Career choicesWork experience

Whether you are still at school or college, the opportunity to gain some work experience is a useful investment for your future.

Why do work experience?

  • It gives you a more competitive edge when it comes to applying for jobs, making you more attractive to employ from an employer's perspective.
  • You get to use the skills you have learnt in the classroom - applying your knowledge to real life situations. You can use this practical experience as examples when you are applying for jobs and it shows the employer that you have developed useful skills over and above your academic qualifications.
  • You get the chance to try out different careers before committing yourself - so you get a better idea of what you really want to do.
  • It is a great way to develop skills such as communication, IT, problem-solving and team work.
  • It is useful for building up contacts you might need in the future when it comes to the job hunt!
  • Many employers make job offers to people who have impressed them during work experience placements.

Who can do work experience?

Anyone! If you are still at school, you will probably be offered work experience in year 10 or 11. It usually lasts around two weeks during term time. Schools organise work experience in different ways. Your school might have a list of local placements with organisations and companies which take work experience students on a regular basis. These placements tend to be offered on first-come, first-served basis. If you know what you want to do, get your name down early to be sure of getting the placement you really want.

Alternatively, schools may give you the option of finding your own placement. In this case, talk to your careers advisor to establish the type of work you are interested in and discuss possible placements. You can also contact companies to arrange the work experience yourself for the set time period. Take the initiative to arrange some additional work experience for - a week, or even a day, during the holidays.

If you know what you want to do it will give you a 'foot in the door', it shows motivation and a real interest in your chosen career. If you are not sure what you want to do after education it is a great way to get a taste for different jobs. Even holiday jobs can count towards work experience. Think about what you are learning and what skills you are developing - you will find it makes it much easier when it comes to writing your CV.

Types of work experience

  • A course-related work placement
  • Voluntary work
  • Work shadowing (you observe the duties of a particular member of staff)
  • Temporary, seasonal, casual or holiday work

How do you get work experience?

There is a lot of competition for some placements, so put your name down early for your preferred placements if arranged via school. If you are organising the placement; start looking as soon as you know the dates to give yourself the best chance of working where you want to be. Your approach to finding a placement:

  • write to the HR Manager of the company. Say why you are interested in the company and in getting some work experience. Tell them what you can offer in terms of your technical skills and personal qualities
  • think about the employer's point of view. Why should they want to take you on? What are the benefits to them? What fresh ideas can you bring?
  • concentrate on your strengths. Your CV will probably be quite empty at this stage, but employers will expect this. They will be looking for signs of enthusiasm, maturity, determination and team-working. Writing your CV now is good practice for when it comes to applying for permanent jobs
  • show a positive attitude and be pro-active. If you do not hear anything after a week, follow up with a phone call.

Getting the most out of work experience

Once your placement is organised, find out as much as you can about the place where you will do your work experience. This includes practical things like finding out how to get to your work placement, whether you need to wear anything special for the work and your timetable for the weeks you will be working.

It is important that you get used to the idea of the working day: starting on time, taking breaks at the appropriate time and maybe being asked, or expected, to do things you do not particularly want to do. Even if you do not like tasks, you can console yourself with the thought that it is not permanent. As you are only there for a limited amount of time, it is better to show you are willing and have a positive attitude - the more you put in, the more you will get out. The company may be prepared to give you a reference for a job if you have worked well.

Tips:

  • keep a log or diary. Note down things you are learning, strengths, likes and dislikes, and areas for improvement
  • make sure you ask for feedback both during and at the end of your placement (but be careful not to nag!).
  • ask for help if you need it. Do not be embarrassed to ask for explanations if you are unsure about something - it shows you are keen to learn and get it right
  • treat it seriously - it could make a big difference to getting the job you want
  • get as much work experience as possible in your chosen career, or areas that you are interested in. It will look good on your CV and help when you are filling in job applications
  • talk to people who are already doing the job - find out what they think about the work they are doing and about the job as a whole.

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