As I see my umpteenth stressed out student, anxious to obtain the Holy Grail of a Spring Week it occurs to me that as a careers professional I have a love: hate relationship with them. So why is that?
On the one hand, they are a way for first years to explore different options and find out about the real world of work. For years I’ve wanted the students I work with to engage with career planning early on in their studies. This gives you the most time to find out what’s right for you. Every message tells you how essential work experience is now to demonstrate your passion for a sector to an employer. So surely Spring weeks can only be a good thing – right?
Well maybe. Let’s look at some of the downsides. Only some sectors offer Spring weeks. So in the stampede to get some work experience I come across students with no interest in banking at all, applying to Goldman Sachs saying:
“Well surely it’s better to get some work experience even if it’s not what I really want?”
Or maybe not?
Ummm – I suspect many employers will spot an application from a half -hearted student – and put it straight in the bin. All that time you spent drafting the applications when you could have been enjoying life on campus, or even studying, wasted! Even if you don’t get caught out and succeed, how comfortable will you be spending your holiday working in an area you’re not interested in, when you could be focusing on so many other things?
I’ve heard all the reasons you give to press ahead with the applications:
“I don’t want to get left behind.”
“All my friends are applying. So surely I must do something?”
And of course the answer is that “yes” you should stay proactive.
So here are my suggestions:
1. Don’t panic!
Before you rush to get work experience, press pause and spend a bit of time working out who you are now, including your strengths and areas you’d like to develop further. Who would you like to be in 3 or 4 years’ time? Which experiences will help you become that person – volunteering, paid employment, membership of societies, skills workshops, travel, hobbies, interests? You’re at University because you’re bright and because you want to learn – don’t lose that curiosity – take some risks, enjoy yourself and keep reflecting on who you are and where your future might be.
2. Be aware of the range of opportunities
It isn’t just City employers which offer internships. Many other employers offer work opportunities to penultimate year students – double check if they do Open Days or shorter schemes for first years.
3. How about making contact with an alumnus or alumna or your university?
Here at Warwick we have an e-mentoring scheme you can sign up for. It could be a great way to get hints and tips on a sector which interests you. Other universities will have similar schemes.
4. Be Speculative
Work experience is much broader than just Spring weeks. Why not think about arranging some informal shadowing with a smaller employer in the sector of your choice? Sometimes all you need to do to get an opportunity to shadow is ask!
You can make speculative applications for work experience to smaller companies. If you’re successful and the work is unpaid Warwick students can apply for a bursary.
Whilst the pressures to get a good job after uni are evident I hope it’s possible to still enjoy yourself getting new experiences and developing your identity for the rest of your life. Go for it!