How to Gain Real World Experience

A recurring theme in entry level job search is the lack of experience factor. "Where do I get experience if no one is willing to hire me?" Many students focus exclusively on seeking formal internships as the only path to gaining resume experience. While that is the ideal and should be your first level focus, do not limit yourself exclusively to formal internships, especially if you are in your Freshman or Sophomore year. As a Hiring Manager, I look at any and all experience you may have accumulated to date, whether full-time or part-time, paid or unpaid.

Work experience makes you more marketable as a job candidate; it also gives you the opportunity to gain greater understanding about your chosen field. You will be able to find out in advance about many of the positives and negatives. Then you can truly enter your field with your eyes wide open. Or step back early from what might have been a major career mistake. Employers are not only looking for experience, but the right experience.

So as you approach the task of gaining real-world experience, do it from a "sponge" perspective—be ready to soak up every bit of information that comes your way. Full-time or part-time. Paid or unpaid. Worker or observer.

Help Wanted in Twelve Different Flavors

Consider the following to be a comprehensive (although not all-inclusive) listing of possible avenues for gaining further experience:

  1. Internships/co-ops
  2. Summer jobs
  3. Campus jobs
  4. Entrepreneurial/self-employed jobs
  5. Temporary work
  6. Volunteer work—school, church, club, not-for-profit organizations
  7. Special projects within your degree program
  8. Research papers in your classes, especially those with job—and industry—focus
  9. Certification courses
  10. Campus activity participation and leadership positions
  11. Fraternity/sorority/social club leadership positions
  12. Extracurricular or sports leadership positions

Review the above list. Use it as your checklist. Don't fall into the trap of saying that you don't have any real experience. If you haven't experienced it yet, create it or make it happen on your own. Remember—even though we are talking about entry level positions, experience is number one on nearly every employer's list of preferred attributes. Make sure it is also number one on your list as well.

And if it is late in the year (or already past graduation) it's still not too late to generate real-world work experience. Temp. Volunteer. And also be sure to look back on what you have already accomplished. You may have already gained real experience that you have not fully recognized. And your future is still wide open for additional experiences. Keep it focused toward your goal and do everything within your power (and then some on top of that) to reach your goal.

Using Tech Experience to Your Advantage

There is one area of experience where you will likely outshine the great majority of the working world: tech. You have grown up with technology throughout your school years and have a level of comfort shared by few in the workforce.

Take advantage of this experience by highlighting your proficiencies on your resume and within the context of your interviews. Just having user-level knowledge of PC tools (such as Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel, etc.) along with other tech software (such as Photoshop, AutoCAD, Salesforce, etc.) will greatly increase your potential value for most companies.

In addition, in-depth Internet knowledge is another area where you can shine. Most companies are looking to hire people who bring practical skills to the position, and Internet literacy is a very practical work skill in almost every profession. It is a mistaken impression that computer knowledge is important only in technical professions. It is important in the majority of professions, where your level of computer knowledge can produce an experience difference that actually tilts in your favor over more experienced job seekers.

If you still have time before graduation, seek to learn the software programs and packages that are most common within your target profession or industry. Not only will it prepare you well for your eventual work, it will prepare you well for scoring points during your job search.