We’ve spoken to all sorts of professionals over the years and the one thing they all tell us is how important work experience was for their career. So here are 6 work experience tips from the experts.
1. View every opportunity as a chance to learn
Many of the young professionals who gave us their work experience tips advised seizing any and all opportunities you can.
Fashion entrepreneur Cat said: “Never turn your nose up at a work experience opportunity - even if it’s just in your local fashion
shop or in the offices of a local fashion related company, or if it’s unpaid. Get a feel for the collections, the fabrics, the styles, ask questions, make the right impressions, meet other people within that organisation that might help you in our ambitions, and see if it’s possible to get experience across departments.”
“No one has a direct path to success,” agrees YouTube entrepreneur Jennifer. “There will always be something that diverts your plans or changes your ambition. My advice is to take every chance you can learn something from. For example, I had work experience in national security policy in Washington D.C., waitressed at events, applied for essay competitions, fostered dogs and volunteered in refugee camps. It gave me the chance to meet some smart and supportive mentors and learn from everyone! Put yourself out there when opportunities present themselves.”
2. Look for universities that offer placements
Opportunities to gain work experience shouldn’t end when you finish school or college. So if you’re planning on going to uni, when you’re researching universities, have a look to see if they offer work experience.
UX designer Sheena’s work placement advice is: “When I was applying for jobs, the feedback I got given was that I did not have enough experience. But how do you gain experience if no one will give you a job? It’s a common issue for recent graduates who are yet to land their first job, and I think work experience is key. A lot of design agencies will offer work experience. Look out for internships during school summers and university summers or even consider picking a sandwich course that offers a year in industry.”
She added: “I wish I was aware of how valuable any relevant work experience is. I think the whole job application process would have been so much easier having been exposed to the industry.”
Product designer Barry agrees: “You might be able to find a qualification or a degree course that offers a placement or opportunity to work alongside a company, but failing that you should look to undertake independent work experience in the summers between your studies.”
3. Get a placement in a different role to the one you want to pursue
Work experience gives you a glimpse into what a particular career is like. But there are plenty of other benefits – from gaining
transferable skills to seeing what an office environment is like. So even if you’ve already decided what career you’d like to pursue, widen your horizons by applying for work experience in different professions, or even different Career Zones altogether.
Primary school teacher Kirsty’s work placement advice was: “Do work experience in a range of different schools, as each is very different and will have a different feel. Also talk to a range of teachers to find how their work varies and how they manage their workload; everyone works differently.”
Meanwhile, optometrist Karan told us that he wishes he’d done a placement in other areas of optometry. “One of the main things you can do is to go to your local opticians for work experience. This will give you an idea of how optometry works and give you an insight into some of changes that are occurring.”
4. Don’t forget about volunteering
You don’t need a structured placement in order to gain valuable abilities and experience. Consider volunteering opportunities too. These will build your workplace skills – particularly communication and people skills.
Social worker Jess advises: “I would recommend having a think about the area you would like to work in: mental health; learning disabilities; adoption; child protection etc and try and find some volunteering work in a related field. There’s pretty much a charity for everything so you’ll be able to find something if you keep trying! Try to be open-minded.”
“I found that having gained work experience before starting my course allowed me to build up good communication, time management and organisational skills which have been massively helpful.”
5. Use your contacts
Sometimes bagging yourself a work placement means thinking outside the box, especially in the sectors that are more competitive.
Orthotist John used family contacts to get his work experience. “A family friend is an orthotist, which means working with devices for people who might have a physical disability or limitation. It’s a healthcare role that is similar to prosthetist, who create artificial limbs. She offered me work experience during school.”
Theatre apprentice Olivia met people in her industry, which led to work experience opportunities. She said: “I haven’t done any formal studying based in the theatre industry, but instead I worked hard at getting work experience. I did a lot of volunteering at festivals and local theatres, as well as attending a variety of technical based workshops. I also went back to my theatre school to see my old tutors for some career advice and to get some contacts for people in the industry. This eventually lead me to the National Theatre's website where I applied for the apprenticeship, and much to my own surprise, here I am!”
6. Start with the skills
The standard way to find work experience is to try to get a placement in your chosen field. A couple of our interviewees
recommended a different approach. Think about the skills you’d like to develop.
Hospital doctor Felicity said: “When it comes to demonstrating your skills and experience in the medicine degree application, communication skills are a really big deal. Anything related to communication skills is going to win you points if you want to be a doctor. You also need to be good at leading. You need to be honest, hardworking and dedicated, so any work experience that’s going to give you those key skills is what’s going to help get you into medicine – more than necessarily something strictly healthcare-related. Teamwork and time management are also really important.”
Anaesthetist Dr Sanjoy agreed: “I don’t think it matters how you gain you the experience. I spent a week doing work experience in my local hospital's accident and emergency department, shadowing junior doctors. I also volunteered with MENCAP, which is a charity for people with learning disabilities. Friends of mine did work experience in other departments or in a GP practice, worked as healthcare assistants, porters in a hospital, or carers in a nursing home. Some have taken administrative roles like a ward clerk or filing notes in a GP practice.”