How to… Make the Most out of Work Experience
We all know that a good variety of work experience, or a few internships will help you build a glistening CV and stand out from the crowd. But, how can you make sure you are learning from it and not just sitting around making cups of tea?
Here are two of our experiences… the good, the bad and the ugly!
“I found the very tall building. I stood there, proud of myself for getting work experience with a great agency, but knees knocking with fear. I was 45 minutes early… (I’m not sure this helped with the nerves, though it was better than the stress if I had been late). After procrastinating in Prêt, in I walked – dressed in my best, laptop, notepad and pen at the ready… work experience had begun. I was greeted by the not-so-friendly receptionist and met my lovely mentor for the 2 weeks (I still remember him, 4 years later).
As a design intern, I was tasked with ‘jazzing things up for the campaign pitch, assisting the account team and shadowing the designers’. Unfortunately, the work was not really what 3 years as a design student had prepared me for… I was colouring in excel spreadsheets, making coffee, printing, photocopying and waiting, a lot of waiting… I wasn’t allowed to attend meetings, though my mentor snuck me into one, which I loved and I even made some sensible contributions!
I do understand the company was very busy, didn’t know me or my capabilities further than my final year work, but it did feel rather deflating. When I reached the end of the internship, I felt like my wings had been clipped; so much had gone on around me that I hadn’t been able to observe or learn from. Ironically… I was offered a graduate job, which I declined. Although I didn’t take the job or really enjoy my two weeks, I did learn that being in that environment was absolutely what I wanted and subsequently went on to work as a creative in a different company and loved it! I also learnt from the negatives – you get the best out of people (however junior) if you treat them well and make them feel like a welcome addition to the team, rather than just an extra pair of hands. The most important learning curve for me was ‘don’t ask, don’t get’ – I could have gained more from that experience if I had pushed for them to involve me, asked more questions and got stuck in. As an intern, it’s easy to feel like a nuisance but actually, the more you let that happen, the less you help! Be confident, you know more than you think you do, so chirp up and get what you want out of it!”
“My first official work experience was at the HQ of a leading property company, so I was excited but I was very nervous! It was a big company and it was daunting. I remember being led through the most enormous open office I had ever seen and feeling like I might throw up… 20 minutes later, having been introduced to what felt like a million people… I was suddenly in the loo having a meltdown. I don’t know what happened, but my body reacted in a very real way to how I felt. Luckily, the person who had been given the task of mentoring me was incredible (poor sod). They made me feel like there was nothing to worry about and so I was able to relax. Not the best start… but hey, I learnt that people can be compassionate in a professional environment (and that it’s best not to drink caffeine when I feel anxious – bad move!).
Anyway, I picked myself up and moved on like nothing had happened and I was able to enjoy the rest of my time there. This experience, and another few weeks working with a London based property developer, gave me a feel for the property industry (both development and agency) and for me, it was the catalyst to pursing a career in the industry. You may not love the actual work you do whilst you’re there and yes, you may be forced (smiling sweetly) to do shredding, photocopying, any sort of dreary admin task… but I found it a great opportunity to take in the environment around me. If you’re lucky like I was, you will also get to meet some really interesting people and learn lots of new things. 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, property related jargon (neg = negotiator – obvious to me now, it wasn’t then), or any general 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.
This paid off from the second work experience I did (with the developer), when I was invited to a meeting about the redevelopment of an iconic building in London. At the time, I didn’t realise quite how high profile the project and the people were. Fast forward a few years, I was able to have a lengthy conversation with a client about the development (that had just been completed) and the developer I had met, as I had Googled my notes to my heart’s content after the meeting and remembered all I learnt. In my client’s eyes I was young (which can at times go against you), but this particular piece of information made me appear knowledgeable and therefore more qualified – which definitely clinched that particular deal!”
Make a good impression
Arrive on time (obvious, but crucial).
Dress appropriately for the company you’re working at; think head to toe – beat up shoes or chipped nails are always a no-no! If in doubt, it’s better to err on the smart side.
It’s natural to be nervous in a new situation. But if you feel overwhelmed at any point, take a minute to yourself and try controlled breathing to calm your nerves. A bit of fresh air is always helpful.
Take the initiative – introduce yourself and speak to everyone. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about their role and how they got to where they are now. Most people will be flattered that you’re interested.
Write it all down – task deadlines, meetings and other important events for your diary. Be sure you have all the information you need and can manage your time effectively.
Keep a record of your time there – jot down useful info or advice, as well as the people you’ve met (ideally with contact details – think networking opportunities!)
Watch & Listen
Be a sponge, keep your eyes and ears wide open. You can learn a lot from the conversations going on around you. (Particularly useful if you’re not getting involved as much as you’d like).
Rather than sitting waiting for the boss to tell you what to do next, see if you can shadow someone for the day, or for a particular meeting. Observing a professional at work can give you a real insight into the role.
Relax, it’s not all a big test. Be professional but have some fun J, show you’re a good person to have around.
Once you’ve finished, take time to think about what you enjoyed and what you didn’t. Try to decipher whether it was the role, company culture or the industry you liked/disliked. For example, whilst you loved the buzz of a large organisation, you would feel more comfortable in a less hierarchical structure.
Even if you didn’t enjoy the experience at all, you have still learned what you don’t want to do, and that’s valuable too.
For more information on work experience and internships click here