Experiential Learning

Aligning Career, Financial, and Life Goals

Work experience can be paid or unpaid, self-directed or supervised, short-term or long-term.  Whatever the case may be, work experience can provide people with an invaluable perspective about who they are in relation to specific occupations, industries, and the world of work in general.

Some work experiences are referred to as "work-based learning experiences", "work-informed learning", or "experiential learning", because the main focus is gaining perspective, knowledge, and skills through a interactive and/or hands-on experience.  Usually, these work experiences are supervised by educators, community leaders, or employers.

In some cases, experiential learning includes opportunities to earn college credit and/or money.  Many successful professionals report that internships and volunteering played a critical role in their career decision-making and career advancement.  So much is gained, during these experiences, that they pay for themselves over time.  Experiential learning helps individuals:

  • Test assumptions about what occupations would be a good "fit" for them
  • Make more appropriate career/education decisions, which can save a substantial amount of time and money and help people achieve their potential and life goals.
  • Gain experience and skills needed to qualify for more valuable work opportunities
  • Expand their network of professional contacts, which opens "doors" to more opportunities
  • Develop a list of supervisors (aka. "references"), who can vouch for their employability and qualifications and open doors to future employment opportunities

TIP: Use an electronic portfolio / social medial profile to showcase resume information, skills, examples of your work, and documentation of other relevant accomplishments.


Entrepreneurship is a work experience that is generated and guided by an individual with a vision, as well as the skills, discipline, and drive to make that vision a viable business reality.

Occupation Videos

Although watching videos is not considered “experiential learning”, it does provide viewers with the opportunity to gather perspectives about workplaces and professions that are more contextual, nuanced, and person-oriented than a written occupational profile could ever be.

Go to the Occupation Research web page and select the “Occupation Exploration Videos” toggle to peruse a variety of occupation video platforms.

Informational Interviews

Career explorers are encouraged to set-up 30 to 40-minute informational interviews with professionals in the field.  If you do, you will very likely learn things that you can’t find out about through online research.

Job Shadows

A job shadow can be 4 hours, a single day, or a week long experience, which involves observing a professional, as they move through their work day.

These are very short-term unpaid experiences that do not provide an opportunity to apply or gain skills.  However, they have helped many people make a more accurate assessment about whether or not a specific job, workplace, or industry would be a good fit for them.

We can use all of our senses to find out how the place, people, routine, and responsibilities feel.  We get to see what skills and strengths are needed, and how we respond to the prospect of doing those various tasks ourselves.  We can also get a better sense of how much a given occupation would engage your strengths, skills, interests, and values – especially the job shadow extends over a longer period of time.  Although the imagination still has be used, a much more informed career decision can be made as a result of one or more job shadow experiences.

A job shadow also provides us with the invaluable opportunity to have questions answered by professionals with lived experienced.

Last, but not least, it is a great opportunity to build professional relationships (aka. “network”), which could open doors to other job shadows, more informational interviews, internships and future employment opportunities.


There is nothing like learning from people with lived experiece – especially those who have more and/or different life and work experience that we do.  Despite the fact that we live in a highly individualistic society, humans are social beings at the core.  People need people, and the more experienced, kind, and available allies we have in our lives, the better.  Consider giving yourself this extra support by checking out one or more of the following resources:

Internships (paid & unpaid)

Please contact David Brown for information about GCC internships: .


Volunteer experiences are usually time-limited opportunities to test our abilities, list applied skills and strengths (under that experience) in a resume, feel out a different or new work environment, build our professional network, and gain professional references or recommendations (if you earn them).

Volunteering vs. Internships:  While volunteering, we may not learn new (i.e. entry-level) skill and will likely only have the opportunity to use entry-level skills. However, the expectation in internships is that you will gain not only entry-level but more advanced skills as well.  Additionally, some internship experiences, like those brokered by GCC, are for paid experiences.


More often than not, employment helps us learn about ourselves, a workplace, and what we want to do (or not do) in the future.  When looking for employment, consider what skills and experiences you need in order to qualify for your “dream job.”  The more relevant skills and experience we can show on our resume the better.  Therefore, making strategic job choices now can help you qualify for a higher-level job sooner than later.  To find a job, check out the following resources:

Employment vs. Internships:  Generally, it takes more time to advance one’s skills and qualifications in a job vs. an internship.  Usually, the types of jobs we can get are based on the skills and education we have gained prior to applying for the position.  Although we apply for internships, just like we do for jobs, the expectation is that the intern will have an opportunity to learn in exchange for the work they accomplish.

Sometimes, internships are paid positions – as is the case for internships brokered via. GCC for current students. A good internship is extremely valuable, whether hours are paid for or not.

Additional Resources
  • Marketable Skills – Which skills can you market or which do you need to obtain?
  • Reality Checking – Do current qualifications and financial/lifestyle goals match career aspirations?