How do I gain the experience to shift roles?

You need experience to get the only job that will give you the experience! This is a common trap that many people get caught in.

Like Comment

"I am trying to start a career (at the age of 36), with no success. I would love to move into a supervisory position, but those positions require supervisory experience. How do you gain the experience if you can't get that kind of job without experience? I have about five years of entry level experience in this field (social work)."

Such a frustrating situation for you - you need experience to get the only job that will give you the experience! It's a common trap many people get caught in.

Your challenge now is to build a strong base from which to apply for the role you want. This means doing everything you can to show that you’re determined and willing to do what it takes. There are a couple of broad areas to address.

First, build as much experience as you can:

You already have five years experience at the entry level of Social Work, which is great, so you know what’s involved. If you’re not presently working, then I’d suggest you get back into Social Work so you are active in the area. It’s always easier to get promotion from within an organization where you’re known, because you're seen as much less of a risk.

Talk with your own manager. Make sure they know you're ambitious and want to develop into a supervisory role. Ask for their help in getting the experience you need. There may well be projects or areas of work that s/he wouldn’t normally have offered to you, but that would be of real value to you at this point.

I assume as a Supervisor you will be supporting other Social Workers. In which case you could also offer to be a ‘buddy’ or mentor to a new appointee. You couldn't replace their official supervisor, but would act as a very positive support to the person as well as gaining some experience for yourself. This also means you have examples to discuss at interview.

Look for relevant projects and ask to be included. Even if an opportunity is not directly related, discuss it with your manager. It is essential to show that you’re willing to apply yourself, so they know that you’re capable of stepping into a challenging role that will require a lot of learning

Alongside this, build a network that will help you:

Find yourself a mentor who works at the level you are interested in, so they can share their knowledge. Pick their brains and ask all your questions. You could also ask to ‘job shadow’ with them, so you can see how the role actually works and gain a deeper understanding of the responsibilities. Most people like to help and feel honoured to be asked, so don't hold back. Go after the person you are able to talk to and feel a connection with.

Talk to senior people. Find out how they developed their careers. You need as many people as possible on your side, so they think of you when opportunities arise.

Get to know the relevant person in HR. Let them know what you’re looking for. They will be able to tell you when vacancies occur. They may also be able to help you with interview prep.

Finally, from now on adopt the mindset of a supervisor. Look at work through those eyes and consider what the challenges will be, what might be expected of you, how you would respond. This will be a huge help during interview when they ask how you would do the job, because you’ll already be thinking in the right way.

Good luck and let us know how you get on!

Post your questions in the comments section below, ask us on the Psychologies Facebook and Twitter page or email I’ll be posting regularly, answering your questions.

Judith Leary Joyce

Great Companies Consulting

In 1996 I made the shift into business, taking my knowledge of Gestalt Psychology into the realm of Executive Coaching, Facilitation and Leadership/ Management Development. In 2001 I worked on the 100 Best Companies to Work For list, then went on to write my first book Becoming an Employer of Choice which was followed by Inspirational Manager and The Psychology of Success. Since then I have worked with organisations across the sectors from large corporates through to young start ups, public sector and charities. Now it’s time to help you have a love affair with your work and get exactly what you want from your career. To find out more about my work and coaching go to