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How to Talk About Work Experience as a Graduate

In today’s competitive job market many young people find the search for work experience almost as challenging as landing their dream job. But luckily, for those graduates who have managed to get their first insight into the world of work it is easier to leverage their competitive advantage as long as they do it shrewdly.  Knowing how to showcase unpaid work experience on your resume or in interviews can make the difference between getting the job or not.

Here are some key steps to use your work experience in your application and interview in such a way so as to attract a potential employer:

#1 Communicate what you have learned

The real value of making the most of a placement is to spend some time after its completion reflecting on what you have learned. As an applicant you need to be prepared to provide concrete examples of what new skills and knowledge you have absorbed and how your work experience added value to your personal and professional development. Hannah Morton-Hedges, independent careers consultant and owner of Momentum Careers Advice suggests: "Think about transferrable skills such as initiative, communication or meeting a deadline and then come up with one or two good working examples".

#2 Refer to real-life examples

Just before deciding which examples to provide the interviewer with, make sure these examples stem from real life and are engaging enough to get the interviewer on side.  Providing examples make the interview more personal, lively and memorable rather than just talking about individual skills. On top of this, you will be deemed more credible by giving tangible information on the point you want to make.

Clare Whitmell, who blogs at JobMarketSuccess about CV writing and job search strategies urges young applicants to concentrate on four areas of achievements when they give examples:

- How you made money,

- How you saved money,

- How you streamlined a process and

- How you were prized for knowledge in a particular area.

 #3 Don’t come up with a long CV

Young people often include too much information in their job application, thinking that this will compensate for their lack of experience.  In fact, most employers are aware that graduates do not possess considerable work experience, so don’t allow this to let you down.

According to Whitmell, "You don't need to fill out two or more pages.  If you are a school leaver then one page is fine, as long as it is tailored towards the job and answering each of the essential points on the employer's wish list".

Don’t forget to highlight noteworthy achievements such as repeated work experience. If you were given a second placement opportunity just mention it, as it demonstrates that other people believe in you and show confidence towards your skills and potential. A prospective employer will in turn highly value this.

#4 Include Multiple Work Experience

A common fallacy about work experience is that candidates should only showcase work experience that is relevant to your target job. Employers appreciate seeing evidence of casual work experience at an early age such as side jobs, part-time and week-long work experience.  But at the same time they also look for positions of responsibility like being part of a sports team, president of a society or club etc.  All these indicate genuine involvement and commitment in activities outside the classroom.

#5 Draw attentions to your work experience

When it comes to formatting your graduate CV, do place your work experience in a prominent position so that the recruiter’s eye falls on this. Putting your experience at the top of your CV will ensure recruiters do not miss the most important information that could secure you an interview.

Create bullet points breaking down your knowledge and skills and make the relevant information easy to spot. Start each bullet point with strong action verbs like ‘organised’ or ‘led’ to let recruiters know what you have exactly done.

If you are at an interview, don’t miss the chance to sell yourself by demonstrating how your work experience helped you develop skills and competences suitable for the job at hand.

Overall, work experience is a key competitive advantage for graduates. But it is equally important to communicate it well to the recruiter. Highlighting transferable skills gained through your career journey, providing concrete examples to back up these skills, and getting prepared to talk about your work experience by practicing will definitely set you apart from competition. 

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