The pros and (NO) cons of Work Experience!

Getting you ready for life beyond education

Not sure what you want to do for a living? Work experience can help!

Why does work experience matter?

If you’ve never experienced work before, work experience is a good way to learn about what it involves. Going to work in almost any environment – an office, shop, factory, outdoors, you name it – is very different to school or college. The hours are longer, you have different responsibilities, and there are all sorts of employability skills to learn about.

It’s also a great way of trying a career before you fully buy into it. It’s as much about getting a taste for the working environment as the job itself. You’re always going to find it a bit strange compared to being at school, but if you discover that you can’t stand being in an office, for example, or that working outdoors actually doesn’t suit you, those are good things to know. Then you can make changes to your plans based on what you learn. 

Importantly, getting work experience looks very good to employers, colleges and universities. It demonstrates that you’ve taken the time to improve your skills, shows that you’ve done something outside of your studies, that you’re organised, that you’ve thought about your future – mainly that you’re interested in the world of work and want to be involved. 

When is the right time to do work experience?

There isn’t really a ‘wrong’ time to do it, but it very much depends on what else you’ve got going on. For example, it may not be something to do during the build up to exams, it isn’t going to help your revision very much.

Instead, plan your work experience for times when you’ll be able to focus on it and get the most out of it. You might find that your school or college sets time aside during the term for work experience; or you could arrange some yourself during the holidays. 

What does it involve?

It really depends on the kind of employer you spend your work experience with. It could be anything from shadowing another employee to doing various tasks to help others do their job. Some employers have dedicated work experience schemes, so that’s another option to look out for when you’re doing your research. 

How do I get work experience?

First of all you need to think about the kind of work experience you want. It’s good to remember that work experience doesn’t commit you to anything, it’s simply a chance to find out more, so keep an open mind. Make a list of the careers and employers that appeal to you, and talk it over with your friends and family. 

Next, speak to your teachers or a career adviser, as they may have useful contacts and suggestions. Family and friends can also be helpful. Know someone who does a job that you’re interested in? Why not ask if they can help you get some work experience? People are usually happy to help. 

Once you have a few places you know you’d like to apply to, it’s time to do some research. See if their company website has any information about work experience – they may well have a programme you can apply to – or find out their contact details so you can get in touch. The best thing is to call them up and ask who to speak to about work experience, and see what they recommend. 

Whether you speak to someone on the phone or email them (or contact them via social media sites like LinkedIn), be polite, be calm, be clear. Explain who you are, what you’re studying, why you’re looking for work experience and that you’d love the opportunity to come and spend some time with them. Again, your teachers, career adviser or family can help you prepare for this bit. 

Five ways to get the most out of your work experience 

1 – Be on time. It makes a good impression.

2 – Be enthusiastic. If you show enthusiasm, you’ll get enthusiasm back.

3 – Be helpful. Get involved and always ask what you can do to help. 

4 – Be attentive. Ask questions, make notes, take pics and videos.

5 – Be impressive. Work hard, be nice, follow up with a thank you letter – it’ll all help when you need a reference, or apply for a job there in the future.

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