver, then you might want to do a search for “marketing workshop Vancouver”. You will be amazed at how much you can learn from attending one of these events. If you haven’t attended any conferences or workshops before, you should definitely give it a try. Some of these events can be a bit pricey but there are many events that are completely free! For example, are you interested in cloud technology, or just tech in Vancouver in general? TractionForce2017 is a great free annual event that brings together not just tech leaders but business, marketing, and social impact leaders from organizations such as Dell, Mountain Equipment Co-Op, Vantage Point, Salesforce, Patagonia and more.
4. University Clubs. This is an awesome way to try new things and experiment! Why be a club member when you can utilize this chance to gain some experience by applying to be a club representative or one of the other positions available, such as club treasurer or public relations? Bonus points if you manage to work your way up to club vice president or president. Don't even think of it as a club; think of it as an organization, a company, a start-up. Now go and run that organization!
The first step is always the hardest.