It is the Catch-22 situation that has been frustrating jobseekers for ages: positions requiring experience from applicants, while applicants can’t gain any experience without first having had a job. But there are ways to make you employable and help you gain experience without working in formal employment first, an education expert says.
Dr Felicity Coughlan, Director of the Independent Institute of Education, SA’s leading private education provider which focuses heavily on ensuring the job-readiness of their graduates, says what employers are looking for in many instances is just to be given proof that someone is able to self-manage and that a candidate can be trusted to make a contribution from as early as possible.
“… while there are several good reasons to be training new people, it is always helpful to have someone who has done something before,” says Coughlan.
“If you are studying and about to graduate, you need to be looking at all the ways you can fill the experience gap right away.”
Coughlan explains that in order to do so, students must analyse the kind of work they intend to do and then look for opportunities to build appropriate experience in that field.
“For instance, if you are studying towards a journalism qualification, volunteering to run a student newspaper or getting involved in putting together newsletters for local NGOs are the right kinds of experience to present to a potential employer.
Career counselling researchers (Penny Loretto, the Hansens and others) have noted that while the value of different attributes employers look for varied, there remained key values and attitudes that attract the attention of employers.
“… Be conscious of what you need in terms of skills, demonstrated ability and qualifications, and then set out in a determined manner to build a portfolio for yourself based on the experience and recommendations that make you different from the person next to you,” says Coughlan.
To put the best possible foot forward, be sure to have …
- Strong work ethic: Be the person who volunteers to do more than anyone else and don’t give up until the job is done; this includes the ability to manage and motivate yourself – to get on with the job when no one is watching.
- Dependability and reliability: Never let anyone down. Under-promise but over-deliver. Be loyal.
- Positive attitude: Look for solutions and don’t get caught in negative spirals.
- Adaptability and resilience: If circumstances change, change with them.
- Integrity and honesty: Would you employ someone who lied to you?
- Willingness to learn: Tackle and master new things.
- Self confidence: Believe in yourself and your contribution without arrogance; and improve the quality of your written and verbal communication skills.
- People skills: Make other people feel comfortable, cultivate the ability to work well with a range of different people, and manage conflict and disagreement positively.
“Most people don’t get the opportunity to get a higher education qualification, so as a student you are already part of the privileged few,” notes Coughlan.
“But the competition for good jobs is brutal, and to succeed you must cultivate the qualities that will set you apart from millions of other job seekers. Gaining relevant know-how where need exists will not only enable you to tick the omnipresent ‘experience’-box on your application, it will also provide you with the opportunity to demonstrate that you have the qualities that can turn you into a valuable and valued asset should an employer take a chance on you.”