We all know that relevant work experience is going to be a big advantage when you are job hunting. But its value is far more than just adding kudos to your CV. Internships, placements and volunteering are great preparation for the working world, a chance to develop new skills, make useful contacts, get a taste of an industry and discover what you do or don’t want to do. However, it will be down to you to get the best from the experience; you’ll need to approach it with enthusiasm and really get stuck in. Here are 10 tips to make sure you reap maximum benefit from your time at work.
Do some research
A little preparation can really pay off – before you join, research the industry and company. A basic understanding of the business will enable you to engage in conversation with colleagues, ask sensible questions and generally create a positive impression early on. If you go in enthusiastic and informed, you are less likely to find yourself burdened with menial tasks.
You could also identify areas of work that particularly appeal, where you would like to get involved.
Make a good impression
First impressions count!
Turn up on time (obvious, but crucial).
Dress suitably (if in doubt, err on the smart side).
Be friendly, smile and introduce yourself to people.
And relax, it’s not all a huge test. So be yourself, always professional, but have some fun 🙂 Let them see that you’re a great person to have around.
Listen carefully to instructions and note down important information like deadlines and meeting dates. Make sure you have all the information you need to carry out the tasks and manage your time effectively.
You are there to learn and no-one will expect you to know everything. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or seek clarification on anything you’re unsure about; it will just show you are keen to do the job well.
Watch, listen and learn: you can glean a lot from the conversations going on around you (particularly useful if you’re not getting as close to the action as you’d like). Rather than waiting around for the next task, ask if you can shadow someone or sit in on a meeting. Observing can give you a real insight into a role.
Get to know people
Take the initiative, talk to your colleagues. Ask about their roles and how they got to where they are now – most people will be flattered that you are interested. You will learn plenty about the business and it’s a golden opportunity to build connections that might prove fruitful later on (networking!) Take contact details and keep in touch after you have left e.g. by connecting on LinkedIn.
‘Talking to colleagues, understanding what they do every day, how they got into the industry and then just getting to know people – that’s what really brought it to life and convinced me I’d like to work in this field.’
Henry, intern at an investment bank
Whatever the task, however small, use your initiative to go above and beyond what is asked of you. Perform well and you are likely to be given greater responsibility.
If you have a constructive suggestion, don’t be afraid to speak up; employers love people with opinions and ideas!
Generally, try to get involved, offer to help out where you can.
‘Make the most of whatever you’re given. Even if they are mundane jobs, do them better than people expect. If you’re given a project, however small, take ownership and responsibility. You are unlikely to be given work beyond your capability, so embrace the challenge and go for it!’
Mark Swain, experienced recruiter & Director of Partnerships at Henley Business School
‘The most important learning curve for me was “if you don’t ask, you don’t get”. I could have gained more from my work experience if I had pushed for them to involve me more.’
Sophie, marketing intern
Keep a record of your time at the workplace – note the tasks you worked on, skills you developed, what you learned and achieved (ready for CV and job applications!) Keep a pen and notepad handy to jot down any useful information or advice.
‘I made a list of everyone I met. In fact, I wrote a lot of notes… things people said I found interesting, pieces of advice, jargon or any snippets of information I felt I should remember. It was useful to look back on, especially when I was applying for jobs, to remember whom I had met, where I had been and what I enjoyed most.’
Lotty, intern at an estate agent, who went on to work in the property sector
Ask for feedback
Try to get informal feedback from your supervisor during your placement, so you have the chance to improve where necessary. Nobody will expect you to be perfect from the outset, but they will be impressed if you show you can learn and adapt.
Send a brief email or letter to your employer thanking them for the experience. It shows good manners and people will remember the gesture. If you are interested in a permanent role, make sure you express your enthusiasm and say you hope they would consider you for any future opportunities.
If you have embraced the challenge and made a positive impact, you will probably be top of mind when there is a suitable opening.
Once you have finished, take time to reflect on what you enjoyed and what you didn’t, in terms of the work, company culture and the industry. For example, perhaps you loved the challenge of dealing with customers, but would feel more comfortable in a structured environment with clearer guidelines.
Even if you did not enjoy the placement at all, don’t worry, that’s what work experience is all about. You will have picked up skills and experience that will benefit any future career, and you’ll have a clearer idea of what you don’t want to do – and that’s helpful too!
‘Take from it what you can – you can take positive things out of even a bad situation, for example you met a great person, you learned how to do something (or how not to!). Always be learning and you’ll never come out of an experience regretting it.’
Mark Rice, Careers Coach
Find out more:
How to…make the most out of work experience
How can you make sure you have a worthwhile learning experience? Two graduates describe their placements – the good and the not so good!
Planning work experience
Essential preparation, application tips & what to check before you start