The 4 steps to making work experience work for you

Oct 20, 2016

Graduates would get far more out of their work experience if they focused on 4 things while on the job

Many graduates do work experience as a stepping stone to the job they want but how can you ensure it really benefits you? Do you know how to use it to get the job you really want?

To answer this question, it helps to understand how employers see work experience. According to a recently published review of how employers go about employing graduates, work experience is of high and growing interest to employers.

Employers see it as an opportunity to help those with potential develop the right skills and attitude for the job. They also use work experience to access a potential employee while they are on the job. That means that many employers will be watching you to see if you’re what they really want.

Nearly all employers believe work experience helps graduates develop the skills they require and that it leads to improved performance both in selection and at work. In some sectors, it is reported, work experience has become an important signal of serious career interest and certainly is the only way to develop the business or commercial understanding employers look for. If you rack up enough work experience in a said field this will look very convincing to an employer.

What to do while doing work experience

So, in view of the fact that employers see work experience as the opportunity for you to BUILD the right skills and attitude, develop business and commercial awareness, and to assess real career interest, this is what you should focus on while you are there.

And you need to be active about it, which is probably where most fall down! The following advice is based on my own experience of maximizing learning opportunities throughout my own career to make them work in my favour, as well as tips from the work of Geoffrey Colvin, author of Talent is Overrated.

Geoffrey Colvin’s message in a nutshell is that in order to become great at what you do you need to engage in what researchers called “deliberate practice”.

Deliberate practice is the act of performing a task not merely to get it done, but to get better at performing it.

So, here’s how to make work experience work for you

  1. My number one advice is that you should use a work diary or journal to record learning experiences each day. Try to observe yourself while you are actually engaged in a task and then ask yourself: What did I learn? How did I go about learning it, or Why did I approach it the way I did? How could I improve?
  1. Get feedback from as many sources as you can. Most people only seek feedback because they have to – they don’t really want it – but you should now adopt the practice of always seeking it from whatever source you can. Once you have feedback, make any necessary changes.
  1. Create a mind map of your job (all that it entails), as well as the department you work in, the company, and the industry. This helps you paint a complete mental picture of what everything looks like.
  1. Do the above regularly, not occasionally. So, for example, the diary updates should be daily. Depending on the feedback source, seek it at the end of each task, project or weekly. Update your map on a weekly basis. Keep practising.

Once you begin to use this approach to get the maximum benefit out of your work experience you will start to stand out. You will get increasingly better at the job you are doing and have an eagle eye overview of your role and its place in the department, the business and the industry.

And, even if you don’t manage to secure a job with the firm you are doing the work experience with, you will be still in a far better position at the end to sell your skills and knowledge to a future employer.

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