Work experience can help you get a job
Most employers are looking for evidence that you will be able to do the job you are applying for. Work experience, whether as part of your degree or optional, can provide evidence of your suitability. Being able to articulate what you understand about the world of work and how the skills you have developed can contribute will be important to your future success. Undertaking work experience will give you the skills that graduate recruiters look for – and it will also make you more aware of what you want from your future career.
What types of work experience counts?
Experience of the workplace comes in many forms, ranging from open days with organisations and work shadowing through casual and part-time work to formal work placements. Which of these will best suit you will depend on your own career goals as well as your personal circumstances. Whatever you choose, consider how it will add to your personal and career development.
The benefits of part-time and casual work
If you are working part-time to supplement your income, don’t underestimate the potential that casual work offers to build skills which employers value. The more time you spend with an organisation the more likely you are to gain responsibility. Your part-time job is also an excellent opportunity to develop your interpersonal and organisational skills.
Work experience, whether paid or voluntary, is one of the most effective ways for current students and recent graduates to gain that competitive edge in the graduate employment market; it gives you the evidence that you have the skills and mindset the employer wants.
Using work experience to gain workplace skills
You should view all work experience as a valuable link to a potential graduate job and set time aside to consider the type of experience you wish to gain. Any experience will help develop skills required for the graduate marketplace. You will gain more from the experience if you are aware of your objectives before you start and if you reflect on what you have learned afterwards.
How work experience can boost your employability
Work experience helps you develop an understanding of the world of work and an awareness of your own skills and abilities. Getting a good degree is vital but being able to demonstrate to an employer that you have a wide variety of other skills will improve your employment prospects.
In the current economic climate, employers are looking for relevant experience which backs up your academic abilities and demonstrates your 'soft skills'. Work experience highlights to employers that you have some understanding of what it’s like to work and that you will have gained some of the basic employability skills they want.
Competition for jobs means that you need a way to stand out. As well as helping you learn essential skills, work experience can set you apart from other applicants when you start applying for jobs. Everyone's experience is individual to them, so highlighting what is unique about your experience can help you stand out.
Work experience as a link to your chosen career
If you’re studying for a vocational degree such as engineering, business studies, healthcare or hospitality, work experience helps you to link the theory with the practice. As the nature of study at university changes, a work placement is often an integral part of third of fourth level education. But other students can also find work experience valuable in deciding whether a particular career path is right for them.
Whether it’s a summer placement or a part-time job, there is nothing like a real-life taste of a job for getting an idea whether it would suit you in the long term. A work experience placement may also help you get your first graduate job, as some employers use vacation and longer placements to identify their future work force. And a work placement in your chosen industry can help you to network and make contacts that may be useful in the future.
You should treat your work experience application with the same mentality as you would an application for a graduate job. You may have to adopt a slightly different approach to creating your CV at this stage, since you are seeking work experience and may have limited experience to present. You could include some of the modules or areas of study that make up your current qualification: a full list of subjects or modules will not say as much about you as a carefully selected list of subjects or modules that you find interesting or perform well at.
You can get advice on writing CVs from your careers service and from the gradireland directory and this website.
When to do it
The best time to get some work experience will depend a lot on your academic commitments and the other activities your institution has to offer which you might want to get involved in. It is for you to decide what your priorities are; financial pressures mean many students do part-time work. But you can also develop employability skills through your involvement in societies and sports because you are bound to be involved in communication and teamwork as well as problem-solving.