Work experience

In today’s graduate market, employers are inundated with highly-qualified graduates. So how do you make yourself stand out?

Developing “key skills” – team-working, communication skills, leadership and so on – will set you apart from someone who has nothing to offer but high grades.

But employers will also be looking for evidence that you have the maturity, determination and enthusiasm to thrive in the world of work. A CV that’s devoid of any evidence of employment, paid or unpaid, is not going to bring home the bacon. So what’s the solution? Work experience.

Types of work experience
Broadly speaking, work experience comes in two forms: formal internships and casual placements. Internships tend to be more structured, with a job description, a person specification and a defined list of tasks to be done. Casual work experience, on the other hand, is often obtained by sending speculative CVs – sometimes using a personal contact to oil the wheel. It also tends to last a shorter time – perhaps just a couple of weeks, and the work itself will be more open-ended.

Where to find work experience
The IOP run a Work Placements Bursary Scheme.

You may find the opportunity you’re looking for on the National Council for Work Experience, MilkRound.com or Prospects.

Nuffield offers a bursaries to A-Level students wanting to gain first hand experience of what it would be like to work as a scientific researcher.

There may also be opportunities specific to your region.

Making the most of work experience
When you’ve made a real effort to find a placement, it makes sense to ensure that experience itself pays off. To ensure that you get the best out of your placement, it is best to agree expectations beforehand:

  • Ask the person organising your placement to define exactly what they want you to do. If there are any particular areas you want to get involved in, make a respectful request. Be clear about what you want to get out of the whole thing, whilst being polite and assertive.
  • Be proactive. The ability to be a self-starter is just one of those skills which employers rate so highly. So once your placement’s begun, take the initiative. Tidy up that stationery cupboard & re-organise that shelf. Suggest how things could be done better, and do them.
  • Don’t be proud. A lot of the stuff that placement students undertake and interns are required to do may not be that interesting, but then again all jobs have their boring bits. Expect your fair share of filing and photocopying. You never know what things can lead to.
  • Stay in touch. You’ve made your first business contact, so use it. Make a friendly phone call or send an email every so often. Ask how things are going and whether there are any future job opportunities on the horizon. You never know what might be coming up.

last edited: April 17, 2014