Work Experience Center

The work experience required for many professions can read more like a fanciful or greedy "wish-list" than a professional summary of realistic job requirements. Jobs typically require highly specific skills, industry background, technical knowledge and-of course- the all-important, make-or-break "experience".

But how do you gain employment experience if you have little or none and are therefore not hired? This is the classic "Catch-22" dilemma of entry-level and grade-jumping job seekers.

Educational programs, unless highly specialized, no longer tend to be enough without practical experience. An employment guide will typically list internships, volunteering, working abroad, apprenticeships, free-lancing, entrepreneurship and co-op or work-study programs as ways to gain professional skills for the workforce-as "best-case" alternatives to direct employment experience.

When experience has proven to be tough to accumulate, investigating options like these is a worthwhile allocation of job-search energies and efforts.

Work experience is an essential selling point to include on all resumes and job applications-if you have it. Without this, many younger people might leave blanks in their job applications, but they should not. It is important that, as a young person, or someone applying for a new career field or a big jump in pay grade and responsibilities, you include anything and everything that could be considered experience-sometimes throwing in even repair of kitchen sinks, if not a sink itself.

Work experience can be both paid and unpaid, e.g., volunteer and internship slots. If working abroad, apprenticeships, free-lancing, entrepreneurship, co-op or work-study programs are not available or attractive options, an internship can be an excellent alternative-and maybe even the best.

As quasi-volunteer positions, internships are usually structured programs, often through a school or university, and generally occur toward the end of an individual's course of study. Many, if not most opportunities like this are unpaid, although sometimes result in academic credit or serve as part of a practicum section of a course or process of accreditation or licensing. (However, do not automatically assume that "internship"= "unpaid". Shop around for the intern opportunities that also pay a salary. They are out there.)

The purpose of such experiences is generally twofold: first, to introduce the young student or professional to real world applications of their field of study; and second, to help both the student and the prospective employer get a sense of the student's general ability level, work ethic and overall organizational fit.

Some fields require such internship experiences, whereas others only recommend them. Sometimes companies even have the resources to sponsor the student for the last year or two of school, provided they agree to work for a time for the company upon graduation.

Even for those students who don't have a job waiting for them when they graduate, the internship experience can be a critical introduction to the chosen field or discipline and often an invaluable source of practical experience, professional networking, and mentoring opportunities.

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