The value of using your free time wisely in pursuit of experience and skills has been much publicised lately (The Guardian, The Independent) and with more competition than ever for graduate jobs, it’s wise to get hands-on experience in the areas you’d like to work in the future. Whether you do an internship, a year in industry, a placement, volunteering or work part-time, the experience, skills and insight that you gain is invaluable.
Doing work experience is also a great way to find out what you don’t want to do. Sometimes, the dream job we’ve imagined since we were 5 ends up being dull and unfulfilling, and it’s better to find that out by doing 4 weeks’ work experience there, than 4 years down the line!
It’s important to do work experience not only to find out more about the career sectors you’re interested in and experience a real live workplace, but also to make a good impression and perhaps make some contacts for the future. Networking is the key to unlocking the employment or business partnership potential in your circle of friends and acquaintances:
- Use Linkedin to capture the relationships that you build during this time, and revisit them when you’re applying for graduate jobs.
- While you’re working part-time in the holidays in a bank, why not ask your Manager about graduate schemes?
- Is there any on-the-job training you can do, or can you shadow a senior member of the team?
- Find out about the world that you would be working in: what is the atmosphere like in the office? What are the DOs and DON’Ts? What does the company hold as their values?
- Think about the experience you are having and reflect on it. How are you improving your skills? At interview, employers will ask questions like “how would you deal with this situation…?” “what would you do if…?” and it’s great to have a real example of a time when you made a difference, or contributed to a success.
- Did you help a shop win an award for good customer service? Was your store in the Top 5 earners of the country? These are all great examples to give, and you will stand out from the crowd of those who did not do work experience.
But remember, don’t be like Jerry – he didn’t make a good impression on his employer, and won’t be asked back to work there once he graduates!