Experience of the world of work is a chance to develop some amazing skills that you can put on your CV and Personal Statement. It’s also a glimpse of the structure and routine of life that’s to come after education and an opportunity for you to find out what you’re good at and what you enjoy doing.
Duration – The key word is ‘experience’ and there are plenty of different ways that you can get that over different periods of time, from shadowing an employee for a few hours in the office, to spending a year on a ‘placement’ either before starting Uni, or as a year in a four or five-year degree course.
Ad hoc or regular – Work experience can be a regular commitment – e.g. every Saturday morning, but it can also be ad hoc – from a just few hours on one occasion to a week or fortnight in the holidays, and the most common experience of this is the Year 10 or 11 work experience week that will be promoted in school.
Different types – work shadowing is where you spend a few hours in the office with someone, usually sitting alongside them and literally following them around: you’ll listen in on meetings and on telephone conversations with clients and get a good understanding of what they do and, perhaps more importantly, how they do it. A regular part-time job could be helping your finances and might be in something completely unconnected to what you want to do in the future, but without realising, you’ll be getting a lot of skills* for your CV and Personal Statement as a result. A carefully planned holiday job or year-long placement (with an employer of choice) is then also an opportunity to immerse yourself for longer in the workplace, learning and strengthening your skill-set as a result.
Relevant – In an ideal world you would know exactly what career you wanted to do from an early age and strengthen your CV by getting work experience in that chosen career sector on a regular basis. This would be fantastic for lots of reasons and the UCAS Personal Statement specifically mentions the merits in including experiences relevant to the course you are applying for. So, to help with this, the Experience noticeboards on Careersnearhere.com signpost to opportunities which are relevant to the career sector that you are considering. Either take a look at the images on the Explore (home) page or choose one of the other coloured tabs to read through a list of local career sectors.
Part of your course – Choosing an academic pathway does not mean that you will miss out on valuable time in the workplace. Level 3 courses, such as a BTEC can offer a day a week in a work placement – you might need to work with the school or college to identify the right employer, but the chances are that it will be relevant to your course and with a business who has their own experience of taking students on this basis each year. Many level 4 courses are also only delivered part-time in the week, expecting you to find suitable work experience on the other days. And there are courses at a higher level which either incorporate some exposure to the work place through the Uni’s strong ties with employers, or which offer a built-in ‘industrial placement’ year.
Traineeship – We will cover these in more detail in a future blog very soon, but a Traineeship is essentially an opportunity to get several weeks work experience with an employer whilst supported by a college or training company. They will help you to develop employability skills in the role and achieve your Maths and/or English a well as work with you on your CV to prepare you for the next step. The choice of employers is incredible and there are some amazing opportunities for those who are eligible.
Payment – Unfortunately not every work experience opportunity is paid. Shadowing for a few hours or volunteering opportunities are not going to reward you financially – and others may not pay very well, but the trade-off will be the opportunity to gain valuable skills which will most likely be in a relevant career sector: you will not be doing it for nothing, for nothing!
Quality – It is not always the length of time you spend at the place of work, but the quality of the time you spend doing it. One of the reasons given by employers for not offering work experience is the sheer effort that can be needed to prepare for the time you will spend with them. As a result, you could sign up for a week and spend most of that time photocopying, making the tea or staring out of the window if they haven’t prepared sufficiently for you.*
* Transferable skills – there are skills to be had, and content for your CV, if you can reflect on what you are learning about the role. This will come both from watching your colleague(s) and from any tasks you are set. It is also a time to jot down the employability skills you will be developing, such as self-management (being on-time and appropriately dressed), team-working (even if your preferred career involves working alone, you will always have to engage with others to get things done), communication (from your original application to the conversations in the workplace), and technology skills (by showing your abilities with Microsoft Office and social media, for example).
And don’t be disheartened if you get a poor work experience placement as there are still skills to be developed and not everyone in the same position will seize this opportunity.
Remember the ‘Tell Me About A Time When …’ interview question we covered in an earlier blog? Well, here could be your case study!
Example – “There wasn’t much for me to do that afternoon, I’d finished my tasks and the next delivery had been delayed so I (showed initiative and) asked if my colleague would take me around the building to see the rest of the company. I met a lot of people in different departments and got a chance to ask them questions (communication/interpersonal skills) about their roles.
This gave me a much better understanding of the structure of the business (commercial awareness) than the website alone (which I had previously researched). Specifically, it also enabled me to visit the finance department and meet one of the accounts team. When I finish my degree, I would like to work in finance and this conversation helped reassure me that this was the right career choice.”
Laws relating to the employment of young people are covered on the Government’s website: child-employment/minimum-ages-children-can-work
Careersnearhere.com: It’s Your Future – Let’s Get It Started.
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And check out the website for open days, talks, work experience, courses and apprenticeship vacancies!