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How to get experience in anything: management, website design, marketing, decide.

Updated on April 21, 2011

Frustrated trying to gain experience in Accounting? Public Relations? Management? Sales? Communications? Teaching? Marketing? Event Planning? Do you need to find work to build a portfolio in Medical Writing? Professional Writing? Journalsim? Graphic Design? Website Design? How can you gain experience when no one will hire you without it?

It's easy enough to get discouraged in your job hunt during a stagnant economy and hiring freezes. Many people find themselves stuck in a Catch 22; they are looking to move up in their careers, or change direction, and can't get an interview without relevant experience in an area they've had no opportunities in. You're not alone. Everyone else in your position is looking at those job requirements and saying the same thing, "How can I get experience when no one will hire me without it?"

It will take some time, but you can build experience in these areas, even without the opportunity to do them at your job. And in doing so, you will often show a unique strength of character and motivation that can further set you apart from a stack of applicants.

Organizations that WILL give you an opportunity

Non-profit organizations: Yes, volunteering. You would be amazed at how many opportunities for real experience in so many skilled professions, are being given away! Just for your time and willingness to contribute. These are excellent ways to, not only build a portfolio, or gain real-world experience, but also add quality, character, and a voice to your resume. Most communities have a volunteer-search page, or a city volunteer website. But, if not, search for non-profits and charities in your area that interest you. The local domestic violence support agency may be looking for:

  • writing of public service information to distribute at community outreach activities, writing press releases = professional writing experience, communications experience
  • organization of a community outreach activity = project management experience, event planning experience
  • design of a new logo, a new website, or an internet application for their cause = website design experience, graphic design experience, computer application development experience
  • bookkeeping and funds allocation for their donations = accounting experience, finance experience
  • management of local chapter/volunteers to organize and lead, delegate activities, track progress, measure success of initiatives = management experience
  • hosting/MC of a local fundraising event = public relations experience
  • fundraising and finding sponsors = sales experience

I did a quick search, just in my local area, and here are some examples of volunteer postings I found, perfect for people looking to gain experience or build a portfolio:

  • Grant Writer (environmental education and awareness organization) Required Qualifications: "Demonstrated ability to produce clear, concise and compelling narrative and numeric text, computer-literate, self-directed with a talent for collaboration and an ability to produce under deadline."

  • Development Coordinator (community assistance and outreach) Description: "provide support for fundraising strategies that generate revenue (including special events), work closely with the Executive Director to coordinate a work plan which helps to ensure the success of the agency's activities, work with individuals, businesses and charitable foundations to raise awareness of United Ministries, needs and goals, increase the contributions of those individuals and groups by building relationships and exploring new fundraising ideas." Imagine those skills and achievements on a resume.

  • Website Designer (youth education and empowerment organization) Requesting a "creative person to design an innovative website for an innovative project!"

  • Business Services Intern (volunteer management organization) This opportunity offers a little bit of everything in terms of experience: "provide administration support for our Business Relations department, gain experience in marketing, communications, customer service, and database management, assist in the creation of marketing collateral for general BVU services and specific programs for the business community and helping to create an external communications plan for business members (including writing articles for a monthly newsletter and other communications material)."

  • Public Relations and/or Fundraising (charter school for at-risk youth) "We can use help from addressing envelopes to writing grants or taking pictures or planning fundraisers, the position can be as creative as the volunteer wants- as we have opportunities to help with websites, brochures, fundraising, and more."

  • Website Editing and Computer Networking (charitable farm) If you already know website editing from your own experience, and need outside experience for resume and skills-building, this 100% donation-based farm needs someone "who is proficient in website editing and/or someone who is able to assist us in networking our computers."

  • Project Advisor (youth hostel) Key Responsibilities: "establish and maintain relationships with community youth groups and organizations, facilitate meetings with participating organizations." Initial Impact: "help foster relationships throughout local community, provide opportunity for cultural exchange." Benefits: "attend unveiling reception, resume/portfolio building experience, letter of reference upon completion, networking with local community members."

  • Member of Speakers Bureau (food bank) "responsibilities include going out into the community to promote, educate, and spread information about the organization."

  • Communications Outreach Volunteer (after-school and summer programs for youth education) Skills building in: Communications, Social Media, Graphic Design. Required Qualifications: "Enjoy being creative, knowledge of social media, including Facebook, familiarity with the various methods of electronic communication, ability to design invitations, flyers, and other materials." Main Duties" Assess our current outreach effort and advise on ways to improve outreach, including modifying our Facebook page, designing e-blasts and newsletters, help with project specific efforts, including designing invitations to special events."

