There’s no doubt that gaining work experience during your course will come in handy when you’re applying for jobs after graduation. Not only will it improve your job prospects and help you stand out among a sea of eager graduates, but it can also give you valuable insight into the type of job you might enjoy once you’re out in the workforce. If you’re not sure where to start, read on.
- Step 1: Think about the type of work experience you want
The most common work experience options are a volunteer position or an internship — or, if you’re lucky, a casual or part-time job in your field. The type you are most suited to will depend on a few factors, such as how much time you can spare outside of your studies and whether you are seeking paid or unpaid work. Remember that internships, particularly in competitive fields, are often unpaid or only offer a stipend to cover out-of-pocket costs (public transport on the days you are in the office, for example). Consider the time period too. Are you looking for a short two-week stint or are you in it for the long haul?
- Step 2: Decide on your preferred role
Generally, most students want to secure a position that will allow them to add a hands-on element to the theory they are learning in class. For example, an arts student may volunteer at a local MP’s office to see what it’s like to put their politics major into practice. Many students also seek out work experience to help them choose between the different types of jobs or workplaces available to them once they graduate. A marketing student may want to see what it’s like to work in events or digital marketing or within market research, while an accounting student might try to gauge whether they prefer working for a small private practice or a big corporate firm. Others choose to explore something that’s not covered by their course structure at all, perhaps trying out a new field if they’re not sure that they’re heading in the right direction.
- Step 3: Start applying
Work experience may be arranged through your faculty as part of your course, but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t start looking out for work experience opportunities as soon as you can and getting a head start on your classmates. Positions can be found on the major job search websites, on the jobs noticeboard on campus, through your institution’s careers service or on company websites. Another great resource is your network (friends, family, lecturers and tutors), as someone you know may have heard about an opportunity that would suit your needs. If you have a specific company in mind and cannot find a position advertised, you can approach them directly. Most will be happy to discuss your options or refer you to someone who can help. Ensure your résumé is updated and you have a clear idea of why you want to gain some experience in the field, as they may put you on the spot and ask you to send through your details straight away.
- Step 4: Prepare for interviews
Even if you are applying for an unpaid internship, most employers will want to arrange an interview or informal chat before your first day. Our tip is to treat these no differently to an interview for a full-time graduate position — research the company, know why you’re applying and display a professional and confident demeanor. And, as with any interview, ask questions. You could, for example, enquire about opportunities to rotate between departments to get a real feel for the company or about how flexible the company will be during peak assessment periods. If you are asked to attend an interview, it’s worth seeking advice from your course coordinator or the careers office on campus. This is particularly useful when it comes to contracts (if you are required to sign one) and discussing the types of tasks you should be performing on the job to ensure you get the most out of your work experience.