Or How To Increase Your Chances of Getting a Job
In my previous article “How to Turn Your Life Experience Into A Great Resume”, I provided some tips for filling in those blank spaces in your resume. But what happens if that experience isn’t enough? How else can you get the right sort of experience employers will pay attention to?
Fortunately, there are several ways of getting that hard won work experience. I have listed three, but there are many ways of achieving the same thing, so if these don’t help, you should be able to come up with others.
Warning! This is no magic silver bullet. You have to have courage and tenacity, and may need to step out of your comfort zone. That old saying that there is no such thing as a free lunch is so true. But if you put in the effort and work hard, there is every chance that the experience you gain will help you on your journey towards that first (or new) job.
Some people seem to think that networking is what pushy or sleazy salespeople do to get you to buy something you don’t want. Real networking is when you help someone achieve what they are trying to do and they help you do the same.
When you are looking for opportunities to build your skills, the best place to start is with people you know. Ask them for ideas about where you might get an internship, apprenticeship or work experience. Most people, if you ask them nicely, will want to help you out. At some stage though you will probably have to talk to someone you don’t know about getting work experience.
Not everyone is comfortable with asking other people for help or advice, especially if they didn’t know that person in the first place. This is where the courage bit comes in (and a bit of smarts).
Your goal is to set up a short meeting with either a specific manager in the company you’ve chosen or the HR manager. Plan what you are going to say before you ring the receptionist to ask for an appointment. An example might be:
“Hi. I’m (say your name) and I’d like to make an appointment with the HR Manager. It should only take 15 minutes of their time.”
Fifteen minutes should be all you need. Most managers are very busy people so asking for more time than that increases the chance they will say no.
The receptionist will want to know what the meeting is about, so be sure to have an answer ready if they ask. It is best to be up front and explain the purpose of the meeting.
Accept whatever meeting time you are offered. It may not feel like it to you, but your schedule is much more likely to be flexible than the manager’s schedule will be.
Come to the meeting prepared to talk very little and listen a lot. Explain that you are trying to get work experience and you would be grateful for any advice they might have. They may ask you to tell them a little about yourself and what you are interested in. That's fine, but be sure to keep your response short. You don't have much time and you want them to share their wisdom and knowledge with you, not the other way around.
If the person you are meeting with doesn't have any specific ideas for getting a paid work experience job, you can prompt them by asking if they know of any place where you might be able to work for free or volunteer. I'll explain those ideas a bit more in a moment.
Say Thank You
Most people will try to think of something that will help you. Once they’ve finished giving their advice thank them politely and leave. A nice touch would be to follow up with a thank you card or email.
Tip 1: Work For Free For A Month
If you can't find a work experience job, another alternative is to offer to work for nothing for a month in what would normally be a paid job. Even two weeks would be useful, but the longer the time period the easier it is for businesses to accept your offer. That’s because even though you might be working for nothing, someone still has to think up something for you to do and supervise your work. You need to stick around long enough to make that effort worth their while (although you do want to put a limit on how long you are prepared to work for free).
During that month (or however long it is), be curious and learn as much as you can about the organization. Show up on time and find ways to make your supervisor’s life easier. Trust me, they will appreciate it! They will also be much more likely to think of you if a paid job comes up at a later time. When you finish, ask your supervisor if they would be willing to write you a letter of recommendation, outlining your responsibilities and what kind of worker you were.
The brilliant thing about this approach is that it will introduce you to various types of jobs in that organization. That, in turn, can help you in deciding what type of career you might like.
Tip 2: Volunteer At A Not-For-Profit Organisation
There are so many not-for-profit organisations that desperately need your help. Of course, they can’t pay you, but that’s not the point. The point is that you have a very high chance of working with older (and younger) people who have lots of experience and are volunteering because they want to give something back to the community. You will be able to learn from them and…just maybe…you might be able to teach them something in return.
I know of someone who volunteered to clean up some audio and video files so they could be put up on the not-for-profit organization’s website for people to access. The person didn’t know how to do that when they started, so they had to teach themselves how to use the software. The organization was so impressed with the end result that they ended up asking him to do more AND they offered to pay him for it.
There are pros and cons to working as a volunteer and you may be interested in reading fellow InfoBarrel writer Economist's article about them. I believe the pros outweigh the cons by a significant margin. Working as a volunteer shows initiative on your part, as well as good community spirit. You will gain experience in ways you never expected. And, while similar to the “work for free” idea above, working as a volunteer can be done for either short or long periods of time.
Again, remember to ask your supervisor for a letter of recommendation. You can quote from it in your resume and/or cover letter, or you can attach it to your resume. A letter of recommendation will typically say what kind of work you did, for how long and how good of a worker you were.
You can also ask your supervisor if they will act as a referee for you when you apply for jobs. This can be useful if your letter of reference is more than a year or two old.
Tip 3: Help Out At A Church Or Community Group
Maybe you belong to a church or community group that runs programs. They might be programs for young people or programs to assist others in the community that need help. Whether you take on a position of responsibility or just do whatever needs doing doesn’t matter. The experience you can gain can be used to build your resume.
I know two young people whose experience in volunteering with their church youth group helped them get a volunteer job working with youth in Europe. They worked hard as overseas volunteers, but on their days off they were able to travel and explore the surrounding area. The valuable experience they gained overseas then helped them get work when they came back home.
There are so many ways you can build work experience. The most important thing is to start looking for those opportunities now. Ask people for advice about how you might get work experience and where you should look. Offer to work for free for a short period of time. Volunteer at a not-for-profit organisation and give back to the community at the same time as you are learning new skills. Help out at your local church or community group. You’ve probably heard the old saying, “the harder I work, the luckier I get.” Well, it’s true.
Networking your way into work experience is definitely possible.
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