No matter what qualifications you have, employers are looking for people with work experience. There are no shortcuts to the top - everybody starts at the bottom. Managers need to have at least 5-10 years experience. It is never too late to start gaining work experience but the earlier, the better. Employers prefer people who have experience; they will hire someone with as little as 3-6 months work experience over someone who has no work experience.

What is work experience?

Work experience is the skills and practice you gain while you work. It includes any duties or tasks that increase your understanding of the day-to-day activities and behaviour of the workplace. Work experience helps you to develop your marketable skills, for example, interacting with your colleagues and manager, and being a good employee.

What can you consider as valuable work experience?

Any experience or involvement in the workplace is valuable. For example, you might not think packing groceries at a store is important when applying for a sales manager position, however, as a packer, you build experience dealing with customers and giving good customer service that can be considered valuable experience for a sales manager. Exposure to the operations of any workplace can be considered work experience. It can be a few hours a week or a few days in a month.

Do only full-time jobs count as work experience?

No. You can build work experience through different employment opportunities, for example, part-time work, volunteering, an internship, an apprenticeship, a learnership, casual or commissioned work. All of these opportunities will give you valuable work experience. Even work that you receive no pay for is an experience that shows employers your commitment and motivation. Read more about what to include on your CV, if you have no work experience, here.

Why is work experience so important?

You can only advance in your career by gaining more and more work experience. Here are a few reasons why work experience is so important:

  • You get a real idea of what to expect in the workplace, what to do and what not to do.
  • You improve your marketable skills, such as your communication skills i.e. talking to people and asking questions, the ability to work on your own and as a team, dealing with conflict and stress, and how to manage your time.
  • You develop confidence. You feel more comfortable and confident in your skills and abilities.
  • You develop good work behaviour (work ethic) like being on time and having the right attitude.
  • Work experience helps you discover your interests; you may discover a role or interest you never knew existed.
  • It will increase your chances of getting a job because employers can trust that you know how the workplace operates, you can behave or act accordingly, and that you are committed.
  • The more experience you build, the greater your chances of getting a better paying job.

You are never too young or too old to start building work experience; you can start by volunteering or job shadowing until you find an interesting opportunity. Work experience will provide you with the necessary practical knowledge and skills that employers are looking for and help you to achieve your career goals.

Next Step: Create a professional CV.