Work experience

100 graduates explain why work experience is so valuable

What if you could call on 100 people for career advice? Now you can! Guest blogger Paul Murphy, author of  ‘1000 Years of Career Advice’ (1) has written a book that interviews 100 graduates, 10 years on from university about their career paths and advice for a younger generation. In the book, the interviewees offer lots of different pieces of career advice but one that kept coming up again and again was: ‘the more work placements you do the better, as you can compare roles and companies and find out what you like/don’t like’

In this post Paul highlights a sample of the interviews he conducted, it is striking how many of the graduates emphasise the importance of work placements.

Paul (33), Managing Director

Paul is a multi-millionaire, he thinks work experience is the best thing you can do at the age of 18-21. Anything that gets you out of your comfort zone, he encourages doing.

Katie (31), Business Systems Owner

Katie did work experience for a small health/tech start-up, which helped her realise that she didn’t like working for small companies. She then went to work for a big financial company and loves it. She has worked in three very different roles since joining and loves being a ‘generalist’.

Natalie (32), TV Producer

Natalie is a very successful TV producer. She did a Fine Art degree at university but spent quite a lot of her 20’s trying to figure out what she wanted to do. Her biggest regret is that she didn’t do work experience as it would have helped her realise what she loved doing sooner, saving her lots of time.

Shane (31), Mechanical Engineer

Shane did an undergraduate and postgraduate degree in mechanical engineering. He now regrets not doing some work experience on a site to give him exposure to other types of engineering i.e. civil, structural

Niall (33), Software Engineer 

Niall switched careers from a civil engineer to a software engineer at the age of 25, after 7 years studying and working in engineering. He did this by going back to university and doing a postgraduate in software engineering. That postgrad had 4months work experience which helped him get his first job. He thinks that if he didn’t have that work experience it would have been very tough for him trying to switch.

Nasir (29), Surgeon

Nasir did a student exchange programme with a university in Holland. While there, he got to see robots perform surgery in the urology department. From that day on, he knew he wanted to be a urology surgeon, and loves it now. If it hadn’t been for that work placement, he may still be unsure as to what type of medicine he wants to specialise in.

Kirstine (32), Resource Manager

Kirstine did some work experience doing in-house recruitment (recruiting for the open vacancies within one company), and really liked it, she has never looked back since. She is really glad she started off in an in-house role, as lots of her friends started jobs as external recruitment consultants and quit because they didn’t like it.

Aisling (31), Solicitor

Aisling always thought she would become a teacher. She did a general arts degree in university, and then decided to become a Solicitor. She didn’t do one day of work experience in a law office until she started working as a 25 year old. She is a successful solicitor now in a New York but doesn’t really like her career and thinks she should have become a teacher. If she’d have done some work experience maybe she would have taken a very different path.

Ronan (36), Solicitor

Ronan worked several summers in a solicitors office. He knew from day one what was involved in a law career. He advises getting as much work experience as possible as ‘studying law is very different from working in law’

Kevin (33), Engineering Team Lead, Colin (33), Process Team Lead

Kevin and Colin are both very successful team leaders in big pharma manufacturing plants. They both have several work placement students working for them and think they are fantastic. They have both commented how employable they will be with good degrees, and work placements with big pharma companies. Some of them have already been offered and secured roles with these firms after they graduate.

John (31), Early Years Language Teacher

John started a journalism course but realised it wasn’t for him. He then did a speech therapy degree as he had done some work experience in that area and realised it was something he really enjoyed. If he had done some journalism work experience he could have saved himself some time and effort.

Gareth (33), Senior Advertising Account Director

Gareth got a work placement at a well-known consumer goods company. His boss said to him if he got all his work done for the week that he could then get involved in the more interesting stuff. He used to get all his work done by Tuesday and then he’d hang out with the PR girls, and the TV advert producers. That summer he learned so much about the industry it got his career off to the best possible start. He is now a very successful guy.

Asaf (32), Finance Analyst

Asaf really liked and was good at marketing in his degree. He did 1 week’s work experience in a marketing department and hated it. He now works in finance. That one week in the marketing department saved him lots of time and effort as if he’d take a permanent marketing job he’d have to stay a lot longer than a week.

David (33), HR Business Partner

David had an undergraduate and postgraduate in HR but could not get a job as it was at the height of the recession in 2008. He offered to work for free for one month for a big insurance company, which they let him do. He then offered to work for a second and third month for free where he worked really hard to impress. In the third month, a maternity cover role came up, which they gave to him, and he has never looked back since, if it wasn’t for that work experience he has no idea what he’d have done.

The above is only a cross section of the interviewees imploring young people to get some work experience. Everyone I’ve interviewed for the book with the benefit of hindsight thinks work experience is invaluable. It doesn’t have to be a very corporate internship programme for 3 months, it can be helping out at a start-up/charity for a few weeks. Whatever it is, it will really stand to you in your career, don’t just listen to me, listen to 100 people who used to be in your shoes.

(1) Available on Amazon from 16th March and free for the first five days after publication


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