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Career Advice: getting your first bit of work experience

You might have seen the above picture doing the rounds on social media. And whilst I can see the frustration for every graduate who has moaned about this there are also many graduates (and other job hunters) who have managed to break through this work experience circle and, well, got themselves some experience in order to get more experience.

So what did they do differently?

My motto for getting work experience is: start young and start small

My first paid job in marketing was a part-time job in my university careers centre looking after their Facebook and Twitter with some events assistance and design work thrown in. And whilst that gave me a brilliant head-start against other graduates going for marketing jobs I only got this job because I had already done 'shitty' paid jobs, and even took on some volunteering. 

My work experience almost went in this order: volunteering at a church kids club --- waitressing at a golf club --- joining the university dance team and acting briefly on the committee --- being a freshers helper and showing new students to their classrooms --- becoming part of Abertay RAG --- helping start the Abertay Business Society --- working as a social media assistant --- starting this blog --- Social Innovation 2011 --- starting the Cupcake Society --- being a class rep --- graduating --- full-time job in marketing --- Arbonne Consultant (whilst still doing my full-time marketing job).

There are certain professions where your own work experience can be self-started. As a business student who wanted to concentrate on marketing I was lucky that I could build up my own work experience that didn't have to start with someone employing me (starting a blog, being active in social media, starting a society). If you are a budding programmer, photographer, artist, sound producer, journalist, graphic designer, film addict, writer, hairdresser, sports coach, web designer or make-up artist it is easier than some professions to just do some work experience for yourself, or even a friend of the family. 

There are however some professions that are harder to get work experience in because someone has to let you. A budding nurse can't just practise on their friends and playing with a chemistry set isn't quite the same as getting an internship at Unilever. You may need to fight hard for internships, achieve the first class honours (and in the health and science fields academic grades mean a lot) and think outside the box. My flatmate is a speech therapist with children and whilst she couldn't fashion herself a speech therapist job she volunteered with children with special needs that weren't speech problems but were still special needs nonetheless (and she was the first person from her Speech and Language course to gain full-time employment).

But not all work expeirence is paid, and sometimes the most specific isn't. I never received a dime for running a society, helping run another, being a member of Rotaract Dundee or doing fundraising events for Abertay RAG. But I did gain some great work experience and CV material. As I mentioned above my flatmate gained some work experience looking after children, and if you want to work in the health, sports, care or education fields then volunteering in a care position is a great way to add something to your backlog. 

Science related degrees are possibly the hardest, as you can't fashion your own work experience and you can't exactly volunteer as a scientist. This is a degree where academic achievement is extremely important (would you feel comfortable in the hands of a dentist who got a third class honours?) and you'll need to hunt out extra internships, and if your course includes an internship as part of the curriculm, then work your cute behind off at it. But a really important piece of advice is get some extra sciency qualifications on the side (Bio Dundee sometimes have some going) that show you know how to behave safely in a lab or do a random college module during the summer that show you are an extra smart cookie (also attend networking events).

Then there is also the internships. I never had one but in many professions they are a gateway to full time employment. But I'll state that they are competitive, and the people who get them already have some kind of work experience (start small and start young, people). I was okay without an internship simply because I never wanted to work for the big corporate management firms (Ernst & Young etc) and wanted to slide into a small company, but if your dream is working for the big corporate firms then gaining a corporate internship should be a top priority.

Most student associations will have societies such as the Accounting Society, Forensic Scientist Society, Biomedical Science Society, Psychology Society etc. The simplest form of action you can take away from this blog post is joining your particular subject's society, and if one doesn't exist for your area of academia then be the person to create it (and from my personal experience creating your own society is an excellent talking point during interviews). And if you're a sports student then join a fudding sports team (or three).

Finally, never underestimate the transferable skills gained from waitressing or shop assistant jobs. Time keeping, responsibility, people skills, communication, confidence and assertiveness all come from these Saturday jobs. And once you have one job (any job) it becomes easier to get another. It's always better to gain specific work experience to gain specific skills but it's usually the simple jobs with transferable skills that will get you these specific jobs later on (sorry for being wordy haha). 

I am certainly not discounting academia, but I am a huge advocate for practical work experience. You may get some noises from your parents that you should 'concentrate on your studies' and they may even offer to pay you through university. This is crock advice. Even if you were born to a doctor and a lawyer who earn enough for you to never have tuition fees, you still need work experience. Going to university and getting a degree and then getting a job was how it worked for our baby boomer parents. But back then not that many people had degrees and there were a lot more jobs; we are graduating into a broken economy with less jobs but with a larger pool of graduates - so you know, the game has changed slightly and competition is fierce.

Have you done work experience that turned out to be really valuable, and have any other ideas?

morag | mo adore
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