29 Method 5: Gain Experience

Method 5: Gain experience.

An excellent way to build your professional reputation, obtain references, refine your career goals, and build long-term networks is by gaining practical experience, especially if you have limited networks to begin with. Each of these opportunities will provide you with a solid network of contacts and valuable industry advice even before you start searching for your career.

Depending on your program, experiential learning can be an optional or mandatory part of your course curriculum and a prime opportunity to gain relevant experience. Experiential learning supports students in gaining practical, hands-on learning opportunities that help them transition more fluidly to employment once they graduate. Typically, you are placed in a structured, simulated workplace environment, and exposed to the real-life demands of the job. You apply concepts that you’ve learned in your program and gain employability and interpersonal skills that are required to be successful in the workforce. Here are some examples of common experiential learning opportunities:

  • Apprenticeships: You are sponsored by an employer to complete on-the-job and in-classroom training in the skilled trades.
    • Example: Students are sponsored by an employer as part of the cabinetmaker trade program.
  • Clinical placements: You receive hands-on training and supervision in a clinical setting.
    • Example: Nursing students receive practical training at local health centres.
  • Co-ops: You complete alternating periods of academic study and work experience in fields of business, industry, or government.
    • Example: Computer engineering students complete four-month paid work terms with technology companies.
  • Field placements: You receive hands-on training and supervision in a field-related organization.
    • Example: Social Service Worker students are offered field placements in social services or victim services agencies.
  • Applied research projects: You participate in a research project where you apply the latest knowledge and technology in the creation of useful products, services, and processes.
    • Example: Students are approached by a fitness company to create a virtual personal training app to track workouts.
  • Practicums: You integrate theory and practice and receive supervision in a work setting.
    • Example: Early Childhood Education students complete practice teaching courses to gain in-class experience in a public school.
  • Workplace simulations: You practice knowledge and skills in a simulated workplace environment.
    • Example: Students in the Dental Hygiene program practise on life-like patient models in a simulated clinic.

If your program does not include an experiential learning component, there are other ways of gaining experience. These include:

    • Part-time and summer employment: Employers are looking past the knowledge and skills you’ve gained in school, they are interested in seeing that you have obtained real-world experience. Securing a summer or part-time job while completing your studies will demonstrate to the employer that you have developed the employment readiness skills they are looking for. Gaining experience in different interest areas will also help to solidify your career goals and expand your connections.
    • Job shadowing: Job shadowing is an opportunity for you to observe working professionals in their environment throughout their typical work day or week. This allows you to process information about an occupation and clarify your job goal. You are able to see hands-on how your learned skills translate into a particular work environment and job. To inquire about job shadowing opportunities, reach out to people in your network or contact companies of interest.
    • Volunteer opportunities: Volunteering your time allows you to directly impact your community, meet new people, learn new valuable skills, advance your career, and increase your confidence. Additionally, volunteering introduces you to different environments and roles within an organization that will help you identify your interests within the field. You have the chance to cultivate valuable leadership opportunities through rewarding experiences. If you are interested in volunteering visit the Volunteer Centre, contact specific companies of interest, search their websites, or connect with community volunteer organizations.
    • Mentorship: Last, but not least, a good way to gain quality advice and industry know-how is by finding yourself a mentor. A mentor is someone who willingly shares their skills, knowledge, expertise, advice, and professional contacts with you throughout your career journey. A mentor can assist you in setting realistic career goals and making smart career decisions. Their wisdom can be beneficial, from finding a job after you graduate to moving up the company ladder. You can look within your current network for a mentor; this could be a professor, work or volunteer supervisor, or a family friend. If no one in your immediate network is in a position or industry that might interest you, research professionals on LinkedIn, reach out to your Alumni and Friends Network, or ask for referrals and contact them directly
Unless otherwise indicated, this chapter is an adaptation of Be the Boss of Your Career: A Complete Guide for Students & Grads by Lindsay Bortot and Employment Support Centre, Algonquin College, and is used under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 International license.

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