Learn new skills, make valuable contacts and get a sparkling new reference for your CV at the end of it - looks like you should be getting some work experience.
Why get work experience?
Even if you discover it isn't the career for you, work experience gives you something extra to add to your CV besides your 25m swimming certificate and provides a much more impressive reference than your head-teacher. You'll also learn the kind of invaluable skills, like teamwork and communication, which are necessary for most jobs. On the other hand, if you show the right enthusiasm and determination, your placement could turn into a real live job with a salary. Graduate Prospects recently reported that 73 per cent of employers who take on 'workies' have, at some stage, recruited them as permanent staff, while 62 per cent say it is their main reason for taking on work experience candidates.
So how do I get a placement?
- Make numerous applications to different companies in the areas you want to work in. Send your CV and a short covering letter by post or e-mail and follow it up with a telephone call.
- Always address your mail and phone call to the relevant person - either to the department head of the area you want to work in, or the personnel or human resources officer (ring the switchboard to find out). If the mail is addressed to no one, it is likely that no one will reply.
- Research the company in advance through the Internet or at careers fairs.
- Take advantage of the work experience programmes offered at your local school, college or universities. Even if you haven't got an obvious career choice many skills are transferable.
- Don't be afraid of networking. You don't need to be well connected to start, it's surprising how many friends and family will know someone that could offer you an opportunity.
- Organise work experience early, especially for more prestigious placements as they are often in great demand. Some work placements, like a number of those offered by the BBC, requires you to already have some experience. Try approaching smaller, local firms at first. Having gained experience with them you can start to aim higher.
Making the most of it
Once you have got your placement, try to make the most of it, even if it doesn't turn out to be your dream job. Dress well and be keen and polite; you can dress down later if everyone else does. Follow the social customs of the office and socialise as much as possible. Try and be grateful - taking on a workie costs the employer money and time; remember they are doing you a favour. It should hopefully be enjoyable, if not it probably isn't the job for you.
After you have finished, take a note of everything you have done and break it down on your CV, emphasising the various skills. If you have done actual work, try to describe it on your CV as work rather than work experience without resorting to lying!
Keep the names and contact numbers of anyone you meet and give them short updates on what you are up to if you go anywhere or do anything significant. It is best to remain in their minds as they could prove to be useful contacts later.
What can go wrong?
Clearly work experience can be a valuable time, but remember that things can go wrong. The National Council for Work Experience (NCWE) has found that 39% of businesses admit to taking on work experience placements for specific projects, while 19% admit to using them to cover busy periods. Placement schemes can be abused as cheap temporary labour but they still provide a valuable experience. Try to avoid hiccups and:
- Ask the company to explain exactly what your job will entail and for how long you will be doing it.
- Don't end up out of pocket - establish what expenses the company will cover. Many pay for travel expenses, but lunch expenses are much more rare - be sure to save your tickets and receipts.
- Know your rights. Ordinary labour laws cover those taking work experience over 16; those under 16 are offered more stringent protection.
- The NCWE offers a code of practice, encouraging employers to maintain good safety standards, provide an educational opportunity and offer feedback to their work experience placements.
- Don't get taken for a ride. Companies are not obliged to pay you although the NCWE does encourage it, especially if you are working for a long period, which is common in popular industries such as media.
Read the comment policy
Use our free question and answer service and speak to an expert!