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Hunting for Work Experience: What can you do? Why should you do it?

What are the benefits of gaining work experience?

Most employers expect graduates to have some experience of the world of work. It provides them with evidence of your skills, such as communication, commercial awareness and working as a team. It also shows that you can organise yourself and prioritise conflicting demands.

Make your CV stand out from the crowd…

The increase in the number of new graduates means that it is now more important than ever to show potential employers that you have been proactive in developing transferable skills that can be used in the workplace.

Bridge the gap between studying and full-time work…

Working nine ’til five is a world away from university or college life. Every bit of work experience will allow you to prepare yourself for the world of work. It will give you an insight into what to expect and what will be expected of you.

Test out your career options…

Do you think you have a good idea of the profession you want to work in? Why not obtain work experience in this field to make sure it’s the right choice for you? It’s never too late to change your career path, but the sooner you are able to get a clearer picture, the better.

Work with a variety of people & not just your peers…

Work experience provides you with the chance to learn from others who have years of experience within an organisation or sector. It will give you the opportunity to speak to individuals about your career choices and ask how they were able to progress up the job ladder.

Earn money…

Paid part-time work, vacation work or ‘sandwich’ placements can provide you with the opportunity to develop ‘employability’ skills, whilst simultaneously earning essential funds to support your studies.

What can you do?

The opportunities are endless, and do not believe that only work experience linked to your course subject is of any value.

Voluntary work…

For more detail on active voluntary work check out:

www.do-it.org.uk  - The home of volunteering on the web.

www.wwv.org.uk  - Worldwide Volunteering has an online database of 350,000 volunteering opportunities in 215 countries, including the UK.

Vacation placements…

These are paid opportunities, often lasting for a number of weeks during the summer vacation. Competition for these placements is fierce and early application is crucial:

www.placenet.org.uk  - PlaceNet is a registered UK charity that actively promotes the benefits of work experience.

www.gapyear.com  - These guys provide information, help and advice for students who want to do a placement as part of their gap year.

Industrial placements…

If your course includes a year out in industry, you will gain invaluable experience whilst working. Competition for industrial placements is increasing, so it’s important that you apply early and prepare yourself as you would do for a graduate job.

Check out: www.ratemyplacement.co.uk

Work-shadowing…

This type of work experience is usually unpaid. It will give you the chance to observe or ‘shadow’ someone at work. This gives you an insight into a particular function and some understanding of how the organisation operates. This is also a very useful way of gaining experience in career sectors where entry can be difficult, or extremely competitive. Work shadowing is often arranged informally by contacting individuals or organisations directly.

Where should I be looking for work experience?

Resources…

Many companies advertise work experience schemes on their personal websites. However, for a central place to look, check out the National Council for Work Experience. These guys promote, support and develop quality work experience for the benefits of students, organisations and the economy.

Other useful publications, where you can look for work experience are

- Focus on Work Experience, published by CSU

- TARGET Work Experience, published by GTI

- Doctorjob, published by GTI

- The Hobsons Work Experience Guide, published by CRAC

Careers fairs…

Careers fairs offer you an initial insight into specific companies. They are your chance to meet real employees and graduate recruiters. You can quiz them about their organisations and get a general impression of how to get work experience with them.

At careers fairs you can speak to someone about the:

- size and culture of the firm;

- types of client and range of business;

- location (i.e. London, or other regions);

- style of training and range of experience offered to trainees; 

- overseas opportunities for trainees in companies with offices around the world.

Work experience in small and medium-sized enterprises…

As 98% of companies in the UK are this size, a lot of students can gain great work experience in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). SMEs have less than 250 members of staff and there are number of reasons why you should contact SMEs for future work experience:

- there may be less competition for vacancies with SMEs;

- you may be given a wide range of responsibilities early on in your career;

- generally speaking SMEs are more likely to respond positively to less formal ways of applying, such as word of mouth recommendations or speculative applications.

Reflecting on your Work Experience

During your work experience, we recommend that you make notes about your responsibilities and the skills that you are learning and developing in your role, so that you can use these notes in future applications and interviews. 

Written by Liz Hollins

Coventry University Careers Service