It is no surprise that most employers would prefer to hire people with real-world experience as opposed to the "theory only" background of a recent graduate. So this begs the question, "if I can’t get a job without experience and you can’t get experience without a job, what am I to do?" The answer is simple – volunteer.
Some people attach a negative connotation to volunteering. But activities such as working with the elderly, or volunteering for events like Cancer runs, or helping out with the yard sale at your church as great ways to help important causes and provide you with volunteer experience. However, this type of volunteering does little to provide you with the real-world work-related experience. So how can you get more specific?
Many of these same organizations require the same level of expertise that a "real-world" company would, but are unable to afford the fees charged by a professional. Environmental groups, shelters, churches and other non-profit organizations often struggle with the technology side of their organization. They need help setting up local area networks (LAN), developing websites and resolving other technical issues. These sorts of organizations are more than willing to give you experience in these areas rather than pay for that expertise.
While this type of volunteering adds some experience outside of the classroom, it isn’t guaranteed to overcome the total lack of experience you might possess. However, it does add some other intangibles to your arsenal. It provides you with a contact to start your networking. Volunteering is every bit as much about building people skills as it is about building work-related skills. It demonstrates you can follow through on a project from start to finish. It might also demonstrate your ability to work in a team and show that you can meet deadlines. And perhaps most importantly, if you can demonstrate all of the above, you will walk away from your volunteer experience with a reference in hand.
How do you get involved in relevant volunteering opportunities?
Technically inclined grads or professionals with little experience can find relevant volunteering opportunities through a few different avenues. There are groups and organizations that specialize in this area called Volunteer Matching Organizations. They exist both on the Internet, as well as in a physical building in many communities. Some examples of the online variety are CompuMentor, Volunech.org and TechSoup.org.
You can also seek help from a community volunteer centre. If you live in a smaller community that doesn’t have a volunteer centre, any larger adjacent communities will cover the smaller areas as well. It is best to call City Hall or the Chamber of Commerce and have them point you in the right direction.
Your last option would be to tackle the search for volunteer opportunities yourself. Think of it as starting your own business…without getting paid that is. You could post flyers in your community with your skills and contact information, or approach organizations that you feel an affinity with to help them with their technical concerns.
While volunteering isn’t going to line your pockets with $50 and $100 bills, it can put you on the right track to take your career to new heights, while at the same time helping out a worthwhile cause. You should feel good about both of these because the future for both you and the organization you have volunteered for is looking much brighter because of it.