How to Get Experience When You Don't Have Experience

I hear this all the time. "Every job description I look at says 3 - 5 years of experience required. How am I supposed to get that experience?". Fear not, there's a lot you can do to build experience when you need it! 

1. Your education counts. Did you take a database design class in college that culminated in designing and building an actual product? That's 3 months of experience. Did you take a series of classes your junior year in GIS? That's one year of experience in using GIS (as long as you actually got in there to use the programs and build things and didn't just read about it out of a book). 

2. Look for projects. If you're in school, talk with a professor about helping out on a project he/she might be working on. Offer to collaborate or work on parts or all of something that looks interesting and would build you skills in an area that you need for future job applications. Outside of school, use informational interviews with professionals in your field to meet people working at startups or companies that you're interested in. Ask what they're working on, let them know you're interested in working on some projects for a few hours per week, and propose helping out with a project if an extra hand is needed.

3. Volunteer. Similar to the "Propose to help on a project" strategy above, you can volunteer your skills to nonprofits or individuals who need the kind of experience you're hoping to gain. If you know you need more experience in web development, or working directly with youth, or in project management, do informational interviews in organizations or with professionals you might be interested in working with. Offer to volunteer on a specific project or role that builds your experience in the areas you need. 

4. Add responsibilities on to your existing job. If you're already working, look for ways to develop experience in your desired area in your current job. Working at a restaurant in the evenings but want to snag a career in finance? Ask your owner/manager if you can sit with them to review budgets and financial records, or if you can use their finances as a case study and make some recommendations. 

As you take on side projects, volunteer work, and augment your existing job, add points to your resume that reflect the kinds of work you're doing that is related to the direction you want to go in. When you don't have experience, you need to build it, and that's on you. Go get 'em.