Employability or work-readiness is still number one on the list of potential employers when they look for graduates to fill vacancies. With few exceptions, the class or type of degree is no longer their main consideration.
Increasingly employers want graduates to be problem solvers and entrepreneurs and be able to demonstrate good communication skills, initiative and a maturity that comes from having already experienced the world of work in some way.
If you are considering undertaking a work experience placement then you should expect to learn how to apply theory to real world business tasks, and to understand the ‘languages’ of various businesses.
Remember there is a lot of competition out there for work placements and permanent jobs, and you need something to make you stand out.
You should be able and willing to practise your soft skills, particularly communication, time management, professionalism, innovation, project management and teamwork. You should also show a willingness to learn, as this always impresses employers. It is the students who show the most enthusiasm that tend to shine while on placement – and get those all-important jobs.
It doesn’t matter if you don’t manage to get a placement in your preferred sector. It’s still an opportunity to practise those generic skills that you often take for granted. Having a placement outside your target sector can expose you to non-traditional companies and jobs that you have never thought of, and it’s a great way of deciding whether your ‘chosen’ career is really for you or whether something completely different would be better.
Work experience will give you something to talk about at subsequent interviews and perhaps confirm why you want to pursue a particular career. It is also an opportunity to network and find possible opportunities in your chosen sector. Not only will you make a difference to a company by perhaps being an extra pair of hands at a busy time or by bringing much needed skills to a specific project, but the employer can view you as a potential hire without any commitment.
Remember there is a lot of competition out there for work placements and permanent jobs, and you need something to make you stand out. Don’t just think about the big blue-chip companies in the city – smaller companies can often offer more responsibility and variety and quicker career advancement.
Take a look at our student case studies and see what they say about their time on work placement.
Why do I need work experience? Isn’t a degree enough?
You’ll be graduating with around 260,000 others. They’ll all have satisfied the examiners that they can write, research, work individually, and give presentations. What’s going to set you apart? You need to show that you are employable – that you can apply those skills you’ve developed on your degree in the workplace. You’ll have a real advantage if you’ve already had experience in the sector, or within the company. Also, organising work experience shows that you’re serious about your career. Some employers calculate that they make offers of jobs to up to 70% of their work experience and placement students. Bill Greenwood, Senior Careers Adviser, University of Teesside
Organising work experience shows that you’re serious about your career. Some employers calculate that they make offers of jobs to up to 70% of their work experience and placement students.
Bill GreenwoodUniversity of Teeside
Should I be thinking about work experience in my first year?
It is never too early to start thinking about your options. Although major companies usually target penultimate year students for their work placement programmes, you can use your time at university to get a range of experiences that will stand you in good stead when you graduate. Think about getting some voluntary experience through your Students’ Union as a starting point or maybe a part-time job during your vacations. Remember that your top priority in your final year will be your final exams or coursework, so you don’t have all that long to make yourself marketable.
Can I do work experience tied in with my postgraduate study?
Even if you are doing postgraduate study, it’s always worth keeping an eye on your work experience. Some courses will have this built in to them. If you are doing a Masters in management and you are thinking of perhaps working in marketing, then you might want to see if you can base one of your projects or dissertation within a company, perhaps working on a marketing project for a local firm. That way you can put the experience down on your CV, and the company will value getting high-level work for free. Investigate schemes such as Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs) and Shell STEP that work with universities and local businesses to develop projects. Additionally, organisations such as Year in Industry are a good source of work experience opportunities. Richard Mendez, Work-related Learning Officer, University of Leicester
Where do I find out about experience opportunities? Can I contact companies directly?
Initially you should visit your university careers centre. Most will have a database of work experience opportunities and will have contacts with a wide range of employers. Many will also run events, providing an opportunity for you to meet companies and talk to them about the opportunities they offer. Applying for work experience is a competitive process and not all opportunities will be advertised by your university so using speculative applications is an effective way of securing work experience. This is common in competitive areas where a limited number of opportunities are advertised e.g. fashion design and journalism. Use the networks you have to identify potential companies, for example lecturers, contacts you have made on previous work experience and family and friends. Rebecca Evans, Work Placement Project Officer, University of Leeds
I’m worried about the economic climate. Will it affect placement student recruitment?
It’s not the case that all employers have stopped offering placements and in tough economic times the value of gaining work experience is greater than ever. If you’re looking for experience in banking or construction there are likely to be fewer opportunities as these sectors are feeling the pinch. Opportunities are still available but inevitably the competition will be intense. On the other hand, growth is expected in a number of sectors including the public sector and engineering. Your placement doesn’t have to be in the sector that you hope to work in as employers will value the skills gained in any environment. My advice is to get organised early, consider smaller and medium-sized employers and get tailored advice from your careers service. David Levinson, Careers Adviser, Newcastle University
I’m a mature student, are there any age restrictions?
As a mature student you will have transferable skills to contribute during work experience of any kind. Due to the 2006 Age Discrimination Act, employers are no longer allowed to use age in their criteria for recruiting, and this includes those who offer any form of work experience. There maybe other criteria for applying for a scheme, such as whether you are in your final year etc, but this is not based on age. For any student, including mature students it is important to target your application, and show that you have done specific research into the company.
Susie Sims, Work Placement Officer, University of Bristol
toResign.com has thousands of career documents including Resignation Letters, CV Examples, Cover Letters, Job Application Forms and more…