“It’s not what you do, but the way that you do it and what you learn from it!”
It may be a cliché, but to build your CV and enhance your confidence ready for your next career step, almost any work experience is going to be valuable, as long as you reflect on the skills that you have developed and try to apply them in other contexts.
Many of you will already be planning your summer internships or formal work experience, but remember that part-time work, volunteering and work shadowing are also great options and provide variety and depth to your experience. Whatever you choose, try to do something that will expose you to different areas of work, to other sectors or professions, to a variety of organisational customs and practices, to a new set of contacts and to a range of transferable and potentially lifelong skills.
Recruiters never fail to be impressed by people who have stepped outside their comfort zone and done something different, as well as developing experience in their chosen profession via a more traditional internship route. For you, every experience will help you to clarify your career choices and add to a bank of:-
- Transferable skills, such as team working, presentation skills and time management
- Career-specific skills, such as research, analytical and writing skills
- Personal skills, such as confidence, influencing and leadership skills
- Exposure to organisational cultures and processes, from how to record expenses to booking meetings rooms or using hot desks
- Sector and industry knowledge and awareness
So how do you prepare to really make the most of all your work experience? Follow our top tips to guarantee success:-
- Researching – On top of the research you will do for your interview, be prepared to look for key people on LinkedIn, scour the media for any relevant press releases or articles that impact or concern the organisation or their competitors, and have a really good browse through their website to help you feel more prepared and confident when you start work.
- Setting learning objectives for yourself – For example you may want to use the work experience to:- “Build my confidence and contribute more in meetings”, or, ” Develop my project management skills”. You may also need to be proactive in seeking out additional learning opportunities or asking for exposure to other areas that will afford you the chance to learn new skills.
- Asking questions – Any new work experience will generate a lot of questions such as: “How should I address people?” “To what extent will I be expected to attend social events?” “Is it OK to say no?” “What does Dress-down-Friday actually mean”? So if there’s something you’re unsure of, or if you’d like to know more about how things are done, ask colleagues or your manager for help. Often you will be assigned a mentor or buddy who will be happy to help with any questions, and enable you to absorb as much information as you can. Feel reassured that you will not be expected to remember everything you are told first time, and it is usually fine to ask twice (but not more) for the same information or instructions. So a top tip is to keep a notebook handy and make sure you jot down essentials.
- Getting involved – Ensure you approach the work you are being asked to do with positivity and enthusiasm. Join in extra-curricular or social activities if you can, or contribute to cross team projects if you have time. You may find yourself with some free time, so rather than checking your social media, ask busier colleagues if there is anything you can help with, and don’t shy away from more menial tasks. If you take them on with a cheerful can-do attitude, you show everyone that you are keen and prepared to be flexible. However, be sure to manage your time efficiently and not get distracted from the main focus of your role.
- Doing what you say you will do – When you commit to deliver a piece of work or complete a task, make sure you keep your word or even under-promise and over-deliver! You will have been set some goals or objectives at the start of your internship or work experience, so these have to be your main focus, even if some “after-hours” work is required to complete it on time.
- Using your skills – Think about the key skills which you should be displaying. For instance, make sure you are well organised and plan your work to manage your time efficiently, especially if you’re being asked to complete multiple tasks/projects. Take an active part in team meetings and discussions to demonstrate your ability to work in a team and don’t be afraid to vocalise your ideas and suggestions.
- Being professional – Many employers will use feedback from your internship when deciding whether to offer you a permanent position so ,you need to make a good impression. Observe the culture of the organisation, especially around things such as office dress code and taking personal calls in the office. Social media is probably best avoided and certainly never say anything negative about your employer on Facebook, at the photocopier or in the lunch queue etc.
- Building a network – Utilise your networking skills to connect with different people within the organisation and attend any social events which may be organised. Use this opportunity to find out more about the organisation and about the different career paths and opportunities which may be available to graduates. Consider if it would be appropriate to suggest a coffee before work or an after work drink with people who are already trainees or permanent employees. They may also be useful contacts for the future so it’s a good idea to connect with them on LinkedIn and stay in touch after your internship or work experience has finished.
- Asking for feedback – An internship is an excellent learning opportunity so ask your manager(s) for feedback on your performance so that you can check you are meeting their expectations during and at the end of the internship. This will also help you be more aware of your own strengths and weaknesses.
- Making notes – Try to keep a regular record, private blog or diary of what you have done and what you have learned during your work experience. This will provide you with a CV, cover letter or application form resource you can use when applying for graduate or permanent roles in the future, and will also form the basis of examples you can use in interviews to demonstrate skills or competencies.
- Self-assessing – At the end of your work experience it is a good idea to:-
- Refer back to your learning objectives and review your progress, your successes and failures, your achievements and key learning.
- Think about what you have enjoyed and why, what you found challenging and how you responded.
- Reflect on who you met that you admired and why. You may have identified someone who represents an ideal role model against whom you can now measure yourself.
- Consider how you now feel, and what you now know, about the organisation, including how you would react if you were offered a permanent role.
- Ask yourself what you would do differently if you were starting your work experience again.
Some of you will find the work stimulating and hugely enjoyable, others may find the experience more challenging, or the work more routine than you had imagined. Regardless of your reactions to what may be your first foray into the world of work, feel reassured that it will be both a memorable and useful opportunity at the start of your career journey.