Employers want job candidates with work experience. In fact, according to a report by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, 91% of employers prefer that candidates have work experience and 65% specifically prefer relevant work experience. Only 5% said that work experience is not a factor.
Fortunately, there are several ways to get hands-on experience. “My suggestion for entry-level candidates is to volunteer,” says Lisa Arbour, senior recruiter at Snelling in Baton Rouge. Work at a phone bank to gain cold-call skills, assist at a front desk to get customer service experience or help with data entry to gain computer skills. If you want to get into public relations, volunteer at a PR firm or in a company’s public relations department. Most colleges have partnerships with companies that offer paid and unpaid internships, but you can also approach companies on your own and ask if you can volunteer for a few weeks or months. “Another way to gain some experience would be to ask friends and business associates of family members if you can ‘shadow’ them at work to learn what they do,” she says.
So why is it so important to have hands-on experience? Here are two reasons employers love to see even a little bit of practical experience before they make you an offer — and one reason it’s really good for you.
Companies don’t want to find out after they’ve hired you that you can’t fulfill the job requirements to their expectations. According to a study by the Center for American Progress, the cost of replacing the average employee is roughly 21 percent of that worker’s annual earnings. Practical experience is no guarantee that you’ll succeed, but it will make you seem a safer bet.
The more experience you have, the faster you can jump in and start working — and the less companies have to spend on training you. The average small company spends $1,200 to train a new employee, according to a 2014 training industry report. Even general experience working in an industry can help speed up that learning curve.
Hands-on experience can also help you decide whether you’re choosing the right career path. Suppose you’ve always wanted to work in patient care, but then discover that you hate the sight of blood? What seemed fine in theory in a text book can turn out to be quite miserable in reality. Hands-on work allows you to experience every facet of a job to see if it’s really what you want to do — and if you can really do it.
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