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Kelechi Udoagwu: How To Get Experience When You’ve Never Had a Job



dreamstime_l_33085033The most common question I’ve heard graduates ask is “How can I get experience when I’ve never had a job?” or “How can I use my skills when no one will hire me?”. It’s easy and quite normal to get frustrated when job searching seems endless and it feels like life is against you — the periods of job searching can be the worst in a young man (or woman’s) life. You’ve graduated with a good degree, you should be able to get a good job; but the world doesn’t care about your degree.

Which brings us back to the question — how can you get experience when no one will hire you? If you stare at this question long enough, it should become obvious that you have to create your own opportunities to gain experience. You might be fresh out of school, but you don’t have to be fresh into the job market.

If you’re not blessed with uncles and aunties in high places, you should start preparing for the inevitable job hunt period while still in school. Here’s some motivation to gain experience and ideas to get started:

It sets you apart
You might be a natural salesperson, but if you don’t have the experience of actually working in some sales capacity, it doesn’t count. Everyone thinks they’re good at something till they try. I used to think I was good at acting until I started attending auditions, and that didn’t turn out so well. You should test yourself with open opportunities in your field whether you’re paid or not. Doing what you say you can do is the best way to convince any job recruiter. When they ask for experience, what they’re really asking for is proof that you’re used to the role, and not a waste of time.

It gives you credibility
Let’s say you want to become a writer or a speaker. These fields are difficult to break into, even for long-timers. What gives you credibility is a portfolio of work, which acts as proof that you’re passionate about what you do, you do it often, are be willing to grow in the field. A portfolio shows job recruiters that you’re committed.

You meet people who change your life
In my opinion, this is the best thing about creating useful experiences. You meet people you wouldn’t have met on a normal day. Let’s imagine, you voluntarily intern at Heirs Holdings. You not only have a chance of being hired when you graduate, but you also have the chance to meet important people like the CEO, and make an impression. The people you meet everyday will become your social capital in future. Like a proverb says, it’s not who you know but who knows you that counts.

It keeps you constantly evolving
There’s nothing sadder than running into friends from your past, and you’re still in the same place you were when you were friends. Chasing productive experiences keeps you evolving, and leads to progress which leads to more progress. My first job was a voluntary internship at a firm in Allen; no pay, no chair, no real role in the office. But it set me up for my next job, which in turn set me up for my present job.

It teaches you more than school ever will
You get a more rounded view about life, especially in the professional world. You learn how to act like an oga by being around them. Even the littlest and most useless errands they send you on can add up in your CV if you phrase it right. You get to practice the things you were taught in school, and learn things you weren’t.

Sh*t’s gonna get real before you know it
Remind yourself that things are going to change in your life someday, and you have to prepare for it. It could be graduation, a crash in the economy, or death of a parent; but someday what you’re doing to get by presently will not be enough to sustain you.

The summary so far is this: Don’t wait till you need a job before you start thinking of what experience you have or how your skills add up. Start doing something in your free time, it doesn’t have to be big. So when next you have to fill an application, you’ll have experience, someone to recommend you, and a number of options to choose from.

Here are some ideas of things you can do to build your experience before you get a job:

  • Always say yes to new experiences: If you have nothing else to do, just say yes.
  • Apply, apply, apply: The internet is filled with many opportunities. Most of them are free. Apply whether you think you’ll get it or not. You never know where fate will take you.
  • Ask people how they did it: Drop your pride and embrace curiosity instead.
  • Intern for free: A voluntary internship can open many doors for you. Accept the fact that in the beginning of your career you won’t make a lot of money. That’s why you should start early so you can progress early.
  • Volunteer often: This is a great way to meet passionate people who can impact you positively.
  • Network, make connections: Everybody is somebody, and can teach you something, or connect you to someone.
  • Forget your failures: The past is past. What matters is moving forward, and making sure you do better.
  • Contact your mentors: Reach out to successful people if you have something definite that you want from them.
  • Attend conferences: It gives you a chance to practice social skills and stack up social capital.
  • Take a class: Whether online or offline, it doesn’t matter, as long as you learn something.
  • Create a blog: If you like to write, this is good practice and you never know where it might lead.
  • Practise an art or a skill: Playing an instrument, drawing, cooking, dancing, sewing. These could all turn into a career, or make you more interesting to people you meet.
  • Pay attention: Study your environment, study people. In life, the trick isn’t to be strong, rich or brave — it’s to be attentive.
  • Forget about what you studied at the University: Chances are you’ll end up doing something else.
  • Spend money on experiences, not things: You’ll remember most of the things you did in your life; places you went, conversations that changed you, etc; but you’re not likely to remember the cute shoes you bought last year.

