Get experienced

work experienceChances are, you’re going to feel one of two ways about work experience. You’ll either feel super excited at the prospect of getting into the workplace, or your heart will sink.

Work experience – whether it’s mandatory or something you’re keen to do yourself – can be pretty scary. You’re thrown into the workplace with proper professionals, you might be asked to do things you’ve no experience of, you’ll be meeting people with a lot of knowledge and experience… it’s enough to make even the coolest of cucumbers feel pretty anxious. But by the same token, a work experience placement can introduce you to new ways of thinking, help you meet new people and really confirm what you want to do with your life.

However you feel about it, it’s important to get work experience to get ahead. So how do you go about arranging a placement and getting the most out of it?

Reach out

Whether you’re in fourth year looking for a week’s work experience during the assigned block or you’re at uni pondering your career prospects, always look beyond the recommend list of work experience providers suggested by your teachers or tutors. Look for companies operating in your area that interest you, and drop them

Do something that suits your skills

When work experience is forced upon you by teachers, not everyone’s sure what they want to do with their lives. So if you don’t have a clear career path in mind, think about what you’re good at, what classes interest you and figure out careers that link up. Into maths? Get in touch with a financial firm. Love reading? Think about publishing. Flair for the scientific? Contact the labs at your local hospital. There’s loads out there. Get in touch with a careers adviser at your school or college, or contact Skills Development Scotland for further inspiration.

Be prepared for rejection

For every ten emails you send enquiring about work experience, you’ll maybe get one reply – but don’t let that put you off. Lots of businesses are really busy and don’t always have time to respond to work experience queries – don’t take it personally. Employers tend to like young people who show initiative though, so making the first move definitely scores you extra points. Ask friends and family if they know of any companies which regularly take on work experience candidates too, and make use of any connections and contacts you might have.

Go in with the right attitude

When you do bag a placement, it’s really important that you approach with a PMA – that’s positive mental attitude. If you go in convinced that your week in the offices of your local council is going to be a total drag, it probably will be. But if you focus on the positives – you’ll learn new skills, meet new people, get something good to write in your CV – you’re more likely to get more out of it, and you’ll get a good reference from your supervisor.

Be helpful

It’s easy on work experience to feel like a total nuisance. The person who’s been assigned to look after you still has their own job to do, so it does feel a bit like you’re getting under their feet at times. Rather than sitting twiddling your thumbs waiting to be given a task, speak up and ask what you can do – even if you’re offering to make the tea, run something through the photocopier or nip out to the post office, helpful people are always remembered favourably.

Keep a diary

During your placement, take notes each day of what you’ve been doing, what you’ve learned and what you’ve got out of it. This’ll help when you’re updating your CV or when you start going for interview in the future.

Reflect on it

At the end of your placement, ask your supervisor for a meeting to talk about how you’ve got on. This’ll give you a chance to get feedback, and also ask any questions about their work – and how to get into it, if that’s what you want. Take a look back and ask yourself how you feel it went, and see if this is something you’d like to do. If it is? Ask if you can come back! An enthusiastic work experience candidate who’s brought something to the business will always be welcomed with open arms – and repeat placements always look good on job applications, showing you’ve really impressed the employer.

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