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Making Experience Count

By  Aug 8, 2008

Topics: Certification

So...you have figured out a way to obtain some practical experience in IT. Now your task is to make sure that you are going to use this very valuable opportunity to maximum advantage. In other words, you need to make the experience count.

The first thing to remember about such a situation is that you are not yet working per se. You have been given the opportunity to spend some time in an environment that will ultimately benefit your career, and you may or may not be paid for it. The company or organization that gave you this opportunity did so out of the goodness of their heart, not because they had to. This is no time to be complaining about the coffee or the lack of sports facilities at the office.

For the period of your volunteer experience, especially if it is only a few weeks, you should be getting to the office as early as you are allowed, and leaving at the last possible moment. Every minute that you spend at work, no matter how mundane the task you are doing, is a minute well spent.

While we are on the subject of performing mundane tasks, let us address another related issue. As a volunteer, there is a chance that you will be given routine tasks to complete, in part because they do not require a great deal of supervision, but mainly because the regular IT staff do not want to do the tasks themselves. IT veterans refer to this mind-numbing work as scut work.

Remember, for an IT newcomer who needs every shred of practical experience, there is no such thing as a waste of time. As boring and as seemingly pointless as these tasks may seem, if you have to do them for six hours, but then get to spend half an hour in a program project meeting or with a network technician while he upgrades a file server, then your six hour investment is cheap at twice the price.

Another thing to consider is that if the tasks you are given are completed correctly, it is more likely that you will be given a more interesting task next time, or the time after that. This may seem like obvious advice; however, it is easily forgotten as you start yet another morning of filing and photocopying.

While you are volunteering, be certain to make notes, ask questions and generally soak up the atmosphere of your environment. Observe other employees and note how they act. Offices have a very unique working environment, to be sure.

Again, experience is about learning the things that cannot be taught in a classroom, and not all of these things are directly related to information technology. Sometimes it is just about understanding the role that your chosen position plays in a business.

Do try to impress, though. More often than not, a volunteers who makes a positive impression on the "powers that be" is the first candidate to be considered when a future work opportunity arises. If you are interested in working for the company for which you are volunteering, make sure that the company knows of your interest. Yes--in my opinion, you should actually tell them. You will not do yourself any harm at all by saying, at an appropriate moment, “I really enjoy working here. If a position were to come up, I would welcome the opportunity to be considered for it."

Sooner or later, your work experience period will be over, and it will be time to return to your studies or to your job search. Take heart, for there is still the opportunity to derive maximum benefit from your work experience.

Before you leave your volunteer/co-op experience, there is one more important task you must complete: you must gain some valuable feedback on your performance from your managers.To do this, find a quiet and convenient moment and then ask the person to whom you reported for feedback on your performance.

Be sure to listen carefully to what your manager says. You do not necessarily have to agree or disagree with any of his or comments; simply listen. After all, it was you who asked them for their input. Once they have finished, thank them for their honesty and think about what they have said very deeply.

The way that last paragraph sounds, it make seem like I believe that the manager will have lots of bad things to say, which may not be the case at all. There may well be more positive than negative remarks; however, remember that most people find it just as hard to give praise as to give criticism.

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