Top 10 Tips For Work Experience
It’s a necessary part of working life, sometimes you have to suck up your pride and work for free to gain the valuable experience you need to get ahead. But what is the difference between making endless cups of tea and photocopies and gaining something truly useful?
In 2010 I signed up for work experience in one of the top UK publishers, HarperCollins. This may sound difficult, but you will be surprised at the amount of places that will let you work for them if only you utter those magical words “Free labour.” The first week was your typical work placement; I did menial tasks like making coffee, adding scripts to an excel database, researching photos for low priority projects and of course, photocopying.
In the second week I was growing antsy and luckily, my boss noticed. I decided to volunteer for more difficult jobs and even spoke out in editorial meetings, giving my opinion on new books and criticisms of old ones. I jumped outside the box and offered my services as an artist for upcoming presentations; including a book based on a certain Britain’s Got Talent star and her love of cats. Before I knew it, not only did I have a book deal but I even got offered a job as an Editorial Assistant in the Non-Fiction department.
Such a result may not be typical of most work experience, but it is possible. Of course, another great reason to do work experience is to learn more about the industry you are interested in and, how can you learn whether you enjoy something or not unless you jump in and try it? Anyone can photocopy and make a cup of tea, but if you want to gain all of that ‘valuable experience’ your teachers keep on telling you about, here are my top tips on how to do it.
10: Pick An Industry You Are Actually Interested In
This may seem obvious, but the last thing you want is for your work experience to turn out like an episode of The Inbetweeners. If you are planning work experience with your school and they can’t get you into the industry you want, then do it yourself. Talk to your parents, friends, other teachers; search the internet and local businesses; you are bound to find something you like.
9: Work Experience Is Not Just For School
One of the most common reasons for not getting a job is that you do not have the ‘necessary experience’. This can seem like a horrible Catch-22, as, in order to gain that experience, you need the job that requires it (does anyone else’s head hurt?). Most places will pay expenses if you negotiate, so if you are between jobs and can afford the time, give it a go. If anything it is an extra string to your CV and you are more likely to hear about upcoming job opportunities in the same sector/company.
8: Be Patient With The Tasks You Receive
We will always get asked to do something that we feel is useless or unnecessary. I have not only done work experience but I have also supervised work experience candidates and it can often be a tedious job for employers to even find you things to do. This is why you may feel like you are stuck with the most boring jobs that other people ‘can’t be bothered with’. In fact, they are giving you these jobs so that they can free themselves up to do things which require more skill and training. If they asked you to do the more 'interesting' jobs, this would not only require training but supervision, something which a lot of employers cannot afford to do when they have their own job to worry about. So, be patient and make the coffee/photocopy/print/get lunch. It may seem boring, but the people you work for will really appreciate it.
7: “Please Sir, Can I Have Some More?”
Don't be afraid to ask for more work if you feel you are up to it. Not only will this show that you are pro-active but it will allow your employer to realise that you are up for a challenge and willing to help. This might push them to give you something more interesting to do. But, be careful not to take on more than you can handle. If you take on too much you may start to panic and slack off in your work. Remember to only ask for more work if you are fully capable of doing the work you have already been given. This is an invaluable learning tool as it will teach you about prioritising.
6: Don’t Be Afraid Of Your Boss
Whether you are 15 or 50, the idea of ‘the boss’ can be a scary concept. But, this is the person you will learn the most from. Ideally (if you have chosen an industry which interests you) this is the person with the job you want to eventually get, so try to learn from their experience. Pre-prepare some questions, like: “What do you love/hate about your job?”; “What jobs did you have before this?”; “What qualifications would I need to get a job like yours?”; “Which University/HE College/Training centre did you go to?” etc.. Try and get to know them and if you end up getting on you will gain a valuable ally who may be able to help you with the next tip...
5: Ask For A Reference
If you have played your cards right and made yourself memorable (in a good way) then you may want to ask your boss/supervisor for a reference. This is an invaluable CV tool which will help you with future jobs. Even if you don’t end up doing the most difficult of tasks, a reference can prove character and willingness to work.
4: Get Some Much Needed CV/Cover Letter Advice
Now is the time for a master class in ‘selling yourself’. If these are your future potential employers then they will be able to tell you everything they would want from an employee and the things they would look for on a CV. Why not ask your boss or supervisor for a quick run through of your own CV? Be willing to accept criticism and advice and do not be afraid of asking questions. Not only will this make your CV look more professional but it will teach you how to mould it to the industry you are pitching yourself to. Cover letters are also very important and your boss has probably read hundreds. Ask them what annoys them in cover letters; what they hear too much of; what they would like to hear. Soon you will have an employment package suitable for the career you want.
3: Talk To People
As well as your boss, remember to take the time to talk to the other employees as this is where you will find out the ‘truth’. At the end of the day, the more ‘in charge’ an individual is, the more they represent the company they work for. They will always want to pitch it in a positive light as it is theirs and they are quite-rightly proud of it. They are not lying, but they may not necessarily know what it is like for those working under them. In order to find out what it is like to work in an industry you need to talk to the people working their way to the top, as well as the people on top. Do not engage in gossip but try to tactfully ascertain whether this is the job for you; Are the employees happy? What do they love/hate about their jobs? Is it a high pressure environment or relaxed? Stressful or boring? These are the things you need to be asking so you can decide whether or not you see yourself working in this environment.
2: Move Around
Whether you are working in a garage or publishers; an office or a shop, you should try and see as many aspects of that industry as you can. This way you can decide what is best for you. Why not talk to the HR department or your supervisor and ask if you can see a different part of the job? For example, in publishing there are many different departments: marketing, publicity, legal, art, editorial, HR, IT, finance, e-books and audio books. Why not try and get a tour through each of these sectors? Or contact someone from each and get them to talk you through what they do. The same can be said of any industry as they all need different types of worker to keep them going. You may know that you want to work in medicine, but do you want to be a paediatrician? A paramedic? A surgeon? A nurse? The only way you can find out is by talking to those who are already there and seeing it for yourself.
1: Never Be Afraid To Be Yourself
This is the most important tip I can possibly offer you. So many people worry about putting on a professional front when going into work experience, especially people in education who feel they need to act ‘like a grown up’. However, whilst a professional demeanour is essential in any work place, it should not be at the determent to who you really are. When I went for work experience in HarperCollins, I had blue hair and had just finished working in a nightclub, but my blue hair became a great ice breaker. People remembered me and it even became a great way of relating to younger clients, especially those in the music and cartoon industry. So, never be afraid of showing your employer who you really are. At the end of the day, if you do get a job in the industry you love, you can’t hide who you are forever.