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Finding Meaningful Work Experience

By: Beth Morrisey MLIS - Updated: 9 Jul 2010 | comments*Discuss
Work Experience Skills Student Work

Though there is no legal definition of “work experience” it is generally accepted that work experience is any voluntary or paid labour that a student performs before beginning his or her career. Work experience gives students a background in their chosen industry, it allows them to learn practical skills as well as hone “soft skills,” and it gives them a platform for networking before they even leave school or university. For the lucky few a work experience gig may turn into their first job, so treat your placement with the same maturity and seriousness as you would paid employment. You never know where work experience may lead you!

Target Your Area

Work experience placements are often more plentiful than paid employment so interesting opportunities exist where first time job seekers might never have a chance. Before you begin applying for work experience assignments, brainstorm about who you could speak with about opportunities and where else you could look. Include on your list:
  • Parents and family friends.
  • Teachers, professors or mentors.
  • School counsellors or the university career guidance office.
  • Local governments.
  • Local shops and charitable organisations.
  • National and international relief and non-profit organisations.
  • Museums, galleries, exhibition sales and theatres.
  • Corporations.

Know What You Want

Once you know where you would like to work, make sure you know why you would like to work as well. Some work experiences offer payment or stipends while others offer educational credits towards a degree, but even if yours doesn’t remember that all work experiences offer:
  • Experience in your chosen career or industry.
  • Opportunities for networking with companies and key players.
  • Impressive additions to your CV.
  • The chance to hone “soft skills” that employers find attractive such as:
    • Decision making.
    • Maturity.
    • Cooperation.
    • Problem solving.
    • Communication.

Consider Your Schedule

If you are determined to complete a work experience placement but are already committed to many other activities, breathe a sigh of relief because there are schedules out there to suit almost any student. Common types of work experience include:
  • Holiday work (any work undertaken during your holidays and outside of term time).
  • Voluntary work (unpaid).
  • Part time (35 hours or less each week) jobs.
  • Shadowing: in which a student “shadows” an employee to get a feel for his/her job and the industry. This is usually unpaid
  • Internships (often unpaid) which are much like work shadowing only the student has work of their own to complete.
  • Gap year placements (usually undertaken as part of a formal programme) which can occur at home or abroad and are usually unpaid.
  • Sandwich placements (usually undertaken during a year “out” of your educational course).

Applying for Work Experience

If you’re raring to find work experience then you’re not alone! To beat out the competition, make sure that you:
  • Thoroughly research the companies and industries in which you would like to work.
  • Draft a complete CV and formal application letter.
  • Ask your teachers, lecturers, or other adults (to whom you are not related) who know you best.
  • Practice interview techniques as well as answering questions about yourself and your experiences.
  • Present yourself as competent and mature from the start.
  • Turn up to interviews well dressed and clean.
Finding meaningful work experience may seem like a pain, but the long term benefits more than make up for the hassles of researching and applying for these placements. Remain calm throughout this process, from the first draft of your CV to the last handshake on your last day, and there’s no doubt you’ll make such an impression that at the very least you’ll walk away with a glowing reference – and hopefully even more!

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