All About Work Experience Part I: 5 reasons why you need work experience!

Internship student (by Walmink, Flickr)

Internship student (Walmink, http://www.flickr.com)

The job market is definitely going to get tougher in the coming months and years, and with 1/4 million new graduates in the UK every year, you’ll need to make sure you stand out! Getting as much work experience as you can while you have time is one way of making sure you’re ahead of the game. Here are 5 reasons why it’s a good thing…

  1. Employers recruit graduates who’ve done placements with them. For example, HSBC fills up to 80% of the places on their graduate programmes with students who have done internships with them. So if you haven’t done an internship, when you apply for graduate jobs you might be fishing from a smaller pool of places than you think. On the other hand, if you do get an internship and you make a positive impression, you could land a permanent job when you graduate, should you want it.
  2. Many employers value work experience as much or more than qualifications. For example, the consultancy firm Mott McDonald doesn’t require graduates to have a 2:1 or specific A Level grades, but they do stress that work experience is a key factor in their selection process. A quality placement, some volunteering and a part-time job will lead to a good CV and applications and give you something to talk about at interviews.
  3. Work experience can help you figure out what you do (and don’t!) want to do. A job or organisation can sound great on paper, but until you are actually there doing it (or working with people who do it) it can be hard to tell whether it would be really right for you. Work experience is a great opportunity to “try something out”. Many students have their career ambitions confirmed while on work experience, but some find a particular job wasn’t what they thought, and at least they have a chance to change their plans before committing to a graduate job.
  4. Work experience develops the commercial awareness and other skills that employers look for. One of the top characteristics recruiters seek is commercial awareness – the knowledge of how a business operates, competition within the sector, current trends, etc. Something it’s hard to get from the library. Getting practical work experience can help you build invaluable business knowledge, as well as developing other key skills that employers rate highly, such as communication, teamwork and organisation skills. In a recent survey of graduates recruiters (AGR, summer 2008) over 80% of employers described completing an internship or industrial placement as “very effective” in building so-called soft skills – far more effective than any other way to develop these skills.
  5. You might even get paid…! Some internships and placements pay reasonably well, but for some sectors (like the media, for example), you’ll definitely need to be prepared to get unpaid work experience to get your foot in the door. Volunteering with charities and community organisations can also give you invaluable experience and is another way you can develop the skills employers look for. We’ll write more on volunteering in another post!

Find out more about work experience, how to get it and search job vacancies.

Next week in the All About Work Experience series: “Different types of work experience”.

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