How to gain experience when you don’t have experience

A common concern among new grads is, “how do I get experience if I need experience to get the job?” Good question. Volunteering is one way to contribute to your community while building skills, gaining experience and exploring career options. Here are some examples.

May 2, 2024

By: Jillian Perkins-Marsh, Alumni Career Counsellor

When I first met Melisa, she was a new grad exploring career options and was concerned about the level of experience job postings required. I worked with her to figure out her key skills and interests. However, it was her strong initiative and a little luck that led to securing a great role. 

I have landed a full-time position as a Community Engagement Coordinator with a non-profit organization. I volunteered at the organization during the summer, so getting your foot in the door and working hard really does pay off! The position requires organizing and executing free programs and services for members of the community such as, workshops, volunteer events, and project management and it has allowed me to apply my love of multimedia to design and market my workshops and programs. I could not be happier and just wanted to thank you for giving me further insight into realizing my interests that have made me think hard about my future and have helped me get to where I am today.

Melisa F., BA Sociology, 2016 

Here are seven ways to gain experience

1. Schedule informational interviews with McMaster Alumni Network

You can prepare questions such as, how they got into the field and what skills could help set yourself apart from others?

2. Register for free programs designed for new grads, to help with skill and experience building

For example, ADaPT (Advanced Digital and Professional Training) is a program that helps develop digital skills such as, UX design, business financials, professional skill development, navigating the job market and more. Additionally, it can potentially lead to a paid work placement with a 90% placement rate.

3. Hone your leadership skills by volunteering for a board

This can be at a local organization where you can influence decisions in your community for a cause you care about. 

4. Actively try and seek opportunities

A former grad once called up a video editing company and after an informational meeting; she ended up with a short-term internship offer. This offer allowed her to figure out if the new field was for her without having to quit her day job prematurely.  

5. Find a volunteer centre in your area using a database

Identify potential social service organizations using community databases. A quick Google search of “community database and your city/region” will find out if there is one in your area. This is an opportunity to strategically offer your skills. Other recommended sites include, Charity Village and Talent Egg.

6. Research paid internships

For example, Career Edge’s internship program is a great place to start for grads with no or little career experience.  

7. Be open to unplanned opportunities

Often, there is much value to be gained from building relationships from the inside to get access to internal postings. 

Final thoughts

No matter what your strategy is, intentionally develop relationships with people and take initiative to build your professional reputation. Chances are, you will find insider information such as internal positions. There are valuable additions that can be added to your resume, to gain your skills and experience for your next opportunity.