How to avoid the Catch-22 of work experience

There’s nothing more frustrating than investing a lot of time, effort and money in training to discover that employers aren’t interested because you don’t have any actual experience. This can be a problem for HR wannabes who only have the theory to offer. It’s the old Catch-22 situation of not being able to get a job without experience or the experience without a job.

However, all is not lost. The training should stand you in good stead and is an excellent starting point. The next step is to get the hands-on experience. Here are Personnel Today’s five top tips:

Start at the bottom

Use an administrative support type role as a way in. You will gain invaluable experience and should be able to move on quite quickly. It also gives you the chance to try out different areas of HR, rather than going for a specialism straight away. Once you are actually in the industry, you will be meeting people and making contacts.

Move over from another role

Richard King, HR manager at the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, says people should capitalise on relevant previous experience to move into a particular field of HR. “For example, from a line management role to a recruitment or HR operational role, or from IT database work to workforce analyst,” he says.

King thinks moving from line management to HR specialist is particularly suited to the business partner model of HR today.
Being able to do this obviously depends on you having already spent some time in the world of work and having relevant experience. It wouldn’t apply to someone fresh from school or college.

Work experience

If experience is what you need, then consider doing some voluntary work.

“Experience counts for a lot, and the right experience may put you ahead of another candidate applying for the same job with the same qualifications as yourself,” says Victoria Winkler, learning, training and development adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). “So try to gain as much experience of the field of work you are interested in as possible.”

Use contacts

Networking is key to getting a job and career progression once you are on your way. Get in touch with course tutors and the people you studied with to see if any of them can help.

If you are CIPD qualified, make the most of your membership. “As a member of the CIPD, you will be allocated a local branch,” says Winkler. “It might be worth attending some of the branch events, which can be useful networking opportunities.”

Be prepared

When applying for jobs, you need to be on top of what’s happening in the industry, so that you have something to talk about in the interview and won’t get caught short. Read specialist publications and keep abreast of all the latest employment issues.

Before going to an interview, do as much preparation as possible so that you can give it your best shot.

“Find out about culture, working environment and organisational objectives, as this will allow you to think about the skills, knowledge and experience you need to display at the interview,” says Winkler.



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