The world of work can be pretty daunting to a young person figuring out what they want to do in life.
At 14, you need to have chosen what subjects to take at GCSE; by 16, you need to have some idea of next steps, whether that’s A Levels, apprenticeships, or advancing into employment straight away. Your teachers and caregivers are telling you to think about careers, but it’s not always easy to decide.
This is where work experience can be a massive help to your headspace.
What is work experience?
Work experience is a short-term, in-person or remote placement - usually over a week - completed with an employer to mentor you in their world of work.
It's a great opportunity for you to improve your skills in work and socialising, and it allows you to observe and complete tasks alongside others. In this way, you’ll gain invaluable understanding and experience of a real-world working environment - which will be useful in preparation for life after education.
My personal experience
Finding the right placement:
One of the hardest parts of doing work experience would probably be finding where you want to work. “Do I pick this one, that one? Do I go where my friends are going?” (Try not to, it’s always best to think of what you want to do, not what anyone else wants to!)
So, one of the best things you can do in the beginning is to do your research. Look for local employers who can offer you a placement, and compile each one you find suitable into a list with their name, contact details, location, etc.
If you’re stuck, ask school, your friends, your family - they might have different contacts who are the right people for the experience you’re wishing to gain. Don’t hesitate to ask!
When you have your list, contact as many of them as possible. State your intentions, why you’d like to work with them, when you’re hoping to complete it, and for how long, what you’re studying, where you’re based, and include details like your age or year-group (as occasionally companies won’t employ students under 18, even for a placement).
Once they get back to you, the last step is to make your decision on where you want to go. Contact the various employers, either thanking them for their time if you decline them, or thanking them for the opportunity if you accept them - then you have your work experience set!
Remember: once you’ve contacted your chosen employers, keep in mind that some businesses may take a while to get back to you - don’t worry if you don’t hear back from anyone within a few days, or even a week. If you’ve not heard back beyond that and want to follow up, just drop a polite email seeing whether they’ve considered the opportunity further. It's important that you take responsibility for organising the placement so that you can secure something in good time.
1. If your school offers a time period for your work experience, make sure to use that time and find a placement! But don’t feel restricted to completing only one; if your initial employer only offers a few days, why not expand your experience and take up another placement to fill the extra time remaining?
2. Completing extra work experience after your first placement looks great on the CV, so why not go even further and complete another week during the summer holidays in the same place or somewhere different? It’ll open up a wider range of knowledge in varied industries, proving to any future employer that you’re proactive and work-ready.
3. When finding your work experience, it’s a good idea to request a placement with someone multiple months before you begin - say, two or three months before. This will show that you’re eager to work with them and to have the job secured before the time comes. It’ll also allow you and your employer more time to plan out the details and to complete the necessary paperwork with time to spare.
What are the benefits?
Working in a real company or with a real business has major social benefits, as while you’re spending your three days, four days, even a week, with these new mentors, you’ll be building connections - contacts you can keep hold of and refer back to for future jobs and opportunities. Make sure you don’t lose these connections, they can be useful!
Deciding who you want to become in the future can seem extremely difficult - even scary - so being given the opportunity to work temporarily in a profession can help you decide whether it's the right line of work for you.
If it is, great! You’ve found your future career.
But if it isn’t, don’t worry! It’s actually just as good - you can cross that job off an endless list of options. Try branching out a bit, experiencing a totally new line of work: it could be beneficial to future decisions.
Sometimes to develop, you need to step out of your comfort zone. Scheduling work experience can be important for helping build confidence, communication, team-working and organisational skills.
But that’s not all. The more you leave your comfort zone, the more you’ll be able to practise and progress your skills to ready yourself for the working world.
It’s a known fact that applying for post-graduate jobs is a highly competitive process.
This means securing one is often much more difficult than it should be - you’re constantly compared to, and competing against, others. So, a lasting benefit of doing work experience is that it’ll make your CV stand out.
Completing work placements shows employers you’re proactive, more experienced, and potentially more mature, having already worked in a ‘proper’ job role.
Finally, doing work experience allows practice without pressure.
By completing a placement, you can put the experience and knowledge learned from your education and studies to the test in a real-world working environment. This will allow you to hone your skills and present yourself as an employable, informed candidate for any future jobs.
How will this benefit my CV?
The first thing employers care about when looking for a suitable candidate is the CV; work experience can really help yours stand out.
Firstly, it shows potential employers you’re committed - that you can responsibly complete tasks while being mentored, building your skills in a specific line of work, whilst still being a student. It also lets them know you have prior experience of working life, plus the confidence and drive to push yourself into the real world to work amongst strangers and professionals in a job you enjoy.
From 2017 statistics by The Careers and Enterprise Company, only 54.5 per cent of schools in the UK offered work experience to their students by the end of Year 11, and only 33.2 per cent offered work experience in Sixth Form. This will have dipped during the pandemic, and potentially taken time to build back up in recent years.
Therefore, mentioning work experience completion on your CV could help you stand out to your employers against many other applicants throughout the UK.
This blog post was written by Kit Marshall whilst on work experience with The Absolute Word. Introduction and editing of this article was by Katharine Matthews.