How to find a (Great) Work-Based Experience

Finding a Great Work-Based Experience

Work-based experiences like internships, externships and apprenticeships are great to participate in because they show employers you have real-world training that goes beyond a classroom. You can add a work-based experience to a resume and LinkedIn profile, and it may really help you stand out as you apply for other jobs.

Take it from Christine Mackay, Phoenix Community and Economic Development Director for the City of Phoenix. At the 2021 Future of Work Summit, Mackay said there’s currently a workforce readiness crisis. While 87% of college grads believe they’re well-prepared for the Arizona workforce, only 50% of hiring managers agree. A staggering 92% of executives report workers are under-skilled. In Fall 2020, Pipeline AZ convened nearly 70 educators and industry experts to identify the key challenges between education and workforce, and one of the main findings was that industry needs more qualified job seekers. Simply put, employers are looking for ways to upskill their workforce.

Learning in an actual job environment can prepare you for your career. If you’ve wondered how to get an internship or work-based experience that’s good for your career plans, here’s what to look for and how to get the most from your internship or work-based experience.

1. Relevant Industry

This sounds like a no-brainer, but ideally your work-based experience will be in the industry you want to get a full-time job in. Employers don’t just look at the amount of time you’ve worked. They look for relevant experience that shows you have the skills to succeed in their industry.

Relevant work experience is especially important in today’s digital hiring landscape. Applicant tracking systems may scan resumes for specific keywords employers are looking for.

Start your work-based experience search with your dream companies. If you’re open to relocating for a work-based experience, go big with your search. A company that may not have room to take you on may be able to refer you to a similar company with just as much value.

It’s an advantage to have a work-based experience at the employer you’d love to work for. The employer saves time and money in training you in their processes, systems and technology. You get to make worthwhile connections who can vouch for you when you’re ready to apply for an open position there.

2. Meaningful Work

The stereotypical “internship” where you occupy menial tasks at a job won’t cut the mustard. It is important to find a work-based experience within the field of interest you would like to pursue, but only as long as you’re gaining experience related to that industry. While a work-based experience is good for your resume, your time is valuable. You should interview companies as they’re interviewing you for a work-based experience position.

 Ask about:

  • What the daily tasks and any long-term projects you’ll be working on look like
  • Who you’ll be collaborating with most frequently and if you’ll be mentored by anyone
  • Any types of learning, development and training you’ll receive on the job

Ideally, you’ll want to be able to shadow and/or do meaningful work in a work-based experience. Communicate what you’re hoping to learn and take away from a work-based experience. See if your expectations line up with what the hiring manager says the company has to offer.

Hands-on experiences are valuable, since they give you an idea of what to expect from the industry and job and can help you determine if that career path is right for you. They’re also better for your resume, since you’ll be able to list specific contributions you made that may be relevant to your job search.

3. Adequate Compensation

The compensation you require from a work-based experience will depend on your financial and educational needs. Some colleges and universities require an internship in order to complete a course. In that case, a class credit may suffice and you may be open to an unpaid internship.

If you’re out of school and are perhaps looking for work-based experiences like apprenticeships in order to change careers, you may require financial compensation. There are lots of paid work-based experiences. While the salary may be less than other full-time positions, you should consider what you need to meet your financial needs and be selective when considering paid programs.

If you can’t afford to work for free full-time, you might look into a part-time paid program so you have time to work another job. If you’re considering an unpaid internship, make sure it will provide you with learning opportunities and hands-on experience that add value to your career journey.

4. Positive Mission & Culture

If you’re like most people, a company’s culture and mission matter to you. According to Glassdoor’s Mission & Culture Survey 2019, 77% of adults would consider a company’s culture before they apply for a position there, while 56% say culture is more important than salary in how it relates to job satisfaction.

Why are company culture and mission so important? They have a direct impact on employee engagement, which is the emotional commitment employees feel toward a company. As career consulting firm HiConsulting Services points out, not feeling engaged at work can lead to higher illness incidence, more stress and higher risk of accidents.

Work-based experience is important, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of your mental and physical health. As you compare employers, ask about what their mission is and how they’d describe their company culture. Define your own values to find an employer that matches those.

5. Substantial Outcomes

Finally, since your time is so valuable, you want to choose a work-based experience that is likely to help you with your career goals. Ask employers what types of outcomes previous interns, externs, apprentices, etc. have gone on to pursue. See if other work-based experience professionals have been hired by the company, or if they’ve found meaningful employment at similar employers. The Pipeline AZ career pages identify the exact pathways and skills you will need to succeed within a specific career path. Not only should the industry be relevant, but make sure the skills and experience you’re gaining fits within your chosen career and field of interest.

Also, ask about how the employer can help you even if they don’t end up hiring you. It’s a good idea to ask early on if the employer is willing to provide a recommendation if you produce great work, so you know you’ll have some type of support and testimonial after you’ve completed your work-based experience.

As you compare employers, you’ll also want to think about networking opportunities the experience can lead to. Consider that networking and connections are significantly important for securing a job search today. According to a 2019 report by CNBC, 70% of all jobs aren’t posted publicly on job sites, while 80% of jobs are filled through professional and personal connections.

You can use LinkedIn to research each company’s reputation and the people who work for it. You might discover that you have current connections who work there or who have been employed by the company. That gives you an opportunity to talk with them about their time with the employer before you commit to a work-based experience.

Also, research any organizations the employer is connected to, like national industry associations. Having work-based experience at an affiliated employer could open new doors and provide future networking opportunities through professional associations.

Get More Work-Based Experience Tips

At Pipeline AZ, we’re passionate about connecting employers and those who are interested in work-based experiences with win-win opportunities. Check out our work-based experience blog for more insights, including How to Network in a Post-COVID Era and 11 Ways to Find a Career Mentor.

You can also compare careers to see what you’re interested in and find Arizona work-based experiences related to those careers. Take an interests assessment for career pathways to see what you might be a fit for.

Ready to find a work-based experience? View Arizona work-based experience listings. You can also find fast track certificates and trainings to get you up to speed.

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