top of page

How to Gain Experience You Don’t Have

Blocks in the form of steps with letters spelling the word "Growth" and a purple overlay with the blog title reading: "How to Gain Experience You Don't Have"

The dilemma of not having enough experience is an age-old problem. Maybe you went to college and studied in the field for your job of choice, but you haven’t worked in that field, yet. You want to apply for an open position, but it ‘requires 3-5 years’ experience in the field. You are currently in a role that you have outgrown, and you want to apply for another opportunity; however, it requires you to have supervisory experience and you don’t.

Have you found yourself in this position before? Most people have. When you are new to a field or industry or want to make a life change, it can be difficult and frustrating to find advancement opportunities.

Don’t lose hope, there are ways to gain experience, be seen, and get the job you want, but you will need to be both patient and aggressive with your goals.

The best possible scenario for you is that you already work in your field of choice, You want to take the next step in your career, and you’ve found the perfect opportunity, now what?

First, you should compare the new position’s job responsibilities and requirements and see if they match with your current skills. What are you missing? Are these skills essential to the role, e.g., they want a great writer, but that isn’t your strongest skill. At this point you must decide if this is something you want to do, the writing that is.

If so, you may decide to enhance your skills by taking a writing class, while also making a point of highlighting the other required skills that you already possess —play to your strengths. The goal here is to highlight that while you may not be an award-winning novelist, you are good at coming up with catchy phrases, you are a great editor, and you will grow into the role. But you must apply for the job to prove your worthiness!

Did you know that women are less likely to apply for ‘stretch roles’ when it comes to job applications, despite the fact that they’re more likely to be hired for a job when compared to a man applying for that exact same position? View the source of that information in Women only apply for jobs when 100% qualified. Fact or fake news. - By Emiie Rabitoy

Let’s explore some ways you can gain experience—whether you’re already in the field you want, or you are looking to enter a new one.

  • Ask someone to be your mentor. Is there someone in your field you know and trust that you’d like to emulate? It is great when you have an established relationship and can set clear boundaries for mentorship. You need to make sure you’re proactive and ask questions about the structure of the mentorship as most people are very open to helping others, but there need to be guidelines. Maybe you set a calendar in place to meet once a month and you prepare an agenda and questions? Make sure you report back with updates and challenges. If you don’t have these established relationships, then perhaps your goal should be developing a relationship with someone in a leadership role to build up to the mentorship ask.

  • Shadow a colleague. Have you had your eyes on a particular department or role that you want to learn more about? Ask your supervisor if you can job shadow a colleague. Similar to mentorship, I’d suggest setting some goals and boundaries— no one wants to be taken advantage of. Set specific goals, e.g., amount of time or projects you can help with. Then, when an opening in the department becomes available, you will be seen as someone who has demonstrated interest, and has also taken an active role in understanding what they do.

  • Volunteer to help with various projects. Volunteering with your team or in your department is a great way to see what other employees do. You watch the individuals on your team plan large stewardship events, and you have no idea how they pull this off, but you are interested in learning and possibly making a shift to this field. The best possible way to gain experience is to do the work side by side with your colleagues! Ask to take on small tasks and come up with ways to be more efficient. Your colleagues will appreciate the help and you will get an insider’s view into event planning and logistics, it’s a win-win! If you don’t have this kind of access available to you, then try volunteering at a local nonprofit.

  • Join a membership group and go to a conference. The reason for attending a conference is as much about learning new skills and ideas as it about meeting people and networking in your field. I know that not everyone loves a conference, but they are a fantastic way to gather new ideas, find motivation and even find your next job. Step out of your comfort zone and attend a conference, you may surprise yourself and come back a new person. We are very fortunate to have many opportunities to learn and connect in our field – don’t miss out.

  • Take a course or certificate series. Is there a skill that needs developing? Do you want to enhance or learn something completely new? There’s an app (or a course!) for that. If you are working at an academic institution, you may be able to enroll in classes—often there are courses for writing, supervision, accounting, DEI, or any other area of interest.

A few ideas:

  • Enhance your writing skills.

  • Take a certificate series on Fundraising.

  • Supervisor classes (lots of organizations offer these in house)

  • Grow your computer skills/learn how to code, develop websites.

  • Become a graphic designer.

  • Become a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE)

  • Attend the Indiana School of Philanthropy (or any school that offers fundraising courses and certificates)

Many courses are offered online through Coursera as well.

My closing thoughts:

Instead of being frustrated with a lack of experience or skills, do something about it! We are lucky to be working in a time when so many opportunities are available to us. So, do your research, ask for help and don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. You may not always meet every skill necessary for a job, but you can show that you are a great candidate when you demonstrate initiative to acquire the skills necessary to be successful in the role. Play to your strengths and highlight your abilities as well as your proactive approach to gaining experience. Now, go get that dream job and make a difference!

What skill or experience would you like to gain? Share in the comments below!


bottom of page