Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Filling the Dreaded "Experience Gap"


One of the big hurdles facing people fresh out of college, and hunting for a first real job, is laying claim to "experience." Experience gives a prospective employer reassurance that you won't fold into a crumpled heap (or worse, make dramatic mistakes) when you need to exercise initiative.

The link above suggests three formal venues (volunteering, education, freelance work) and one conceptual category (transferrable skills). That conceptual area is where you can find some serious pay-dirt for beefing up your "experience."

You already know about volunteer opportunities; Niagara University has a strong tradition of service. Sometimes, you're assigned work that offers few bragging rights--stuffing envelopes, painting walls, whatever. (That doesn't mean it's not worth doing!) Sometimes, you can talk your way into more challenging assignments.

You know about education; again, Niagara University has a strong record of promoting hands-on experience, research and publishing. But education is hypothetical in an employer's eyes; it exists in a controlled bubble (they call it the "ivory tower") where a professor designs all kinds of fail-safes invisible to you as a student. In a word, we make it difficult for you to fail.

Perhaps you also know about freelance work; if you don't yet, you may want to consider it immediately after graduation, as a way of getting some money as well as experience.

But what about while you are still in college? Consider this: colleges and universities are businesses. There are plenty of ways for you to get involved, as a work-study student, a volunteer at events recruiting new students (like the one I attended Saturday, with a terrific student volunteer), a student activities position (club coordinator, newspaper or yearbook editor, contributor), and so on. 

Talk with your dean, your chair, your department secretary and look for ways to contribute. Or, if you have special skills (design, internet, journalism), mention the kinds of abilities you have that you would like to substantiate. Niagara University needs to do better in the areas of publicity, internet and social media experience, and related areas--if we don't have anything immediate up our collective sleeves, we may be able to come up with contacts who will.

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