Estimated Lesson Time: 7 minutes
What is the big deal with having experience? Why do employers require it for their higher-paid positions? Why do customers require it from contractors they hire? Why do professionals demand it from themselves? How do we get experience, and perhaps most important, how do we get around not having traditional experience? These questions are asked by students and business veterans alike. No one is ever too old or too “accomplished” to better themselves by seeking experience.
As Ebeneezer Scrooge discovered, experience, or the active participation in events or activities leading to the accumulation of knowledge or skill, is the ultimate teacher. The majority of mistakes are made early on when practicing a new skill. The common perception is those with experience have already made the majority of their mistakes. Employers also value experience because of the costs associated with training and the productivity levels of experienced employees versus those with no experience. Experience is used as a general indicator of one’s ability.
So why should adults who have “been there, done that” seek experience? Nobody is perfect. Experience is a very effective method of bringing one closer to perfection. Any one job or career can consist of several or even hundreds of skill sets. Professionals who seek to improve on these skill sets are wise to seek experience in these skill sets. For example, Toastmasters International (http://www.toastmasters.org) is an organization with local chapters all around the world that exists to help individuals build communication and speaking skills through experience. This organization has given millions of ambitious people practical experience since 1924.
There are numerous ways to get experience in the traditional sense. This is the kind of experience that most employers are looking for and/or expect.
- Other jobs. Take a low-paying job that requires you to use the skill set on which you are working. Never think you are too good for any job nor be embarrassed by the pay. Those who think any job is beneath them are missing out on opportunities to learn from experience. Very often, experience is more valuable than money.
- Internships. Businesses are often willing to train people in exchange for labor. If you can afford not to get paid for your time, this can be an excellent arrangement for both parties.
- Volunteer positions. There are many non-profit organizations in your community that could use your help. Not only will you be gaining valuable experience, but you will be helping people as well in the process.
- Military. You have seen the commercials... “Be all you can be!” The armed forces can be a great opportunity for experience. Be sure you consider the commitment and the risk first, however.
- Clubs and organizations. Look for local clubs or organizations that will allow you to put your skills to use on a regular basis.
- Student activities / leadership roles. If you are currently a student in high school or college, consider taking one of the many leadership roles available.
- Work as a temp. Working as a temp is a unique opportunity to gain experience by working in several different firms or businesses. It is like ordering the sampler platter at a restaurant: you get a taste of several things without having to commit to just one.
- Internet opportunities. Look for “cyber experience.” There are many opportunities on the Internet especially in the technology field.
- Career services. If you are a college student or have attended college at any time in your life, you most likely have access to your college’s career services. This is an excellent place to seek opportunity to gain experience.
So far, I have presented information on experience that you have most likely been exposed to before. This is because I feel it is important to stress the necessity of traditional experience. However, I would also like to share with you some “secrets” about experience.
When an employer posts an ad saying a certain amount of experience is necessary, what they are really saying is a) they want to be sure they get applicants that know what they are doing, b) they do not want to spend excessive money on training, or c) they want applicants who have already made their “beginners’ mistakes.” If you can address these concerns without having the practical experience the company may be looking for, you have a just as good, if not better, chance at competing with applicants that have the experience. In addition, don't underestimate your own abilities. Ability, not experience, is what employers are really looking for. Experience just happens to be an excellent indicator of one’s ability. Convince the employer of your ability, and your lack of practical experience will not be a handicap.
I have mentioned “practical” or “traditional” experience as the experiences that most employers are looking for in applicants. There are also many other non-traditional or creative ways to gain experience. Just because these are often overlooked by employers, it does not mean you should overlook them. Remember, experience is defined as the active participation in events or activities leading to the accumulation of knowledge or skill. This is quite a broad definition that allows one to be creative while gaining experience. Here are some of those creative ways.
- Do extended research. Research is a form of active participation that certainly does lead to increased knowledge on a given subject.
- Interview an expert in the field. Gain experience by “borrowing” the experiences of experts in the field. These experts often are able to share in hours their own experiences that have taken a lifetime to collect.
- Work alongside an expert in the field. If you can find a “mentor,” even for a day, that will allow you to work beside him or her under his or her supervision, you will get invaluable experience. Don’t be afraid to ask someone for this opportunity; they will be flattered!
- Spend time observing. Medical students gain experience by observing their more accomplished counterparts in action. Work on your observation skills and gain experience at the same time. If your ambition is to own a deli, but you have no experience in the industry, eat your lunches at several delis. Pick up the lingo, pay attention to how they operate, ask questions, observe.
- Start your own company. If only for the experience, start your own company. Do you want to impress the partners at a big six accounting firm? Start your own accounting firm, even if your Aunt Bunny is your only client. Create your own experience if others will not allow you the opportunity.
Experience is one of the best teachers. Gaining experience will allow you to develop your skills and broaden your opportunities. However, don't underestimate your abilities due to a lack of experience. Every great person in any field had to start somewhere without experience. The world is full of exceptionally talented and gifted people who will remain undiscovered because of their self-imposed limitations due to inexperience. Do not be one of these people. Gain either the traditional or creative experience needed to enhance your abilities and be the best you can be.
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Some discussion questions (some may not apply to this lesson):
- Have you implemented this idea in your life? How has it been working for you?
- Do you have any interesting stories related to this lesson? Do tell!
- What do you admire most about this person? (success biography days)