The job market is a competitive place, so much so that a degree alone is often not enough to impress a potential employer – even if that degree happens to be a PhD in astrophysics or engineering. Not that that won’t help you stand out a little bit from the crowd, but still, employers place far more importance on experience than they do on good grades and diplomas.
So, whether you’re still in high-school and want to get a head-start over your future competition or you’re taking the next steps in your career development, completing some work experience can be your ticket to full-time employment.
But how exactly does work experience benefit your career? and why is it so important?
Read on to find out for yourself!
1. You’ll Develop Your Transferable Skills
Whether it’s a short work placement or a longer internship, you’ll equip yourself with certain transferable skills (such as communication and leadership) that are highly sought after by employers. As the name suggests, these skills can be transferred across one role or industry to another, and this is what makes them (and you) so darn valuable.
Not only do these types of skills demonstrate your cultural fitness for a company and work environment, but they also show what you’re able to bring to the table. They’re also great for when you need to overcome a lack of ‘real-world’ professional experience. And they look good on a well-written CV and accompanying cover letter, too, so make sure you include them!
2. You’ll Get to Test Things Out
The beauty (one of many) of work experience is that it allows you to test the waters before you fully commit yourself to a specific role, industry or even company.
This is especially true for school leavers who are at a loss as to what they should do next: what should they study and should they even go to university? Essentially, doing some experience can help you avoid making some very costly mistakes (both in terms of money and time) like spending £37,000 and four years at uni studying something that, ultimately, you don’t even care about.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with changing careers further down the line if you realise that your true passion actually lies in designing handmade wedding invitations and not investment banking, for example. But the sooner you know whether a particular career path is the right one for you, the better off you’ll be once you’re on the road. And that’s because you’ll be able to better focus on working your way through the ranks of your chosen profession, rather than second-guessing every career decision you’ve made so far.
3. It Makes You More Employable
Leading on from the previous point, gaining an understanding of the ins and outs of a sector or company will certainly give you an edge over the competition.
Consider this little scenario: two recent graduates apply for the same job. They have the exact same qualifications from the same university and their CVs are practically identical – the only difference is that one of the applicants completed an unpaid internship in the industry they’re applying to get into. Suddenly, that applicant looks a lot more attractive to the hiring manager.
The bottom line is that having some work experience (any kind) shows employers that you are motivated to develop yourself and learn new things – and this drastically improves your employability in the process. It gives you something to put on your CV (rather than fill in the blanks with fodder) and also makes for a great conversation piece in a job interview.
4. It Could Lead to a Full-Time Job
One of the biggest benefits of completing a work experience placement or internship is that it often leads to a full-time job offer – provided that you performed well in the role, of course. That’s because employers are far more willing to employ people who already know the ins and outs of the company than having to train someone new from scratch. In other words, don’t discount the opportunities that even working for free can provide you with further down the road!
In fact, students taking internships were three times more likely to secure a job than those without any form of work experience, according to a study by High Fliers Research back in 2013. This means you’ll have little chance of getting a job if the only thing in your job search arsenal is a degree, as your more qualified and experienced peers will snap up all the top jobs from right under your nose.
5. It Introduces You to the World of Work
Another way work experience is important to your long-term career is that it offers you the opportunity to learn skills and processes that you’ll only ever be able to learn in a workplace setting. You’ll get a real feel of how people work together, how things get done and basically how work differs from university, and this essentially prevents any surprises when you finally go from student to full-time employee.
It’s also a great way to become work savvy and learn the dos and don’ts of the workplace. This includes learning how to navigate your way through the jungle of office politics, like avoiding workplace gossip – even if Linda’s having an affair with Mike who’s actually gay and only sleeping with her to get a promotion. (What? The office can often be a lot like a cheesy daytime soap opera!)
6. You’ll Broaden Your Network
In your work placement, you’ll meet – and work alongside – a variety of professionals. And these folks can do a lot more than simply show you the ropes and provide you with valuable insight into the company, sector and position. They can also prove incredibly useful when you’re looking for a job by pointing you into the direction of suitable vacancies or directly recommending you to their clients or business partners who are looking for someone with your knowledge and skillset. Even if they can’t help you find a job, you’ll still be able to pick the brains of industry professionals and get a better understanding of the ins and outs of your target sector.
Whatever happens, it’s important that you keep in touch with these professionals, even when you’ve parted ways and moved on to greener pastures. You just never know when you may need their help, so send them a brief email or LinkedIn message to say ‘hello’ and see how they’re doing on a regular basis.
But remember: building (and maintaining) a network isn’t just about what others can do for you – it’s also about being open and willing to help others out, too!
Work experience comes in all shapes and sizes, from work placements to unpaid internships, and volunteering abroad to part-time jobs. Whatever the means you use, the outcome’s the same – and that’s effectively presenting yourself as an attractive and viable candidate to employers.
Have you ever completed a work experience scheme? What did you take away from the whole experience and how did you benefit from it? Can you think of any other advantages of completing a work placement or internship? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below!