You know you need experience to get a job. Trouble is, you can’t get any on-the-job experience without first having a job. It’s the classic early career Catch-22. The good news, however, is that there are a ton of ways to gain work experience before you ever get your first proper job. Make sure to plan ahead and accumulate valuable skills and knowledge from these experiences in time to apply for your first job.

Here are a few great ways to get experience without getting “hired.”

1. Internships

An internship is just like a job in that you do a ton of work, learn a lot, and gain valuable experience in a field. But it's not at all like a job in that you usually get paid very little or nothing at all—and the term is usually short. Internships are widely available, in almost every field. Figure out what industry you want to work in eventually, and then get involved learning the tricks of the trade. You’ll have to fetch some coffee, but it just might get you hired one day.

2. Shadowing

Use your network, professional association, school career office, other programs, or even family members to find someone in your chosen field who would let you shadow them. This could be anywhere from a few hours to a few days, but lets you get valuable insight into the day-to-day experience of that field.

3. Volunteering

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You definitely won’t be paid, except in the satisfaction of helping others, but you will gain a ton of experience that will look excellent on your future resume. Many provide training. All will give you access to learning the skills you’ll want, whether that be in child or elder care, administration, writing, teaching, coaching, fundraising, sales, mentoring, phone manner, construction, arts, etc.

4. School/Community Work

Think your extracurricular activities don’t count? Any time you participate in a club or organization, whether sports or arts or religion related, you can gain a ton of experience that will set you up surprisingly well for the job market.

5. Freelancing

Sometimes you have to prove you have what it takes before you can actually be brought on board. If you freelance, you can prove your talents and skills and expertise first and then make your way onto the payroll. And after your first gig, you’ll have racked up a ton of professional experience for next time.

6. Networking

It isn’t always all about what you know. Sometimes a job will come down to who you know. Make sure to start growing a robust network of contacts and keeping yourself as current as possible.

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