How do you get experience in your field at the start of your career?

How do you get experience in your field at the start of your career?
Internships can help you gain skills, training and experience. Photo: Fizkes, Bigstock

When people look for their first job, they are often stymied by the fact that many employers want the people they hire to have experience in the industry already. This makes it very difficult to get started – after all, how can you get experience if you need it to get a job?

There are ways around this pitfall, especially if you are willing to take on an internship or volunteer. You can volunteer at a charity, ask around for an internship or engage a firm such as Premium Graduate which partners with various organisations to find an internship for you!

Volunteering for a charity is a good way to get started on your career. You don’t have to be the face of the organisation; you can work behind the scenes, organising fundraising activities or helping with the website. These activities will help you gain the skills you need in your career, and connect you with people who can provide you with a reference or be useful for networking.

The downside of volunteering is that you don’t get paid (obviously) and that there is no clear end date (which can also be an advantage because you can keep advancing your skills). Charities also don’t provide training unless they need someone to perform a task, so it can be hard to get experience that is especially relevant to your chosen career, rather than just general work experience.

An internship, on the other hand, is dedicated to training you in a specific field. If you want to go into accounting, for example, then an internship will help you to learn what working in that area will be like, and show you what skills you will need as well as helping you to learn them. This helps you to get a foot in the door of a specific industry by making contacts and having someone to vouch for your skills.

If you work as a part of your internship program (as opposed to just shadowing a professional in your field) then you must be paid under Australian law, although there are some exceptions. This is an obvious benefit to internships over volunteering. You will also be taught specific skills relevant to your career in your time at the host organisation.

An internship has a number of benefits aside from learning directly relevant skills. You will also make contacts in your industry who could help you at some point in your career, which is always useful when you are just starting out. Additionally, if it goes really well your host company might offer you a job at the conclusion of the internship.

Internships and volunteering are two good ways of gaining the experience you need to kick start your professional career. If you’re stuck in the catch 22 of needing experience to get a job but needing a job to get experience, break the cycle by finding an alternative method for gaining valuable work experience and skills.

What do you think about it?