Experience: The Catch 22 of Finding a Job
Whether you are fresh out of college or trying to change your career path mid-stream, the single most common issue you will face is the experience requirement. Even positions that were once considered entry-level are now posted requesting 1-2 years of experience. Some of this results from the current economy and the surplus of skilled workers available. The remaining portion stems from employers seeking individuals that are more likely to hit the ground running with minimal training. Understanding these factors, however, does not help a job seeker find a position. It may even serve a deterrent because it leaves you wondering, “How do I get experience if I can’t get a job?”
For the college student, the best way gain experience is to get into an internship or work-study program. Being sponsored by the school, you have a better chance of getting the position and you will be exposed to various aspects of the career you have chosen. This option provides a win-win situation, but these types of positions are usually short term and in short supply. If you are able to take advantage of an internship, you should never treat it lightly. The experience you gain will help find another position in the future. If you work hard enough, you may even make a lasting impression on the company and receive a job offer from them.
An option that is available to all job seekers is to become involved in a project as a volunteer. Granted this work will not pay the bills, but it will get you the experience needed to get a job that will. Regardless of your career path, there are always organizations that can use your help. One website that assists seekers in location volunteer positions is http://www.volunteermatch.org. VolunteerMatch serves as an intermediary connecting volunteers with groups and corporations with positions available. The site allows the volunteer to search according to category, the type of group they are interested in helping, and through the use of keywords. Most organizations will be willing to provide references to those who volunteer for them. After all, you took the time to help them; why shouldn’t they do something to help you. Even if they do not offer references, you can still add the experience to your resume.
As a software developer, I am familiar with a number of Open Source initiatives that are seeking volunteers. Unfortunately, most people think that these opportunities are only for developers. While the focus of the project may require coding skills, there are many other aspects that do not. One of the most needed positions in these initiatives is that of a technical writer. Every application requires clear, concise documentation for it to be successful. While many developers are capable of writing instructions, we are prone to leave out important pieces that seem obvious, but are actually foreign concepts for many who will be using the software. A related position would be that of an editor. There are few things more frustrating than finding numerous grammatical errors in documentation. At the very least, it leads the user to wonder if the program has as many bugs as the documentation. A final example of a non-programmer position is a Quality Tester. Some of the best testing personnel I have known had very little programming knowledge, but they were experts in testing procedures and/or the functions the software was supposed to provide. Much as with documentation, the developers are usually too close to the code to see the potential issues that could arise while using the software. This is not a slight to developers; no one can ever think of every possible issue.
There is also an option that provides a paycheck and experience, but it is much more work than people believe. Consulting or freelance employment opportunities are abundant if you know where to look for them. Website such as vWorker.com, freelancer.com, Elance.com, and Guru.com provide great resources for finding this type of position. The difficulties in gaining experience (and a paycheck) through freelance opportunities lies in the fact that you will need knowledge of more than your primary job function. You will be responsible for accounting, marketing, and all other aspects of your career. It is not an easy path, but it can be very rewarding.
This article does not provide a complete list of options for gaining experience, but it does provide some useful ideas on how to break the cycle and acquire some. The key thing to remember is experience comes from everything you do and not just from what you do on the job. If there is a career you are passionate about you can make it your hobby, or perhaps turn your hobby into a career. Either way, the things you do in your own can still be added to your portfolio as valuable evidence of your capabilities.