Work experience

Work experience: finding the fit…

So exams are over and we’re all looking forward to some R&R.  I’ve been planning my holiday and was initially torn between two options: beach and sun or mountain adventure in Wales.  Both had their appeal, but I had to make a decision.  The beach won out, but I still wanted a little bit of adventure. So: Devon, surfing and coasteering (yes, really) it is.

I left it quite late this year and many of the big operators were already booked up. So I had to put in a bit more effort to get the holiday I wanted and spent more time searching the smaller agencies and private rentals. Although this has taken a little more effort –  and was less straightforward – I’ve ended up with a holiday that offers just what I want.

Why am I telling you this? Because it struck me the process for finding work experience is not dissimilar.

Understand what you’re looking for

You wouldn’t book a holiday just because other people have (unless those Facebook pics looked really inviting).  No, you’d weigh up lots of different factors – cost, location, existing commitments – and then make a final decision.

When you think about work experience and internship opportunities, you should also be considering areas you need – or want – to develop. Where are the gaps in your skills/experience/knowledge? Use this to inform your search for suitable work placements. If you’re quite a solitary person, you might want to focus on communication and team working skills. Graduate recruiters are looking for applicants with a quite a broad skill set, so don’t just apply for things that feel comfortable but offer little in the way of personal development.

Finding the fit

So you have worked out what you want, now you need to research in a bit more detail and  find out what the limiting factors might be. Just to continue the surfing analogy, you may find a great beach but that doesn’t mean it will be ripe for surfing. Or it might be too good – at least Jigsaw for someone with limited experience. I don’t think I’m ready for a 20ft wave in Hawaii just yet!

Ok, so when you’re investigating work experience/internships you might find a great opportunity, but not in the sector you’d really like to work in. Similarly you might like the look of an organisation but having researched further, found that’s it’s not quite the right fit.  There’s no point holidaying in Rio, when want you really want is a quiet holiday in Provence.  Stop and think before you commit to something that you’ll find unfulfilling or unsatisfying. Yes, it’s true that all work experience has value but if you really want to stand out from the crowd you need to get some relevant experience in your chosen sector.

Big isn’t always best

We all know about the well-known, well-established travel agents like Thomas Cook or STA Travel, but there are other agencies and independents that can provide a quality experience without the fanfare.  And bear in mind because so many people default to using the big agencies, some of the best deals and good holidays can book up pretty early.

The same is true of formal internship schemes with the large graduate recruiters; they receive a high volume of applications – far exceeding the places available. Most applicants are destined to miss out, but that doesn’t mean the end of their career hopes –  far from it. SMEs – small and medium sized enterprises – comprise the vast majority of companies in the UK and they are always on the lookout for talented students to come and work for them.  The difference is they don’t always advertise placement opportunities and you may have to approach them speculatively.

SMEs often have a less hierarchical management structure and you may find yourself working in close proximity to quite senior and experienced people – a great training ground! Work placements/internships at SMEs can feel a little different to the big corporates as they’re often not quite as formal or structured, but there’s every opportunity for you to discuss your objectives – and development needs – with your supervisor.  If this isn’t made explicit, then just ask – it’s important that you take the initiative. Generally there will be fewer ‘interns’  as well (you might be the only one) so you could find there’s actually closer support and supervision and the chance to make a real, demonstrable impact during your placement.

Where to look

You may still find there are internships available for this summer, although the window is now closing. You will need to be more resourceful – and open-minded – in your search.

Research, research, research

You’ve booked your holiday and hopefully have made a note of the dates, hotel and flight times. But what else is there? Are there any events or festivals you’d like to attend. What are the general amenities and facilities like – shops, pools, theatres?  Being thoroughly prepared can help you maximise your holiday experience. Take the same approach with your work placement and you’ll really reap the benefits.

Find out as much as you can about the organisation (and sector) as this knowledge will help you shape and structure your work placement, particularly if you’re applying to SMEs. Don’t just rely on the website – find out if they have a social media presence (most will) and start following. You can find out an awful lot from Twitter and Facebook. And don’t forget to check out their company profile on LinkedIn. If you only have a superficial understanding, the chances are you’ll have a superficial experience….so do your research!

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