How to get work experience: ask the expert

I am a full-time mum and have been one ever since we came to the UK 5 years ago. Before this, I was a full-time student and have completed my Masters in Botany in India. Now my children are more grown up, I wish to start working (preferably in my own field). However, I have no work experience whatsoever and everywhere I have applied, they have asked me for work experience. How do I get the work experience?


There are several different ways of tackling this particular problem.  The usefulness of any particular approach will depend on what type of work you’re after (do you want to use your Masters degree in Botany to begin a scientific career, for example, or are you a generalist?); what types of employment are available in your locality; and what methods you’re using to search for suitable jobs.

Firstly, have you analysed in detail the full range of work-related skills that you can offer an employer and described them in terms employers understand?

You’re likely to have at the forefront of your mind your intellectual/academic skills, but there may be other equally useful skills you’ve developed while at home.  Have you planned and organised group activities or welfare programmes for the children or adults, for example?  Have you “project managed” any local campaigns (eg those aimed at persuading the local council to provide new services or turn down a planning application)?  Employers need staff with highly developed “people” skills and don’t care whether they were acquired in a job or in the course of ordinary life.

Secondly, have you targeted the right kind of job, one in which what you already have to offer (your intelligence and other attributes) outweighs what you can’t offer (ie work experience)?  In my view, initially you should target short-term fixed contract posts of the type a raw graduate does.  You’re more likely to be offered these than permanent roles at this stage.  They will give you some relevant work experience and projects are often extended, sometimes leading into permanent employment.

Thirdly, are you considering the small employers (eg new consultancies and scientific organisations) and proactively approaching them?  These small organisations find it more difficult to publicise their jobs than their large competitors and at the same time need very high calibre staff, people capable of handling a wide variety of challenges.  They provide excellent experience for someone at the start of their working career.

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