Gaining experience

One piece of advice that comes up again and again, and that I don’t completely agree with, is the idea that you should “follow your bliss.” Advocates of this position suggest that all you have to do is “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life” (Confucius) and that if you “Follow your bliss . . .the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls” (Joseph Campbell).

In theory, those are great suggestions. The problem, as I see it, is at least two fold: (1) You may not know exactly what it is that you want to do and (2) that job may not be immediately available to you. The solution to those problems is to gain experience, which brings up the conundrum of how to get experience when most jobs require that you already have experience.

Luckily, there are several good ways to gain experience, and you should take advantage of all of them unless you’re one of those fortunate few who do know exactly what it is they want to do in their career. And even then, the more experience you gain, the better your resume looks, and the more employable you become.

  • While you’re in college (or soon after you graduate), participate in internships. Try to do at least three or four internships. If you love the first one, try to find another in the same area. If you hate the first one, move on to something different. (See my book’s Tip 5 Before you graduate, try to complete at least one, and ideally several, internships relevant to careers that interest you for more advice on finding internships.
  • Do volunteer work. Nonprofit organizations need volunteers in many different areas, and it’s likely that you can find an organization that needs a volunteer in an area that is relevant to your career goals. At the very least, volunteering helps add skills to your resume, build your network, and demonstrate motivation and commitment.
  • Take a temporary job. “Temp” companies provide workers in a wide variety of fields to all different kinds of organizations. Temp jobs are short term, lasting a few days, weeks, or, in some cases, months, covering for employees who are on vacation or on some type of personal leave or providing service while a job search is being conducted for a permanent employee. Temp jobs give you the same opportunities as interning and volunteering (to add skills, build your network, and demonstrate your positive professional attributes), but you’ll also be getting paid.
  • What all of these methods for getting experience have in common is that they will help you figure out what you enjoy doing and, perhaps more importantly, what you really hate doing! When I was in graduate school, I did an internship as a technical writer. I learned two important things from that experience: I’m really good at technical writing, and I hate working in a nine-to-five office environment! My experience as an intern helped me make the decision to stay in graduate school to complete a PhD after finishing my master’s degree so that I could find a job in the academic world. . .which HAS allowed me to “follow my bliss.”