You’ve invested in your career development throughout your studies and now it’s time to kick start your professional life by gaining some valuable work experience. But as many graduate students hit the pavement, armed with degrees and qualifications to kickstart their career, they often find the market harsher than what they expected.
Degrees no longer hold the power they once did. Nowadays, it’s no longer just about “What’s been learned” so much as “How has that knowledge been put to use in action?”. In other words, it’s all about what sort of work experience the job hunter has. Moreover, given the increase in job seekers and talent as well as the global economic climate, setting yourself apart from the competition in order to stand out can be tricky.
But even if graduation is just around the corner, and you're panicking because you feel you have little or no work experience, don’t despair! In fact, you may have more experience than you realise, meaning experience gained through volunteer experiences, student or community initiatives or even your own hobbies and avocations. Regardless, here are a few steps to tackle the work-experience challenge after graduation by following a few simple tips…
Gain work experience through part-time / temp jobs
Don’t underestimate the value of part-time working and temp jobs. These types of work have the potential to lead to great things! For one thing, it will add to your CV, avoiding any gaps. For another, you’ll be able to improve your skills and expertise in the field that you are looking to gain work experience.
Moreover, new opportunities will pop up, as you put yourself in the right environment, whilst acquiring evidence of attributes and skills that graduate recruiters look for: punctuality, a work ethic, communication, resilience etc. The moment an employer spots talent and potential, there’s always a door that will open. A simple job search on a job site like Zoek, for example, will give you a lot of options and a good place to kickstart your application process right away as well as career advice tips.
As a student, it’s very likely you’ll come across the term ‘transferable skills’ at some point. Transferable skills are defined as a certain set of general skills that can be transferred between jobs or industries. And those you develop as you progress through employment, education or training. Communication, problem-solving, creativity and teamwork are only a few examples of transferable skills that you may have already gained through education. Prospective employers really value these skills not only because they can be used in various ways in the workplace but also because they set strong indicators of a work ethic etiquette.
As such, being aware of those skills and emphasising on them, when looking to gain work experience is crucial as it can automatically help you to stand out. Presenting your transferable skills correctly can go a long way to persuading a potential employer, you’re the perfect fit for their role by proving you have the work experience required. Therefore, once you identify what transferable skills you have, ensure that you incorporate them into your CV, demonstrating how you have used them in a specific scenario (i.e. throughout your studies, courses or even hobbies).
Use your available resources
When searching to gain valuable work experience using any resources available is of crucial importance and great help. Take some time to think about people who could help you, such as professors, classmates, neighbours, or even relatives and friends. Utilising your networking connections can go a long way so don't be hesitant to get in touch, drop them a message on LinkedIn or take them out for coffee and ask for guidance and advice.
In addition, every school, college or university has a career centre available to students and grads. These centres provide very useful services, such as career advice, workshops and job leads.
Find a mentorship programme
Another great way of gaining work experience is through a mentorship programme. Unfortunately, there isn't a mentor's directory that you can refer to, automatically directing you to a suitable list of names. However, a good place to start with is alumni. Alumni often donate their valuable time to offer careers support to students and recent graduates through innovative schemes, work shadowing and professional networking opportunities.
These can enhance your experience in a practical way by learning new tools and best practices, relevant to the industry you are eager to enter. Moreover, that will give you that competitive edge in today’s tough jobs market. Another alternative could be career coaches. A lot of established career coaching professionals and consultants can be found and contacted via social media platforms such as LinkedIn and Twitter.
While it may not be the most financially rewarding route, taking up an internship can really help in your early career when you lack work experience. Even a few weeks on an unpaid internship can set a strong indicator of willingness, focus, determination and desire to succeed in your industry.
Doing an internship will not only give you a taste of what to expect from the working world but also help you get a foot in the door. When it comes down to choosing between two candidates with no work experience, an internship can make a real difference. So, If you’ve been proactive and undertaken a three-week placement, then chances are you’ll be chosen for your dream job!
Volunteer opportunities are a sure thing for many reasons. Number one: most people don't turn a volunteer away. Number two: there are always plenty of opportunities available. If you decide to pursue a volunteer opportunity, look for one in your field. You won't get paid for the work you do, but you will gain relevant job experience and access to networking.
Sometimes being a graduate, you’ve got to prove that you can do the work before you are hired. Therefore, freelancing is a great way to show what you can do. Freelance jobs can be as short as a couple of days (i.e. content writing for blogs) and last up to several months. Be prepared to demonstrate your flexibility as you may have to do your first freelance job for low pay or even for free.
It’s important to keep in mind that your priority and end goal at this point, is to gather practical experience and even a positive reference! After all, making a good impression is crucial not only for the sake of networking but also because sometimes a job that starts out as freelance, part-time or temporary can turn into a full-time position with great career development opportunities in the future.
Konnie Stamelakou is a marketing executive for Zoek – one of the fastest growing UK job boards. She is responsible for content creation as well as for the company’s social media. Working in the recruitment and employment industry enables her to create value-driven content for readers – both on Zoek’s blog and other guest blogs where she publishes content regularly.