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How to Gain Work Experience Without Having a Job: Helpful Tips and Tricks
October 16, 2017

So far in your Professional Development journey with the YALI Network, you’ve defined your long and short-term goals and identified the resources you’ll need to achieve them. You know what skills you have to offer, and you’ve even done the hardest work: figuring out the job or career you want. Now, there’s just one problem: you don’t have much experience in that field.

It’s a common problem that recent graduates and many people beginning a new career face. So what can you do to overcome the experience gap between your resume and the work you’re capable of?

First, remember that you’re not alone. Everyone who’s in the job market also began where you are now. Second, recognize that while starting this process can be challenging, working hard and taking the right steps will help you move forward.

Woman typing at a laptop
Courtesy of Pixabay.

Below, the YALI Network has collected some helpful tips so that whether you’re brand new to the job market or ready to start a new career path, you’ll have the tools and confidence to land a job that’s right for you.

Do your research

In order to figure out what work experience you’ll need, you first need to know a little more about the job you want. At this stage, you should be asking questions such as:

  • What special skills does your desired job require?
  • Will you need to complete any degrees or certificate programs before being hired?
  • How do the skills and experiences you already have relate to the job you want?
  • What skills or experiences are missing from your resume?

Knowing the answers to these types of questions can put you ahead of the game. They’ll help you determine the kind of experience you need and help you set specific goals. Here are some ideas to help you begin your job research:

  • Use available resources: The internet has some great tools and content to help you learn more about specific jobs and career paths. Are there any websites, blogs, or social media forums dedicated to the job you want? Are there any books that can teach you more about the field? The answer is probably yes.
  • Ask around: To gain more knowledge about your desired job or career path, seek out people who are already doing the work you see yourself doing. Get their insights. Ask for advice. How did they get their job? What was their career path? Can they give you any helpful advice or resources?

    Woman inspecting a young infant
    Courtesy of USAID.

Once you’ve answered these questions, you’re ready to seek out new work experience. But you don’t necessarily need a traditional, full-time job to do that. Instead, think about pursuing these options:

Become an intern

While internships may not come with a salary or the promise of a full-time job, they can be a great way to gain experience in a specific field and help you transition to something new. As an intern, you’ll gain valuable, relevant skills and direct workplace experience. Many internships offer school credit, and some are even paid or offer part-time opportunities. They can also help connect you to a network of professionals who may someday be able to hire you or provide a reference.

Volunteer for a cause

Volunteering is an excellent way to build experience and gain references while also helping your community. Volunteer for as much responsibility as you can. Many organizations don’t have the resources to fill necessary roles through full-time positions, so they need volunteers to help out. You’ll not only help a good cause, but you’ll develop tangible skills. A few examples:

  • If you’re trying to get a job in public health, try volunteering at a local clinic.
  • If you’re looking for fundraising or marketing jobs, volunteer at a local nonprofit.
  • If you want to become a teacher, volunteer at a local school.

Volunteering will help you get a foot in the door while building your professional network. What’s more: many employers rank volunteer service above college courses or school credit. Want to learn more about volunteering? Watch this video series to learn about the Joy of Volunteering.

Educate yourself

Some fields, such as law or medicine, require formal education and training. But many employers look for skills and experience rather than degrees or certificates. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to expand your knowledge in your field of interest outside the classroom: take online, non-credit courses or audit classes, enroll in special training or professional development or courses (such as YALI Network Online Courses), or just read about your favorite topic. When it comes to learning, the sky’s the limit.

YALI Network Member Tip: “If you can access a computer, you can learn every day. You can do it for free.” —Immaculate Willbroad Kyamanywa, Tanzania YALI Network member.

Expand your network

Group of people talking
Courtesy of USAID.

One of the best ways to gain new experience is by growing your professional network. To do that, try attending social gatherings, joining alumni networks or professional groups, or finding people you admire and asking them for informal meetings. Have your “asks” ready if they are willing to meet with you: Do their companies have any internships available? Would they be willing to mentor you? Could they refer you to another company or mentor in a similar field? The more people you meet, the more you increase your chances of connecting with a job opportunity.

Ask friends and family

Start thinking of your friends and family as part of your professional network. You’d be surprised how far you can get! Connect with everyone you know, and tell them you’re looking to gain work experience in your desired area. You never know when you might hear of an opportunity through a friend of a friend, or if someone you know can recommend you at their company.

Help on a new project

Sometimes, you can find experience at a job you already have or at an organization you’re already in. Maybe you notice that another department is understaffed or that a project could use an extra pair of hands. Offer your time and services (while being mindful of employer policies). You’ll not only demonstrate your positive attitude and eagerness to help, but you might make yourself an invaluable asset while acquiring new skills and competencies.

Do the work first

Employers don’t have a bias against junior employees, they just want to be sure you’re capable of doing the job. If you want an employer to hire you, try doing the work on your own first. Many people even apply to jobs with samples of the type of work they’d do if hired. Interested in business? Develop a business plan for a local business. Show off your leadership skills by coordinating a fundraiser for a charity or nonprofit. Any experience you gain is valuable, and will prove to hiring managers that you’re ready to succeed in a new role even without traditional work experience.

YALI Network Member Tip: “Being an entrepreneur means creating job opportunities where the are no jobs or filling a void in society. There are so many opportunities. Just go out there, find something you love, and do it.” — Nneamaka Faith Mokwe, Nigeria YALI Network member.

Create your own work

Can’t find the right opportunity? Create it yourself. Figure out how to turn your passions into experience. Become an entrepreneur and start a nonprofit or business, no matter how small. Maybe you notice a problem or challenge in your community. Figure out a solution and implement it. Even if it doesn’t turn into a full-time job, you’ll develop expertise you can put on your resume.

YALI Network Member Tip: “Don’t look for jobs, create them. Come up with innovative ideas, and continue learning. Use innovation to see solutions where there are none. I see every challenge as a business opportunity. Learn to do that.” —Aniella Niyondiko, Burundi YALI Network member.

Person sitting outside
Courtesy of USAID.

Think creatively

If you’re lacking traditional experience, find creative ways to present facts about yourself to highlight your skills in an unexpected way. If you find a place where your resume looks sparse, take a broader look at what you’ve done—clubs you’ve participated in, hobbies, volunteer work, events you’ve attended—and ask how any of those might be relevant to the job you want. What skills did you use in each of those activities? What did you accomplish?

Keep in mind that experience and skills can come from any area of your life. Perhaps you coach a sports team on the weekends. Or help manage your family’s farm. Or lead a youth group at your church. All of these activities demonstrate practical and even leadership skills that can be transferred to other jobs. Remember: be creative (but make sure all information you include is true).

Interested in taking the next step with your business? Check out our #YALIEntrepreneurs page.