"A great way to gain skills in an industry is to volunteer. Many employers are looking for employees who have volunteered to gain work experience. Social advocacy, civic and social associations are especially likely to provide "would be" employees with opportunities to volunteer to gain experience."

Community Advocates for Family & Youth

Needless to say, there were countless other postings from organizations eager to find motivated volunteers to help with their efforts. Some organizations prefer some experience in certain areas, but do not require it. Overall, they all state that the most important qualification is a passion for helping the organization.

It's important to search for an organization you are interested in. Having an invested interest in the goal of the organization will not only enhance your experience, but it will also come across quite positively when you are able to genuinely and enthusiastically describe to your potential employer, the key roles you played and positive changes you made in the organization during your time there.

Try searching Google for a directory of volunteer postings (,,

Look for local chapters of national organizations, such as the United Way or Red Cross (I searched the Red Cross New York chapter as an examples, look at all the opportunities here)

Look for professional societies and associations in your area. They are often times looking for volunteers to help with meetings, press releases, social media, fundraising and more. It may not be posted on their site, but there is usually an email or phone contact to inquire about how you can help.

So will designing one website on a volunteer-basis land you a job in website design? No, of course not. Will you get a job in sales because of a six-week stint in fundraising? I don't think so. But these opportunities do add valuable skills and experience to your resume and are there for the taking. If you invest time in making true contributions to these organizations by utilizing valuable skills, that experience will be recognized on your CV. You will also gain valuable references from the organizations you work with. Additionally, you can use work you have created for your professional portfolio.

I used the local Baltimore website for the examples listed above:

Ways to gain experience you didn't know were there, at your current job

Depending on your work environment, you may be able to create opportunities to gain experience, that aren't currently there.

You could offer to create a Facebook/Twitter page, and manage it for your organization. (social media and communications experience)

If you work with patients in a healthcare setting, you could offer to create a patient satisfaction committee. You can organize members, create surveys, track progress, hold meetings, give presentations and measure success of the program. (management experience)

Would an employee information or employee safety committee benefit your team? (management experience, employee relations experience)

What about organizing a volunteer group in your work department? You can recruit members, decide on volunteer projects, chose organizations to work with, create schedules, and motivate your team. (teamwork and management experience)

You can start a company newsletter for employees, or a customer newsletter for clients. Write articles and recruit writers. (writing experience, communications experience)

On top of all of that, you can add your role of creating the whole program for your organization to your achievements at the company.

Does the employee handbook need re-written/updated? Is there an employee handbook? Does your company deal with medical protocols? Would a training manual for new employees be helpful? You can volunteer to create customer information packets, brochures, or press releases. These may be things on your boss's "to-do" list, and they would welcome your offer to assist with them. Not only does your boss appreciate the help, now you have more experience in writing and communications.

Remember, when offering to do these projects, you don't want to ask to be compensated for them. The opportunity to gain this experience is the value of the project, and your co-workers will appreciate your motivation and initiative.

Other companies, associations and networking

Offering your work for free to other companies and associations:

Find businesses or professional societies that are in your industry, or an industry of interest. Introduce yourself, let them know what you're interested in, your current qualifications, and offer ideas of what you may be able to do for them, for free. They may have a company blog that you could write articles for. They may need someone to author an instructional manual for their new product, or someone to assist in a trade show. Be honest, tell them you are looking to build a portfolio or gain experience in a certain field, and be sure to give them the (true) reasons for them to have confidence in your work. Maybe your boss or a colleague can serve as a reference to your work. With a good company and a good worker, it is a win-win situation. Again, you can gain great references, as well as industry contacts (always valuable to have).


If you would like to invest the money, adding certifications to your experience is always helpful. Post-graduate degrees, diplomas and certifications are available online from reputable schools. There are also many professional societies that certify members who take a self-study course and then pass a test. Some societies hold 1-3 day workshops yearly that can result in certifications. I have seen great programs online for Project Management, Regulatory Affairs, Public Relations and Marketing, Writing, and more. Many community colleges and extension schools also offer classes that you can take, without enrolling in a diploma or degree program. Just taking a few classes in Marketing or Management can strengthen your resume and exhibit your dedication and motivation in the field. Just be sure to do your research on the organization offering the program/certification. You want to spend your money wisely and be sure you are earning a certification that adds real value to your resume and skill set.


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