What is work experience?
Academic skills are not the only asset graduate employers will be looking for in potential candidates. Any graduate job you apply for will require you to outline the experience you have had in that line of work - something that can only be gained outside of university. Work experience can be completed in your spare time while you are doing your degree, or some even undertake work experience after graduating to help them secure their first job. Some university courses even encourage work experience as part of the degree - assessing time spent under an employer - or as a separate 'sandwich' course or year abroad. Work placements can last from one university term to a whole year. Experience can also be paid or unpaid, but graduates will still benefit from the skills learned.
Why should I get work experience?
Many firms will be looking to get fresh graduate talent on board, but may not be too keen on spending time and money training up candidates. While a degree can show a passion and aptitude for a particular subject or line of work, the plethora of graduates has led to companies searching for something which distinguishes graduates from one another when considering them for jobs. Having work experience can greatly improve your chances of getting a graduate job. Work experience can develop skills such as teamwork, conflict management, self-organisation and innovation. As Confederation of British Industry head Richard Lambert said: "Of course, businesses don't expect graduates to arrive on day one fully trained, but what they do value in graduates are their people skills, a focus on the customer and a keenness to solve problems."
Getting on a work experience placement
Students can access various schemes via their university, with the most popular being the Erasmus initiative, organised by the British Council. It allows a break to be taken in between the second and third year in order to go to a European country to gain international work experience. For those looking to stay in the UK, the Year in Industry helps current students to find a work placement in a similar way. If you've already left university, work experience placements can be found using the same methods as graduate jobs - through newspaper advertisements or online employment searches. Universities also provide access to careers services for alumni and the government's Jobcentre Plus can also offer advice.
Will work experience definitely help me get me a graduate job?
It should be remembered that one work experience placement may be better than another. In order to make sure that your labour is worthwhile, especially if it is unpaid, you should treat the position as you would a permanent placement. Feedback or appraisals will help to see what skills you may need to improve. Objectives should be set by the employer in order to aid the development process. It is important to thoroughly research any positions before accepting them. The National Council for Work Experience issues accreditations to companies with placements proven to be of high quality. Currently, this list includes firms as wide ranging as The Co-operative, IBM, Intel and Marks and Spencer.
When should I get started?
It is never too early to think about getting work experience under your belt. Any placements carried out during your degree course will be beneficial if your aim is to go straight into a graduate job when leaving university. However, it is also never too late. If you are enthusiastic about what you want to do and are willing to gain as much experience as possible then employers will have to take notice. Remember to never undersell any work experience you have gained and a graduate job will soon be on the cards.