Those Two (Dreaded) Words: Experience. Required.

 

We’ve all been there!

That frustrating cycle of “how do I get an event job without experience” and  “how do I get experience if I can’t get a job without it”?

Whether you are new to the business or working towards a position of increased responsibility, here are some tips to help accelerate your cache of practical and valuable event experience.

 

Volunteer

The great news here is that volunteer jobs are not only available but often plentiful in the event industry. Not-for-profit organizations and charity events rely heavily on their volunteer force. Most consumer shows, sporting events and festivals also need a significant volunteer base. Don’t be afraid to contact the organizers of a particular event that interests you to see if they need help. There are plenty of options and volunteering is a fantastic way for you to dig in and learn how things are done.

If you are just beginning your career in events, every bit of experience will teach you something. Don’t get too caught up in worrying about what you are asked to do. The main idea is to work hard, take in everything, make a positive contribution and gain experience. At the very least the exposure will provide you with insight into the many facets that come together to create a great event. You may be surprised!

Why not take your learning a step further? Make a note of questions you may have. Find out the name of the event manager or the person in charge of a particular area of interest: media manager, stage manager, sponsorship etc. Connect with them post-event to ask if they could spare a few minutes to answer some questions or make suggestions for additional volunteer or career options. If you are sincere and business-like in your request, few will turn you down. Volunteer work demonstrates to a prospective employer that you are genuinely interested in the business. It also gives you something to talk about in an interview setting.

 

If you are currently in the business think of volunteering as a way to round out your knowledge base, improve business skills, try something new or gain exposure. Be creative! Here are some volunteer examples:

  • Manage an event volunteer team or chair a committee for an association (see list on our Resource Page) to stretch your management skills and learn more about team dynamics
  • Work a consumer event if your current role is corporate – there are many differences
  • Try an outdoor event (it can be a whole new experience!)
  • If you hope to work on large events, volunteering is a great way to step into that world
  • Volunteer to help backstage at a local theatre for staging experience
  • Look within your own organization – manage the company meetings or social events (or start some!)

If you are hoping to gain experience with a specific skill don’t hesitate to ask for a particular role. You will find more often than not that your interest in learning is well received. Contact the organizer well ahead of the event. Be certain to make your request in a professional manner and be clear about your intent. Keep in mind that sometimes even a volunteer position requires someone with experience so be patient.

The volunteer work you choose doesn’t always have to be an event job. Think beyond the task itself and to the skill or attribute you are trying to build. Highlight those skills on your resume. Managing a local kids soccer team surely demonstrates leadership, patience and organizational ability. Volunteering to plant trees shows a practical interest in the environment and says you are hands-on and willing to really dig in (literally!). Hone your leadership and business skills by volunteering to chair a committee for a charity.

Every volunteer experience is valuable. Work just as hard as you would with your paid job! You may find it opens doors you didn’t even know were there and the insight you will gain and people you will meet may prove invaluable! You will almost always take away more than you gave!!! Whatever you choose to do, don’t underestimate the wonderful feeling of giving and helping! It is very rewarding and you may just find yourself wanting to do more!

 

Intern

Interning is a fantastic way to achieve hands-on experience and many event-based businesses regularly offer these positions. Step up and contact organizations you have an interest in working with to ask if they engage interns. If they haven’t, a request might encourage them to think about it. (Yes this has happened!) Be professional and prepared when you do this! Stand ready to answer why you want to work there, why it’s important to you and what you think you have to offer! Many organizations are (and should be) as rigorous in the interview and hiring process with interns as they are with full-time employees!

Here again don’t worry too much about the job you are asked to do. It might not be exactly what you are aiming for long term but it places you in the environment to learn as much as you can. Take it seriously and make the most of it. Ask questions! It may be part of the program but if not, ask to spend time with each person in the group to learn about what they do and how they learned. Sometimes an internship can even lead to a full time job right where you are!

 

Take a job where even a portion of the responsibility includes your chosen interest

This can be a great entry into the event business. As an example, an Office Manager or Executive Assistant can often manage internal or company events along with their other responsibilities. It’s not uncommon to see many event related duties included on an Administrative Assistant or Marketing Coordinator job posting. An entry-level customer service job with an AV firm may open the doors and connect you to folks that can help you achieve your goals. Don’t focus on the title but rather the level of experience you can achieve. Volunteer to work beyond the scope outlined. Expand your opportunities within the job through diligence and creativity. Remember that you don’t have to do the job forever but the experience you gain could be invaluable.

 

Plan anything you can!

Ok this may sound crazy but don’t underestimate the value of experience gained through opportunities in your personal life! (Yes sometimes they can pose an even greater challenge!!!) Organize the next family gathering or reunion, a huge charity neighborhood garage sale, a friend’s wedding, a baseball team, book club or golf tournament. Every bit of experience helps. Make the event grander than it otherwise would have been and put your mark on it! Any or all of those could be listed on a resume under personal interests or used for discussion in an interview setting. A prospective employer will notice if you have a demonstrated passion for what you want to do.

However you choose to grow your experience, be open to learning, listen and observe well, connect with industry experts, ask questions and don’t be afraid to go after what you want! You may just get it!

 

Have you gained experience in an unexpected way?

 

 

Post by Margaret Johnston, eventswork.com

As a career event professional, Margaret brings valuable insight and knowledge to the recruitment, management and development of high-performance teams for the event industry. A strategic and inspiring leader, Margaret has held executive roles for several global event management companies and key roles in the start up and orchestration of many high profile and international events.

 

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