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5 Ways To Get Experience In A Newly-Acquired Skill
By Grace Washington

Career development requires a commitment to learning new skills. But, for the stay-at-home parent desiring to begin or change jobs in a home-based career, how to gain experience in those newly-acquired skills presents an even greater challenge. It's the old catch-22: the vast majority of employers are looking for people with experience in a given skill, but you can’t get experience unless someone hires you to use your new skills.

So, what's the answer? How CAN you get experience in a newly-acquired skill? And, how can you get that experience, and still maintain control and flexibility over your schedule? Here are five creative, flexible options you can use to get the experience you need:

1. Temping

Working short- or long-term temporary assignments is a great way to gain experience. In addition, your employment with the temp agency can offer numerous other benefits, including:
bulletaccess to free computer training
bulletopportunity to earn extra money WHILE you get the experience you need
bulletrisk-free opportunity to gain experience in a variety of industries and work environments
bulletflexibility to choose the location and length of assignments
bulletfull employee benefits, including medical and 401K contribution

2. Volunteering

If you need lots of flexibility in your schedule, volunteering is probably your best bet. You can volunteer as little or as much as you desire. Also, volunteering provides a valuable opportunity to sharpen not only new technical skills, but your people skills as well.

To get the most out of your volunteer experience, you should have a genuine desire to help the organization you select. A single-minded interest in only gaining quick experience will be perceived by the staff, and won’t garner you the positive and glowing reference you’ll need as confirmation of your experience for prospective employers.

3. Freelancing

If you are new to freelancing, you can use completed coursework (as outlined below) to provide examples of your experience with related projects. Additionally, new freelancers may find it useful to offer their services for free or at a minimal price. Look for projects that offer the possibility of ongoing work. And, be sure to ask for a testimonial at the end of each project, as an important component of any flourishing freelancing career is great word-of-mouth.

4. Job Sharing

Job sharing is a flexible work arrangement where two people, each working part time, share the responsibilities of a single, full-time position. While using new skills to job share a “regular” job with a new employer may be difficult (given the prevailing experiential catch-22), there’s certainly nothing to stop you from sharing a freelance, temp, or volunteer position. You can learn more about job sharing, and view a sample job sharing policy at at

5. Promote Your Coursework

While prospective employers may place a higher premium on “workplace” experience, the value of completed course assignments should not be overlooked. These “hands on” projects definitely count as experience, but your success in using them to secure work will rely upon your ability to help your prospective employer see how the value of that experience will benefit his or her organization.

Of course, this option works best if the completed assignments you select resulted in a tangible product (i.e. completed articles, proposals, or essays to demonstrate writing skills). And, the better the grade you received on the assignment, the easier it will be to communicate the value of the “experience.”

Several years ago, I learned that a gentleman was looking for someone to review and finalize a business plan for his start-up. At the time, the only experience I could show was a marketing plan I had completed as part of my coursework while attending New York University (I had received an “A” on the assignment). I was successful in persuading him to consider the value of the experience and how it would benefit him, and offered to finalize his plan on spec. He agreed, and I reviewed and edited his business plan. I even used my word processing and desktop publishing skills to create a polished presentation. The end result: he was awarded $15,000 in start-up capital for his new company, and I earned $450.00, and was able to add “workplace” experience and his glowing reference to my resume.

Finally, when using any of these options, resist the urge to simply “do your job” and leave. For example, while studying Marketing at NYU, I wanted to deepen my understanding of theory by simultaneously working in a marketing environment. I signed on with a temp agency, and accepted a data entry assignment in “Color” Marketing at Avon. As my primary interest has always been computer technology and its use, I quickly mastered their DOS-based new product development program, and volunteered to edit and maintain their user’s manual. When the company decided to build a Web-based program, to my surprise, the project manager (whom I’d spoken with only one other time) invited me to write the user’s manual, and to train all headquarters staff. I quickly accepted, and was offered full-time employment.

Always take full advantage of every opportunity to talk to people in other areas of the organization. If you don’t, you could miss out on the employment opportunity you’ve been looking for. Remember, all of these opportunities come with a built-in “inside track” on unadvertised openings. New skills with new experience and new contacts often creates a successful new career.

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Grace Washington is a freelance writer, and owner of She's also the author of "The Essential Home Job Search Guide," a Web-based action guide written to help users “work where they live” by guiding them, start to finish, through a proven method for conducting a successful home job search.

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