As a student, work experience – whether through an internship, a placement or a part-time paid position – is absolutely invaluable. Indeed, once you graduate and head out into the world of work, you will already have gained the key transferable skills that all potential employers look for; this, in turn, will differentiate you from the competition, making that all-important job search just a little less stressful.
To give you an idea of what we mean and to illustrate the potential benefits, we’ve compiled a list of some of these professional skills. So, instead of spending your summer chasing cocktails on a beach somewhere, maybe consider an internship or a placement in your industry; after all, it could be the most important employment decision you ever make…
To an extent, university already develops self-reliance – unlike school, you are encouraged to find your own answers and develop your own path. But applying this skill in an academic environment is completely different from doing it in the workplace, and students develop a greater sense of self-awareness when there is more riding on their actions than just their own grades.
Demonstrating that you can be trusted to take on a task and complete it independently gives employers that warm fuzzy feeling; it will also help you to understand your own strengths and weaknesses, and how you can cultivate them accordingly.
2. Interpersonal Skills
The development of interpersonal skills are vitally important and, in reality, can only be effectively acquired in a workplace environment. Indeed, being able to communicate with clarity and diplomacy is an absolute requisite for any successful employee.
This doesn’t just mean being able to speak and listen, though. It’s essential to learn about the more subtle arts of communication, such as knowing when to take the lead and when to take a step back; these are lessons that can only be learned and observed in a real-life work scenario. When you do eventually start working full-time, these are the skills that will arguably serve you best – so, don’t ignore them.
3. Problem-Solving Skills
No employer wants a worker who constantly hits brick walls in the course of their daily work; rather, they want somebody who is capable of using their initiative and seeking out their own solutions. Luckily, being proactive and competent is a lot easier when you have some experience to back up your intuition, meaning that from day one you won’t be constantly leaning on the shoulders of your more experienced colleagues.
Getting into the habit of decision making will serve you well further down the line, too. If you have any ambitions of working your way into a management or leadership position, being able to work through issues with a degree of self-confidence will certainly earmark you as suitable.
4. Commercial Awareness
Although this can be industry-specific, gaining a general understanding of how organisations work and operate will make your transition into the workplace a lot easier. In specific terms, first-hand knowledge of how your chosen industry works can not only give you a clearer indication of your suitability for it but also a working knowledge that you can impress upon in your interviews; in broader terms, it can also help you to realise how decisions are made and by who, and how a company’s culture can have an impact on your own place in it.
You might not realise it at the time, but as a student, you are still fairly immature. As wonderful as higher education is, you are still somewhat restricted to the kind of people you associate with, including their backgrounds and motivations; it’s entirely possible that your exposure to the ‘real world’ may still be minimal.
Working in a team where your colleagues vary drastically in terms of age, experience and knowledge can significantly alter your perceptions and allow you to see things differently; this accelerated maturity will not only stand you in good stead for future employment but also greatly benefit your studies. By having a more balanced viewpoint and starting to see the world outside your own educational bubble, your personal development will advance rapidly.
If you don’t play well with others, then you should probably consider starting your own one-man business – every single successful company in the world is built upon the core foundation of teamwork. You need to learn how to work within a group and recognise that the strengths and weaknesses of individuals are only effective when combined into something greater.
It’s also one of the few guaranteed questions you will face in an interview: ‘Give me an example of a time when you worked in a team’. If you’ve got nothing to draw on in your answer other than group assignments or sports, you might be at a disadvantage to those who have completed quantifiable real-time projects in a pressured workplace environment.
7. Practical Skills
Of course, each job role is different and you will encounter different software systems and tools depending on your chosen profession; some things will remain the same, regardless of your industry, though.
For example, basic IT skills are expected of all new hires, but if you’ve never changed an email signature or converted data into a graph before, then where else are you likely to learn? You’ll also get highly valuable exposure to some important tools, such as Excel; becoming familiar with more advanced formulas and capabilities will certainly be useful.
8. Self-Confidence and Self-Esteem
It’s long been accepted as a psychological truism that having a job boosts your sense of self-esteem and self-worth, making you a more confident and well-rounded individual; this is an essential component of both your personal and your professional growth.
It is also something that others notice. At university, many students are unassuming and prefer to remain within their shell, but in interviews and indeed the workplace itself this can be misinterpreted as a failure to engage or, even worse, as a sign that you simply don’t care. Doing something that you enjoy every day – and being good at it – will bring out the best of you.
9. Organisation Skills
University teaches organisation skills to an extent, but it’s one thing to drop a grade because you didn’t give yourself enough time to finish a paper and quite another when entire teams of people across different departments (and external companies) are relying on you to submit a proposal to a deadline.
Even without resorting to such extreme examples, it’s a simple reality that the world of work is far more rigid than university in terms of time management. From something as simple as working out how to be on time every single day to learning how to deal with and prioritise the demands of different managers, right through to juggling multiple tasks and submitting everything on time and to a high standard, work experience teaches it all.
Just because you’re a three-month intern at the very bottom of the corporate food chain, it doesn’t mean that you can’t make an impression on others. This means having to learn how to create and develop professional relationships with colleagues, managers and even clients – a vitally important skill that you will use for the entire duration of your career.
It can also lead to a multitude of opportunities. If you impress with your attitude and your ability during those three months, then there might just be a permanent job waiting when you graduate. Alternatively, you might have impressed a client so much that they suggest you contact them if you’re looking for employment. As you progress in your career, you never know how important these connections will be; hands-on experience will help you learn to cultivate them.
11. Business Etiquette
Getting a grasp of professional and business-oriented etiquette is something that isn’t taught in a classroom – it can only be learned by seeing and imitating. Many school leavers and graduates are not used to professional environments and can have trouble making the initial adjustment: this can actually have unseen consequences.
Knowing how to express yourself in an email or a telephone conversation might seem relatively straightforward, but when you get it wrong it can leave a negative and lasting impression on you; there’s nothing more embarrassing than having to be told how to answer a phone properly, for example.
Therefore, getting exposure to how offices operate and how people communicate with each other can give you a good head start; when it comes to making a first impression, this could truly set you apart from your peers.
As you can see, there is more to be gained from work experience than an extra block of text on your CV; think of it as a crash course in soft skill development and professional awareness. Luckily, employers look very kindly upon these two particular traits, meaning you will be well equipped to tackle the interview process when you graduate.
What did you learn from your work experience? Let us know in the comments below…