Work experience – different types?
Work experience can take a variety of forms covering different types of work and it can be paid or unpaid. It can be part of a degree course, for example a sandwich course with an industrial placement where the university will specify the required duration; normally between 24 – 48 weeks. Work experience can also take the form of a summer internship, work shadowing, part-time work, voluntary work or a gap year.
Benefits to students
Work experience provides a great opportunity to gain experience in a real work environment as well as looking good on your CV. It can really help to make an informed decision on various career paths that are open to you. It will provide an opportunity to explore options first-hand and gain insight into a specific organisation or industry.
These opportunities also help to develop an awareness of professional codes of behaviour and the world of work, and allow you to build a network of contacts that you may be able to leverage at different stages of your career. These contacts may also be useful when applying for graduate roles or simply seeking career advice.
Work experience also demonstrates a proven interest and commitment to that particular career. It will make you a more ‘rounded’ candidate, building both your technical/academic skills and softer skills. Most work experience roles will have a recruitment process which will provide great practice for those all-important graduate application forms and interviews. As well as gaining valuable commercial insight into your area of study, you will also have developed broader skills such as time management, analytical and presentation skills. All of which will be put to good use in your final year. Most importantly, if you show the right enthusiasm, determination and ability in the job, you could end up being offered a permanent graduate position at the end of your placement.
Benefits to employers
Work experience provides benefits to both students and employers. As well as helping with your development as a student, there are a number of business benefits for the company. They can influence the quality of future employees, reduce recruitment costs by building direct links with universities, raise the branding/profile of the company and create a positive image amongst students and, of course, a monetary benefit of having additional resources at a lower cost than full-time, permanent employees.
When to start looking
It is never too early to start thinking about work experience. The earlier you start planning your work experience, the better. A number of work placement schemes will however target penultimate year students. If you find this is the case, you should still use your vacation time to build up a range of experience and skills that will make you more employable in your final year.
There are various sources you can use and one of the best available is your university careers service. Most careers services will have a placement officer who will be sent vacancy information directly from employers. If your university does not have a placement officer, your careers adviser will be able to provide you with some guidance on which companies to apply to and how to contact them.
Alternatively, you can be proactive – do your own research and apply directly to companies, most will have an online application form. But you shouldn’t constrain yourself to formalised work experience programmes, speculative applications are also often successful. If you know someone who works in the industry or a job that you are interested in, contact them to see whether you can get some informal work experience. Finally, put time into your application. Competition for work experience roles can be tough. The time you put in upfront into the application and assessment process will bring you large rewards.