As students, we’re told that work experience is expected of us upon graduating, but how can we ensure those experiences are worthwhile?
I sit writing this, at the beginning of my month-long placement at Which?, where I aim to gain invaluable experience in the industry I want to go into now that I’ve graduated. Coincidentally, it’s also nearly seven years to the day since I successfully interviewed for my first ever part-time job.
When I was 15, I didn’t immediately recognise the value in spending my Saturdays selling greetings cards and scented candles (beyond the £30 that lined my pockets at the end of each shift, of course).
However, one job led to another, and by the time I went to university, I had a solid three years of customer service experience under my belt.
And now, here I am, graduated and working in an office in London, where I’ve swapped my midnight cans of Red Bull for 9am coffee runs, and my XL university hoodie for a pair of floral-patterned slacks that scream: ‘I have an actual grown-up job!’
Would I be sitting here if it weren’t for all the time spent in part-time work, volunteering, or other CV-boosting pursuits? Probably not. To the surprise of no one, employers value the time spent gaining work experience over the grades we graduate with.
But I do wonder how much of that time is considered valuable or relevant by employers, or what I could have done differently.
University is a balancing act of short-term and long-term planning, and work experience falls somewhere precariously between the two. We need to work because our student loans rarely stretch far enough to cover the cost of living, yet we’re also desperately aware that graduating without work experience is as good as not graduating at all.
While I would have loved to have spent my afternoons in an office learning about working in the media, it was serving burgers in my student union that was going to pay my bills.
However, through finding time to get involved in relevant extracurriculars and learning to really big-up the transferable skills I gained through my part-time work, I’ve found myself in a relatively comfortable position in the post-graduation void.
There will always be more that I could have done; more hours, more relevant experience, more money saved than spent that could have allowed me to temporarily work unpaid in a field I ultimately want to end up working in.
But when I think of where I started out at, and where I am now, I realise the value lies not necessarily in where I gained my work experience, but what I learned from it.
Did you do a work experience placement at school or university or even after you’d graduated? What did you do and what did you learn from it? Or, if you’re currently at university, or you’re going this autumn, where do you gain, or plan to gain, experience of the working world?