Photo Credit: Dreamstime

Kelechi Udoagwu is an Accra-based Nigerian writer, consultant, and Founder of Week of Saturdays. She works with organizations and thought leaders to communicate goals and reach new markets. She also guides young freelancers to get a foot in the gig and talent economy.


  1. aguusta

    February 23, 2016 at 10:35 am

    Good write up

  2. nnennaya

    February 23, 2016 at 10:39 am

    Beautiful write up Kelechi. I Learnt quite a few things but my question is ;what if the experience is non relevant to job that u are applying.

    • N.O

      February 23, 2016 at 1:22 pm

      No experience is irrelevant regardless of what you are applying for. Employers are more concerned about the skills you picked up more than the what the actual experience was. So in perspective assuming you went to a a tailoring class and you are applying to an accounting firm. Expatiate on the skills you picked up there for example your ability to dedicate long hours to work, work with people e.t.c. These skills are relevant. Again its what you gained more so than what you did. I’m not saying go into armed robbery o and now say you learnt how to be sharp. Be concise.

    • Kelechi Udoagwu

      March 6, 2016 at 3:30 pm

      Thanks Nnenaya! I’ll say go for it anyway! Life connects all the dots eventually. What you’re doing now might make no sense to you, but in the long run, everything will come together to help you.

  3. Ruthy

    February 23, 2016 at 10:48 am

    This was awesome. Thank you. It’s sad that people don’t make comments on impactful posts.

    • Kelechi Udoagwu

      March 6, 2016 at 3:32 pm

      Thanks so much, Ruthy! Glad you connected with this piece. It doesn’t matter what the majority cares about as long as there’s people like you 🙂

  4. Tosin

    February 23, 2016 at 11:19 am

    intern, volunteer, …
    and luckily many degree programs have a large industrial attachment component nowadays. plus there is NYSC. use those opportunities very wisely.

  5. Joke adegoke

    February 23, 2016 at 11:20 am

    This is all what i needed. Nice write up

    • Kelechi Udoagwu

      March 6, 2016 at 3:33 pm

      Glad I could help, Joke. You’re the reason I wrote this.

  6. Avosiya

    February 23, 2016 at 11:32 am

    Great Advice, the mistake we make (made) is waiting till after school for life experiences to push us to find out what we are really good at or what our skills (outside our discipline) are

    • Kelechi Udoagwu

      March 6, 2016 at 3:34 pm

      Exactly, Avosiya. Hopefully we move on making better decisions

  7. Temi

    February 23, 2016 at 11:43 am

    Really nice…..thot i had gone past that stage but actually learnt from your post. Thanks again

    • Kelechi Udoagwu

      March 6, 2016 at 3:35 pm

      No, thank you Temi. We never stop learning. Sometimes you just need someone to remind you of stuff you already know

  8. keke driver

    February 23, 2016 at 12:09 pm

    I concur.

