As you prepare for your future career, it is important to consider that during recruitment employers will be not only looking at your academic record, but also your experience outside of school. Competitive organisations will want to see that you possess the skills required to make a positive contribution and will ask you to provide examples from your extracurriculars and past experience to demonstrate this. Work experience is therefore an important stepping stone for your future, providing you with valuable insights and skills and a competitive edge for your career journey. To help you learn more, we’ve created a short guide designed to highlight the importance of work experience for your future and how you can use your experience to get ahead.
What is work experience?
‘Work experience’ refers to any experience where you can apply and develop your skills within a workplace setting. Valued highly by employers, it’s a great way of gaining exposure within an industry and learning more about a career you are interested in. Work experience comes in many forms, including:
- Short-term work placements/internships within companies
- Work shadowing (spending time with someone who works in an industry you are interested in)
- Virtual experience programmes
- Company insight events
- Part-time employment
You should aim to constantly be gaining new experience throughout your school career and beyond, regardless of the industry you are considering, to help you fully prepare for the world of work.
Why is work experience important for your future?
- You can make informed choices about your future career
Through work experience, you can gain a first-hand insight into what a career is like and whether it will be the right choice for you in the future. If you have a certain career in mind, work experience can be a great way to help you expand your industry knowledge by meeting and interacting with people that work in that career on a day-to-day basis. Even if you have little idea of your future career path, work experience can help you start narrowing down your options by exploring different careers and finding out what kind of work suits you.
- You can develop your skillset for the world of work
Being able to effectively demonstrate your core soft skills (such as teamwork, leadership and communication) is a key way of highlighting your potential to a future employer. Work experience is a great way for you to start putting your soft skills into practice and gain examples demonstrating your skillset that will help you stand out. You can easily demonstrate core professionalism skills such as time management and punctuality, communication and networking, skills which will highlight to an employer that you are ‘workplace ready’.
Read our ‘Skills Advice’ blog to find out which skills will be essential for your chosen future career!
- You will build your network of useful contacts
By taking part in work experience, you will meet and interact with a wide range of individuals who have experience in the career you are considering. Many students take the opportunity to network with these contacts and ask key questions about their career experience, their motivations for choosing that career and the advice they have for students considering entering into the industry. Keeping in touch with these contacts can be highly valuable throughout the course of your career, providing you with sources of advice, guidance and future opportunities.
- You will gain a competitive advantage
Two-thirds of employers look for graduates with relevant work experience when hiring, based on the expectation they will be more prepared for the world of work and possess stronger business awareness (UCAS, 2019). Having a wide variety of experience within a field will help you stand out amongst the competition in the future, by giving you the knowledge and exemplification you need to enhance your applications and answer challenging questions (whilst also importantly showing admissions teams you are willing to go above and beyond).
How can I find work experience?
As work experience comes in many forms, it can often be challenging to know where to start looking for opportunities. As a guide, we recommend following three simple steps to start building your experience:
- Start local
An easy place to start to find work experience is to explore opportunities available in your local area. Do some research into local firms related to your industry of choice and see whether you can reach out and enquire about work shadowing. Another option is to reach out to your school’s careers team and find out whether there have been any local opportunities advertised, or whether they could suggest anyone (perhaps previous students or school connections) who you could reach out to for advice.
Although not career specific, a simple way to gain experience is to get involved in supporting your local community through volunteering initiatives, such as supporting local campaigns, working with local charities or even donating your time to supporting someone in need. Volunteering allows you to demonstrate certain skills such as emotional intelligence and empathy (skills which are valued highly by employers today), and of course can add depth to your college applications. Part-time jobs can also be an excellent way to help you develop your workplace etiquette and professional skills (e.g. working in hospitality can demonstrate your ability to communicate with customers and work efficiently under pressure), whilst helping you earn some pocket money on the side!
- Explore Online
To find industry specific experience, we recommend spending time online exploring company websites of interest and taking a look at their work experience pages, to see if there are any placement opportunities you can apply for. You can also use student websites such as Student Ladder and Prospects to keep up to date on any placements being advertised by larger organisations, and for general advice on how to stand out during your work experience applications. If you are struggling to find any in-person opportunities, or simply want to gain some experience in a time frame that suits you, there are a multitude of virtual work experience programmes you can take part in that allow you to explore different roles and sectors from the comfort of your own home! Finally, LinkedIn and other social media are useful tools to help you keep up to date with developments happening within your industry. By following companies of interest, you can be updated when work experience schemes open, all while building your commercial awareness.
- Use your network
Arguably one of the simplest ways to find work experience is to take advantage of your current network. Reflect on your current contacts and consider whether anyone could be beneficial for your future career, perhaps as they work in a similar industry to one you are considering or they have made similar career decisions to you so far. These contacts could be family members, friends or people you have met through your extra curriculars and work experience so far. Where possible, reach out to these individuals with any questions you have, initiate conversations and ask for recommendations of places you could look for experience.
How can I use my work experience to get ahead
- Be tactical
Before beginning any work experience, it is important to evaluate what you are hoping to gain from the opportunity. After all, any experience is valuable and can be a great opportunity for you to learn about your future career and the decisions you want to make. Before you begin, you can ask yourself some simple questions to make sure you approach your experience with a clear purpose in mind: What am I hoping to gain? Do I want to build my industry knowledge? Am I hoping to meet new people who can give me advice and answer my questions? Can I use this experience to develop examples of my skillsets, that I can use to stand out in the future?
By answering these questions, you will have identified your purpose for the experience and will be able to tailor your approach to ensure you can make the most of your opportunity. For example, if your priority is to expand your network, you could make a conscious effort to interact with and keep a log of any contacts you meet, who you could reach out to if needed.
- Be proactive
You should approach your work experience with positivity and proactivity, to ensure you make the most of the opportunity. Reflect on how you can impress your employer during your time there; simple examples include offering your help to your colleagues where you have capacity, asking relevant questions to demonstrate your enthusiasm and asking for feedback throughout your experience. This ensures you leave the experience with improvements for the future and can demonstrate your maturity and willingness to learn. Make sure you keep a log of any feedback you receive, so you can refer back before you begin your next experience!
- Be resourceful
‘Go the extra mile’ and constantly look to see how you can use your work experience to your advantage going forwards. Use the experience as an opportunity for reflection; think about specific areas of the experience you enjoyed, whether you could see yourself in that career and the skills you demonstrated. Even if you leave your experience realising that particular career isn’t right for you, your experience will have still been so important for your future, even if just to help you realise that you need to explore new careers going forwards! Constantly keep a record of any experience you have gained (including examples of specific skills you developed) and make sure to keep updating your CV and LinkedIn profile with your achievements (you can read about our CV ‘Dos and Don’ts on our blog here).
Undeniably, work experience is an essential part of your education journey. By taking part in a variety of forms of work experience over the course of your career, whilst at school, college and beyond, you will enter the workplace able to make informed decisions regarding your future. Using our simple guide above, try to use each experience to your advantage, reflect on what you have learnt at each stage and keep exploring new ways to get ahead in your career!
Looking for career experience? InvestIN can help…
Register now for our career experience programmes, taking place in 15 of the most popular careers, including Investment Banking, International Politics, Psychology and many more. Head over to our programmes page where you can find out more information!
Keep up to date with the latest career advice on our blogs page here!