“If you need a job, get experience first. If you need experience, get a job first. Which way out?”
It is not uncommon to find announcements of job openings requiring applicants to have a number of years of work experience.
This is a towering stumbling block for most job seekers, especially fresh graduates in Nigeria who often enter the labour market too ill prepared in terms of critical skills acquisition and workplace know-how. Hence, they grow despondent and join the growing league of unemployed or out rightly unemployable Nigerians.
Experience has shown that the above isn't mere hypothesis…it's the imbroglio staring many Nigerians in the face. Sometimes ago when I posted the above quotation of mine on my Facebook wall, the responses I received were quite dumbfounding. The quotation proved very perplexing to many friends some of whom said “I'm lost o,” “such employers are cruel,” “it's crazy to ask fresh graduates for experience,” etc.
This is obviously avoidable. Generally, employers look out for your employability – demonstrated by your knowledge, skills, experiences and work habits. Employers aren't asking for experience simply to intimidate the newbies, they ask for it because that's what demonstrate your understanding of the work in context, your good judgment, responsibility and track record of excellence.
Internship, volunteerism, industrial training, chamber attachment, placement with a multinational company, long-term projects, students' extracurricular activities, etc. are all veritable ways of gathering valuable experiences before ever getting a job.
Your experiences in managing people, planning, executing and evaluating an event, presiding over meetings, raising funds, etc. as a president or financial secretary of a students' association or a committee member should all be leveraged in proving to employers that you have work experiences.
If you're a Law student, your experiences during chambers attachment as a student could prove decisive for you. If you study Engineering, your industrial training constitutes valuable work experience. Volunteerism with organizations focusing on your field of study shows employers you're responsible, selfless and of course experienced. And the good thing is how easy it is to find a volunteer position that fits your interests and potentials.
My own life is punctuated with practical instances of bringing work experiences gathered from extracurricular activities to the fore. Many years ago while I was still a mere SSCE holder, I audaciously applied for a teaching job in a 'big' primary school in Lagos which minimum qualification was NCE and 3 years working experience – both of which I lacked. I thought I wasn't eligible and would most probably not get the job, but trying out doesn't harm anyone. The headmistress said she invited me for the interview in admiration of my audacity.
The interview – written, classroom and oral – lasted 3 long hours. Although my papers said I wasn't the right man, I was able to demonstrate my mettle with experiences I've gathered from helping my teachers copy lesson notes, consistently tutoring my classmates, organizing the morning assembly and daily supervising colleagues as a prefect.
Also, as an undergraduate, I landed a freelance writing job with a reputable international media outfit using my work experience consisting of blogging, writing for notice boards on campus, entering and winning essay contests, assisting my lecturers with specific researches and volunteering as a campus reporter for some dailies.
So it is not true that getting a job must precede gathering work experience. It only depends on the school schedule you maintain and how well you can speak about and demonstrate the valuable work skills you've acquired without ever having a job. Triangular students whose call points are class, library and hostel would do well to take part in extracurricular activities from which they could acquire critical life-improving skills.
Membership and active participation in programmes of associations, committees and study groups as well as personal entrepreneurial pursuits, religious engagements and whatnot on and off campus are exercises a student with a proper understanding of the mechanics of the 21st century workplace would not neglect.
In a job application or interview, if you can speak clearly about these seemingly fringe experiences and show their nexus with the job you're discussing, you'll make your case.
So when next you need to convince a prospective employer that you actually have the work experiences he needs, remember the cultural movie you made with your friends as a sophomore, the campus mapping you partook in as a volunteer, how you combined your printing work with campus journalism, essay competitions and religious activities and still had good academic grades.
And the good thing is that all these can go into your CV. You see now that work experience can be independent of holding jobs in the past.
***Muhammed Abdullahi Tosin is a professional freelance writer and the CEO of Naija Writers' Coach. He posts essay contests and teaches how to write right at www.NaijaWritersCoach.com. You may follow him on Twitter @Oxygenmat.