AIU Blog

The AIU blog shares ideas, information and tips aimed at helping you get ahead personally and professionally, with topics ranging from online learning success to career development.

The 4 Building Blocks for Career Advancement: Experience


In the second post in this series, AIU Provost & Chief Academic Officer Dr. Robert Manzer provides insight into what makes experience a key building block for career advancement. You can read our previous entry on the first building block, education, here.

“For students looking to move forward in their careers, a degree can be the crucial base for all the building blocks” says Dr. Manzer. When combined with gaining practical experience, students can help combat feelings of complacency and allow themselves to stay focused on their goals.”

Why Experience Matters

One way for students to help prepare themselves to move up the career ladder is to think like an employer. What many employers want are candidates who have experience to complement their education.

“Gaining experience will enhance your studies in the classroom and can be added to your resume, which makes you a more legitimate and desirable candidate to employers,” says Dr. Manzer. “Don’t wait until after your degree to gain experience. Gaining experience while simultaneously pursuing your degree is likely to be of greater benefit than waiting. Being proactive is a trait that is appreciated by employers.”

In addition to being proactive, be thoughtful about what experiences you add to your resume. “Look for relevant opportunities to provide a better understanding of your ideal career,” he says. “Resumes containing relevant experience, along with educational credentials, are more likely to attract the consideration of employers. Make yourself as attractive to employers as possible: Get the experience.”

Finding Time to Gain Experience

Many students these days are full-time working adults who manage to fit school into their already-packed schedules. Fitting in internships may not work for these students; however, there are other ways to build experience.

Seek Micro-Experiences. “Getting experience doesn’t have to be a full-time or even part-time internship. It can be little pockets of experience spread across a couple hours at a time,” says Dr. Manzer. “Consider volunteering in your desired career field or attending workshops. Such short experiences can help you in several ways. Some may be substantial enough that you can reference them on your resume. Many of them will help you better understand the ‘ins and outs’ of your field—including its particular language and how things work. Nonprofits are one great avenue for experience.”

Connect with Industry Professionals. Gaining experience always starts with someone in the field, so take advantage of occasions to network with faculty or industry professionals. “Network with your professors and classmates; you may discover new opportunities,” says Dr. Manzer. Additionally, join professional organizations. AIU Career Coach Teresa Stock recommends students use their resources to identify well-established professional organizations: Seek out organizations online, search for groups on LinkedIn, or reach out to an instructor. “Ask someone who is in your industry if they are a member of any professional organization,” says Stock. Once you find a good fit and become a member, you have a direct connection to many industry professionals.

Contact Career Services. “Career advisors can discuss your background and help you design a resume that highlights your experience in key areas,” Dr. Manzer says. Additionally, “an open dialogue with a career advisor may lead you to opportunities.” From career-oriented programs to practice interviews, (Learn more about AIU’s Career Services team and how they can help you.)

Link Your Experience and Education: Tell Your Story

As you continue on the path to career advancement, remember to think like an employer: What are they looking for in a candidate, and how can you demonstrate in your resume or in an interview that you are a viable option?

If you’ve taken the initiative to gain experience and can also link the experience—no matter how small or how brief—to your desired career field, you’re likely to be a stronger candidate. “Presenting yourself as an experienced person to an employer is very important. Inexperience connotes risk to an employer,” says Dr. Manzer. The key is to minimize this risk by gaining whatever relevant experience you can.

Also, keep in mind that getting experience is one of the best ways you truly can discover what it takes to move forward in your chosen field. “You don’t know what you don’t know,” says Dr. Manzer. “When you gain experience, you begin to see and explore the fact that there is always room to grow in your chosen field. You’ll see more clearly that this is always something new to learn.”

Lastly, don’t isolate your experiences; they are a healthy supplement to your career as well as your schoolwork. “Make your experiences part of your education. From the moment you start your degree, start looking for experiences outside of school,” Dr. Manzer says. “It can be done no matter how busy you are.”

Look for the next article in this series on the third building block, skills, which will explore how students can expand their existing skillset.