For many students and graduates, a work experience assignment may be their first job. With this in mind, it’s not surprising that it can be a confusing undertaking. Can work experience help you with your future career? Is it something you will enjoy? Should you just go for it? How do you even find work experience? If these are some of the questions in your mind, keep reading.
Work experience can be defined as a fixed-term assignment that aims to provide the worker with information on a job, company and industry. Employers can benefit from work experience too, as you can add value to them through your effort. While professionals at any level can participate in work experience, it is most common amongst students and graduates.
I recommend making career decisions based on your needs. On this basis, if you are considering work experience, start by understanding its benefits. Then, if these align with your needs, go for it. This exercise can be a key part of your future career plan. So, let’s dig in and check out the top 10 work experience benefits.
1. You’ll enter the job market
While schools and universities can offer invaluable skills, they are very different from the real-life industry experience. Typically, it is unlikely that students will have experience relevant to their ideal industry at this stage of their lives. A work experience assignment can bridge this gap, as it’s an excellent opportunity to work in an environment similar to your target career.
Understanding how the market works can be invaluable. The information you gain from work experience can help you to make informed decisions and help to find the right career for you. Also, it can provide useful insights into the mechanics of the world of work, which can help you prepare for your future career accordingly.
2. You get to apply your skills in a new context
I am sure you’ve gained a lot of valuable skills during your education. From technical skills, such as IT and maths, to soft skills like teamwork, your contributions can add value to an organisation. However, your university or football team is a very different environment to the workplace.
One of the key benefits of work experience is that it allows you to explore how you can apply your skills and aptitudes as a professional. During this process, you may find that your skills are transformed in a way that makes them meaningful at work. This can put you on track to refine your abilities further, setting you up for success in your future career.
3. You’ll gain new skills
A key work experience benefit is gaining new skills. These typically include a mix of job-specific and job-agnostic skills that can serve as a foundation for your future career. The workplace is different from all organisations you’ll have been involved in as a student, as a company will have its own ways of working and will require specific behaviours and skills.
A work experience assignment allows you to deepen your understanding of a company’s ways of working and gain new skills along the way. This way, you can start nurturing behaviours that will help you excel.
4. You’ll begin to understand the industry
Typically, work experience assignments are short. However, while it may be unlikely to master a job during your assignment, you can certainly gain more understanding of the field you’ve chosen. This can help you evaluate a job and understand if it fits with your strengths.
I can’t stress enough the importance of this benefit of work experience, as you will find that most jobs are quite different in theory and practice. In my experience, the best path to career success is trying many things fast, identifying what you don’t like, and through this process, discovering your passion. This understanding will benefit you greatly when it comes to choosing your future career.
5. You get to learn about a new employer
No matter who your dream company is, the information you have about them is incomplete until you work with them. You see, companies use employer branding to attract talent the same way they use marketing to attract clients. Your current impression of your target employers is likely to be far from the one you will have after some work experience.
Working with an employer allows you access to their employees. Through this process, you can get accurate and relevant information about the business from insiders. Also, you can observe how things get done internally, instead of how the company portrays their work externally. Then, you can evaluate the employer and make an informed decision on whether working with them in the future is right for you.
6. You’ll become familiar with a new industry
Some jobs cover varying industries — these are called industry agnostic companies. For example, if you aspire to be a finance or HR professional, you can do this with many different companies, such as one in technology or in healthcare, for instance. In other cases, jobs may be industry specific. Construction engineering roles, for example, only exist in businesses that operate in the construction industry. No matter what roles you’re looking into, you will want to get experience in your target industry.
Each industry has its own characteristics. Some are more progressive, while others are more conservative. Some industries involve risk, while others avoid it. There are innovation-focused industries and tradition-focused ones. One of the key benefits of work experience is experiencing an industry’s culture and characteristics before committing to it in your future career.
7. You’ll build your professional network
Before entering the job market, you may already have a strong network, consisting of family, friends, and educators. While some of these people could also help you with your career, this is not a network aimed at professional growth. However, a work experience assignment can allow you to network with individuals and build professional connections with people who can help you with your career.
I would advise you to look for people with experience aligned with your goals and whose style resonates with you. While you pursue your work experience, you will have excellent opportunities to reach out to them and start building a meaningful relationship. Instead of just asking for help, take initiative and help them, creating a win-win situation for you both.
8. You might find a career mentor
While all professional relationships can be useful, finding a good career mentor can be a life-changing experience. A mentor is an experienced and trusted advisor who is open to sharing their experience and expertise to help you make the right career decisions. A mentor–mentee relationship is typically based on trust, includes deep and focused conversations, and has a long-term focus.
When you approach a mentor, I suggest taking it slow to make sure there’s a good connection between you both before asking them to commit to a long-term professional relationship. A few informal chats can be a great way to start. While business leaders are busy and may not always be interested in becoming mentors, senior professionals often enjoy helping early-career talent. Work experience can be a great way to demonstrate your interest in a field and earn a mentor’s support.
9. You’ll identify your strengths
A strength is something you are good at and like doing. All of us have some strengths, as well as certain areas that we may find a struggle. Work experience can be an excellent way to identify the type of work that suits you best.
For example, you may find that you love analytical work, which may have a focus on research, analysis and problem-solving. This type of work may not require a lot of teamwork, but it needs strong quantitative skills. On the other hand, you could find that you love people-centred work, such as a career in sales, which can be an excellent choice for extroverts. This experience will help you to narrow down your strengths and find areas you may need to work on and improve.
10. You might land your dream job
It is common knowledge that employers prefer hiring people who they know in a professional capacity. Indeed, this is an excellent hiring approach, as it allows a business to minimise recruitment risks. A work experience assignment puts you in a perfect position to apply for a permanent role.
If you have already graduated, I suggest keeping an eye on open vacancies at the time of your work experience. If there is anything suitable, I suggest having a chat with your boss and the hiring manager. When it comes to a job search, timing can be key, and this approach can work great.
If you are still studying, have no fear, your contacts can still be valuable after you graduate, enabling you to get a permanent job with the organisation. However, remember to keep them warm by staying in touch with them at regular intervals.
Work experience can be one of the best ways to start your career as a student or graduate. However, one size does not fit when it comes to careers. I recommend understanding your needs and checking whether a work experience assignment is aligned with your goals.
Having said that, I expect that work experience will be a strong option for most early career professionals due to the benefits you receive from taking part. From offering a fast and low-risk way to gather valuable information on your target jobs, employers and industries, to allowing you to refine your existing skills, build new ones, and understand the market, work experience benefits you greatly — whatever industry you’re interested in. If you feel it'd be the right choice for you, then you just need to figure out how to get work experience. Good luck!
Are you thinking about doing some work experience? Or did you gain employment after taking part in work experience? What benefits did you experience? Let us know in the comments.
This article is an update of an earlier version published on 7 March 2018.