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Building Experience for Your Career

When you decide on a career field that interests you, or an organization where you want to work, there may be a moment early on when you question how to get started. After all, picking a career field was the easy part; figuring out how to break into that field is what becomes daunting.

“How do I even get started in this field?”

“How do I build up the experience they want?”

“Am I too late to start down this career path?”

These are common questions. Most people worry so much about lacking qualifications that they end up stuck – and don’t see the many ways in front of them to answer these questions.

Whether you’re right out of college, recently graduated, or making a mid-career transition, here are some things to remember.

Research Multiple Positions That Interest You

If this seems like an obvious thing to do, that’s because it is! Start by researching multiple job postings for positions that interest you, or that are related to your field of interest. Do this across various levels: entry-level, mid-career, and executive positions. This gives you an idea of the desired skills that organizations would like you to build over time. Pay less attention to educational and experiential requirements, and instead look at position-specific skills in job postings. Employers are often more intrigued by your ability to learn and adapt than by years of service or academic background (the exception here being technical career fields such as engineering and life sciences).

Talk to Early-Career Professionals in the Field

If job postings are too difficult to understand, talk to professionals in your field/organization of interest. It’s another no-brainer, but an invaluable way to identify some good starting points. Ask about their path into the field: how they got started, where they worked, where they succeeded and failed, and what their colleagues did to get going. The benefit to this approach is two-fold: you get firsthand advice on starting out from someone who has “been there and done that,” and you start building a network in your field that can continue helping you over time. Never underestimate the value of face-to-face connections.

Ask, Then Ask Again

Asking for advice is a process. Don’t be shy about approaching numerous people (professors, career advisors, classmates, co-workers, former employers, and friends) and asking as many questions as you can – but be careful not to overwhelm them! After all, you’ll never know until you ask, and asking may do more than you expect. People are often encouraged and impressed when they see genuine curiosity and interest in the work they do. By reaching out, asking questions, and being forthcoming about your interest, you tell them much more than a resume ever could. Besure to ask… and then ask again!

Pay Attention to Opportunities Around You

Finally, be aware of what’s around you. If you fixate on the “best” way to break into a career field, or the common ways others when about it, you’ll likely miss any opportunity. That most people in finance started out unpaid interns at investment banks doesn’t mean leading a charity fundraiser or serving as treasurer of your university’s student government isn’t relevant experience.

Internships (paid or unpaid), volunteer positions, or part-time and temporary positions always have the potential to lead to a job. Why? Because it’s about how you approach the position, learn a skill(s) from it, and demonstrate to employers why it makes you a relevant candidate for a position you want. Show your growth, derive a skill, and make it applicable. If anything, taking those opportunities demonstrates why you’re different, why your skills are unique, and what that makes you and ideal candidate.

Alan Cunningham

Questions for Alan? You can reach him at



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