How to make the most of work experience

Some people are put off by the prospect of hard work without any form of payment. However, the benefits of work experience can far outweigh the lack of cash in your pocket. If you are uncertain as to what career you want to enter, a short spell in a particular industry can be a valuable experience.

Why do it?

  • A week or two at a certain company will allow you to decide whether this particular job is what you truly want to be aiming for, without forcing you to commit yourself to a permanent position which may be difficult to quickly abandon. Many choose to sample several different jobs in the hope of eventually discovering which occupation or company is perfect for them.
  • Those who have already decided upon their career path will welcome the opportunity to add something relevant to their CV. Many different occupations are nowadays unwilling to consider applicants who have no relevant work experience, especially in present society where the number of highly qualified people suitable for any particular job is rapidly escalating. Work experience provides hopeful job seekers with the opportunity to separate themselves from the crowd.
  • Work experience allows interns to gain valuable skills which they could not hope to learn elsewhere. A period spent in the workplace allows many to develop attributes which will prove extremely attractive to a potential employer.
  • Graduates in particular have much to gain from work experience. Although a degree teaches students valuable skills many courses which are not vocational or designed to train students a particular trade fail to prepare graduates for a specific career, and thus many find themselves lost after exiting university. Work experience allows graduates to sample different jobs in the hope of developing more vocational skills and discovering which occupation is the one for them. Graduates in particular are somewhat daunted by the prospect of entering full time work immediately after leaving university; work experience allows students to gently ease themselves into permanent positions.
  • Work experience is the perfect way to develop contacts within the industry you are hoping to enter. Talking to different people and familiarising yourself with the faces within a specific company allows you to network. Making yourself known to those in the sector you hope to enter means that they may remember you when a job comes available, or they may be able to point you in the right direction.
  • Occasionally, but admittedly not very often, work experience provides an attractive means of earning money. Specific internships, typically throughout the summer, pay those who take part and allow them to become a fully integrated member of staff for a short period of time. Those hoping to secure a City job will welcome the opportunity to secure a summer internship at an investment bank, which not only provide a valuable experience but also pay extremely well.
  • Work experience grants those who take part an insight into exactly what a specific occupation is looking for in potential employees. Interns will be able to learn what an hopeful employee should do to ensure that they are considered for a permanent position.
  • Those who make a memorable impression may be lucky enough to be offered a post or be considered should a permanent position become available in the future. The contacts which can be made during work experience frequently prove invaluable.
  • Above all, those who take part can learn more about themselves. Interns can see to what extent they are suitable for such an occupation and put their attributes to the test. Although far from an X-Factor type audition, interns will be able to see whether they are cut out for such a position and what they need to do to improve themselves.

What to do when you are there

Once you have managed to secure work experience it is important that you aim to get all you can from your time at the company. It will look much better if you are available to demonstrate skills which you have learnt and accomplishments you have achieved during your experience, rather than simply stating that you spent a week at a particular work place.

  • Dress accordingly. The aim of work experience should be to test to what extent you fit into the work environment and whether you could be happy as a permanent member of a similar team. Dressing inappropriately will determine your lack of suitability for the company. Other good points to bear in mind in order to make a memorable first impression are punctuality; if possible you should arrive a few minutes early. Do not race out of the office at the end of the day; most will appreciate it if you ask whether there is anything else for you to complete before you leave.
  • Make a good impression. The more effort you make, the more effort those around you will make to assist you and look after you. If someone looks as like they may be under pressure and you currently have nothing to do, offer to assist them. Even if they have nothing for you to do, they will appreciate you asking and may keep you in mind when another project arises.
  • Attempt to include yourself on a wide array of different projects. In order to get a reliable taste of the job, it is vital that you experience as many of the different components of the occupation that you can. There is no point putting more effort into those things you enjoy at the expense of those you are unwilling to put your hand to; in a real life work scenario such an attitude would not be tolerated.
  • Try to include yourself within the group of employees as much as possible. This isn't to say that you should invite yourself on nights out, but simple tasks such as eating your lunch in the staff dining room will allow you to learn more about the company in question. You will be able to pick up valuable pieces of information from staff, such as advice on how to apply for jobs in the industry and insider information which may provide you with the upper hand if you ever choose to apply for a post at the company.
  • Ask for feedback. Whenever possible, you should aim to discuss with those you are assisting if there was anything you could have done to improve the quality of your work. Without asking for feedback you will not be given the opportunity to develop your skills further and it will be difficult to come away from the experience with new attributes.