How to make the most of your work experience

There’s little point in work experience if it’s not going to benefit you in the future. Here are some tips to help you get as much out of your experience as you possibly can:

Before:
Be early. Remember the deadlines for many summer vacation jobs and placement schemes fall in the preceding autumn or spring term.

Be realistic. Aim high, but think laterally. Of course it makes sense to apply to the most prestigious companies, but be aware that they receive thousands of applicants for very few positions. With competition so fierce and places so limited, it’s also worth investigating smaller companies and approaching them directly.

During:
Be enthusiastic. Accept that you may not be given the most challenging and responsible jobs in the organisation. Make sure you’re remembered for your positive attitude to all tasks, however mundane.

Be proactive. Use your initiative. If you see something that needs doing, offer to do it and volunteer for positions of reasonable responsibility where you can demonstrate your skills. Ask questions if you don’t understand something or want to know more about it. You won’t be seen as stupid – just conscientious and keen to learn.

Be observant. This is your opportunity to learn about this industry. Can you see yourself in this working environment? Do people seem happy in their jobs? What are the hours and pay like? What tips can your colleagues give you?

Be pragmatic. Making notes or keeping a diary of the various tasks you complete and the contacts you meet provides useful raw material for writing future CVs and application forms. It will also provide concrete examples that you can refer to during an interview.

After:
Be reflective. Don’t just focus on any routine tasks that you undertook. What did you actually learn from the experience? What skills have you developed, and how has your understanding of the sector increased?

Be in touch. Use the contacts that you have made to your advantage. Staying in informal regular contact keeps you in the employer’s mind, which may be useful for future vacancies within the organisation. Above all, remember that any type of work experience will help you improve your employability, explore future career options and increase your chances in your chosen profession when you graduate.

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