  9. glowy

    February 23, 2016 at 12:43 pm

    Volunteer! Volunteer! Volunteer if you have the opportunity! I can talk from experience. I have a Masters in Environmental and Public Health from a uni in the UK. Came back to Nigeria with the mind set of ” It wont be hard to get a job na”. So i started online job applications.. Well……for one year, i was at home, NO JOB! I just got up one day and said what if i look for a place to volunteer sef (I had previously volunteered in a hospital in the UK without pay, so it wasn’t strange to me). That’s how i approached one Hospital and applied to be a volunteer. The hospital kept posting me oh but i sha continued visiting until they asked me to start. I also went to an NGO and applied too, i was juggling both, three days in one and two days in the other. (The hospital was dealing with HIV and the NGO Malaria and I wanted experience in both). Well, after months of working without pay or any from of stipends, the NGO started hiring, Guess who got a job there? ME! Now i’m enjoying my job, gathering as much experience as i can to keep moving up the ladder. Imagine if i just chilled at home and continued applying on line? So young people, just know sometimes you don’t need an Uncle, Aunt or some Aristo to help you secure a job. Try and help yourself first..

    • Kelechi Udoagwu

      March 6, 2016 at 3:40 pm

      Thanks so much for sharing this Glowy. Exactly the message I was trying to get across. Time will pass whether you’re sitting at home or not. Might as well be doing something that helps you and helps people in the long run.

  10. Chinelo

    February 23, 2016 at 1:47 pm

    Great write up Kelechi.

    i needed to read this. i will definitely send you a mail.

    • Kelechi Udoagwu

      March 6, 2016 at 3:40 pm

      Thank you Chinelo. Glad you did get in touch 🙂

  11. JustWhatINeeded

    February 23, 2016 at 4:36 pm

    Does anyone know of any NGO on the island??? All i keep seeing are located on the mainland and i need somewhere closer for me to volunteer. Thanks in advance.

    • Kelechi Udoagwu

      March 6, 2016 at 3:41 pm

      I hope you find/found something. Be aggressive in your search.

  12. Blueberry

    February 23, 2016 at 5:18 pm

    Brilliant write up.
    This right here, is excellent advice and adds alot of value to many out there…including me.???

    • Kelechi Udoagwu

      March 6, 2016 at 3:42 pm

      Thanks so much Blueberry. You’re the reason I wrote this!

  13. Honeycrown

    February 23, 2016 at 7:20 pm

    Good article. Yes, Internship & Volunteer!!! It helped me and some school mates in the past after college.

  14. emerald

    February 23, 2016 at 11:55 pm

    Timely write up for me, been thinking along dis idea lately, just the conviction i needed. Does anyone knw any audit firm recruiting interns currently?

    • Kelechi Udoagwu

      March 6, 2016 at 3:46 pm

      Thank you Emerald. Apply to audit firms but don’t limit your search.

  15. xxx

    February 24, 2016 at 7:59 am

    hmm! i really really need a job. getting so fustrating. anyone here who can help?

    • Kelechi Udoagwu

      March 6, 2016 at 3:48 pm

      Doubt there’s anyone here who can. Specify what you want, and talk to real people who have gone through your path. Intern and volunteer in companies close to you. You have to be deliberate in your search and securing your future. Don’t stop even when it seems like nothing’s working.

  16. rony

    February 27, 2016 at 10:59 am

    I agree volunteer / internship experience are good . but I summon the courage sent applications out to companies around me as an intern but I have not been contacted. I would appreciate it if I got a place close by to reduce transport fare. These days getting tfare self is something! I keep wondering how hard it is to give an intern an opportunity…. I really need to do something worthwhile but when the opportunity self never show nko? I would keep sending applications sha to close and far companies.I keep writing professional exams with no experience to practical use it. I am really hoping to march forward in march o!!!!

    • Kelechi Udoagwu

      March 6, 2016 at 3:49 pm

      Keep doing what you’re doing. Don’t stop yet, a door will open for you soon.

  17. Presh

    May 26, 2016 at 1:24 pm

    motivating write up, thank you. I have a question though. do you just walk to a company or NGO without any invitation, are there no security guards. it’s really difficult walking into any of these places without any prior invitation or that you know someone working there.

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