Catch 22: getting a job for work experience

Catch 22 getting a job for work experience

Perhaps you think with all this talk about downturn and recession it’s going to be difficult to get a job and wonder just what you can do, or what can you do differently. Finding the right job can be about learning to value every experience in terms of what you got out of it and managing your expectations in the short term.

I too entered the job market in a recession and felt caught in the uneasy “˜catch 22′ of no experience equals no jobs, and I would ask potential employers “how can I get the experience you need when you won’t give me a job?”

All experience counts

Jobs like paper rounds or working in a bar probably won’t feature in what you think is relevant to a prospective employer but looking back, I wished I had made more of my temporary and part-time jobs at subsequent interviews.

Working in a supermarket gave me customer service experience; I used my initiative, solved some problems and dealt quickly with money using numeracy skills. Why did I think employers wouldn’t want to know?

Selling the experience to an employer

Recognising and valuing skills learned from any new experience is key to convincing an employer on why they should give you a chance. It doesn’t have to be what you consider “˜work’ skills, it could be captaining a sports team, volunteering, travelling abroad, learning a language or teaching your friend guitar. Whatever you feel passionate about shows enthusiasm and dedication, and employers will see that you are proactive and probably have many skills that could transfer to their workplace. Employers obviously benefit when ideal new employees present themselves during a period of work experience, and where they can, snap them up.

Careers rarely go in straight lines

Knowing what you want to do helps! You can get the qualifications, but you also need to chip away until you get an opening. Like many people, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so for me getting a job has always been an organic process of almost stumbling from one to another. Maybe it was being in the right place at the right time, as well as taking any opportunity that came along; from hatching day-old chickens to be flown to Africa, helping decommission a nuclear reactor, being a temporary cook on a millionaire’s yacht, to driving a fork lift truck, and not forgetting the supermarket and paper round.

Expectations about what you want to do are probably necessarily high if you have worked hard to gain some qualifications recently. You may however have to downgrade your expectations, just for a short while, to get your foot in the door. Taking something that you consider less than perfect gives you time to look around, sample other industries/job roles that you may never have thought of, and decide what you really want to do. While you are there, if you are flexible and work hard, you may be offered other things more suited to your talents and skills. You may meet people who open up your horizons and recommend other jobs or companies, or recommend you. Networking in this way is beneficial both inside and outside of work.

Learning doesn’t stop

You may also realise there are further qualifications in a new field that would help you progress and you could go back to college part-time or your employer might give you time off.

Ironically, I have now found myself in a role promoting the benefits of work experience to employers to get them to offer more opportunities because I know how hard getting that first job is but I also know now how to make it easier.

Heather Collier, Director of National Council for Work Experience

Find out more about The National Council for Work Experience

Heather’s career journey!

A degree in Zoology  – unemployed for a year –  clerical assistant - Diploma for Personal Assistants –  a working summer in New York –  temp work in a chicken hatchery  – PA to managing directors of chemical and engineering companies - implemented Poll Tax - 1 year sabbatical (riding across the States on a motorbike) - validating degrees at Manchester University  – competed in around the world yacht race - self-employed, matching students to project-based work placements  – cook on a millionaire’s yacht  – fork lift truck driver in a workers’ cooperative –  research business manager