How to Get Work Experience

Sep 13, 2021

When applying for jobs, many employers will ask for work experience. But how do you gain work experience when jobs require you to have work experience? In this article, we will take a look at the different ways you can gain experience in a workplace setting that you can add to your CV and bring up in an interview.

Benefits of work experience

The main benefits of work experience are twofold. The first is that it helps you get used to a working environment, giving you an opportunity to learn and practice key skills such as working under pressure and organisation. These skills can also carry over to a non-working environment and are useful to your own personal growth. 

The second benefit of work experience is that it makes you far more employable than you would otherwise be. Instead of just providing employers a CV with a list of skills, work experience allows you to provide examples to back up your claims, making you far more convincing during an interview.

Types of work experience

Part-time work

The most obvious way of gaining work experience is through a part-time job. There are plenty of different opportunities and areas to work in, such as retail and hospitality, although you may find somewhere that would be better suited to you. These jobs are easy to find and apply for online and there are usually plenty of openings, simply due to the sheer number of companies in the local area that need part-time employees in order to operate. 

Campus jobs

You can also find a part-time job on your university campus, such as at the student union or in the library. This is useful if you are a student as you can avoid wasting time commuting on a regular basis, and is easier to plan around your uni schedule. You can also visit these places directly to ask if they are accepting applications, and can hand in your CV directly. This also has the advantage of the employer having a rough idea of who you are, as opposed to those who send a CV and cover letter online. 

Internships

A well-known method of obtaining work experience is by doing an internship. These can be both paid or unpaid and last for a few months up to a year Internships are mainly intended for students and recent graduates, and so are largely done over the summer, so the latter can participate without getting in the way of their studies. Internships can also be held throughout the year, which is useful for graduates who do not immediately seek employment. They can be advertised on job search sites, on company websites, and on LinkedIn, so make sure to check as many places as you can. You can also submit a speculative application for an internship, but if the company is not looking to hire at that point in time, your application will likely be rejected. Be sure to have a look at the Graduate Coach Digital Marketing Internship, which can give you new skills to make you highly employable in the digital sector. 

Virtual internships

Virtual internships are similar to regular internships but are done online, something that has become more prominent recently due to Covid. They are preferable for people who, for whatever reason, cannot regularly travel to the company they are interning for. They allow you to work for companies that are a long distance away from you, giving you far more options than you would have had if you only applied for internships in the local area. While internships overseas may require you to overcome a language barrier, it is a great opportunity to make a wide variety of connections if your application is successful. For more, check out the ultimate guide to virtual internships on the Graduate Coach blog.

Volunteering

It is much easier to volunteer your time than to go through a full application process, making it perhaps a better option for those who haven’t had any previous work experience. You will learn how to deal with customers and resolve their various queries and begin developing transferable skills that you can take with you when applying for other work placements/internships. This will also provide you with plenty of anecdotes for answering competency questions during job interviews, such as to give a time when you worked as part of a team. An additional benefit of volunteering is that you can do it at a time that suits you and alongside studying or a part-time job, unlike an internship, where it is difficult to work alongside your studies.

Apprenticeships

Apprenticeships are primarily aimed at those who are younger or intend to go into a career that does not necessarily need academic qualifications. They can last from one year to six, depending on the type of apprenticeship and if you are doing it full or part-time. Apprenticeships focus on a specific profession or trade, such as agriculture or the arts, but also include industries such as law and finance. At the same time, an apprenticeship will also allow you to study more conventional subjects on a part-time basis, such as English and Maths. This will result in you earning a GCSE or equivalent qualification, both of which are useful to have both for your apprenticeship and any future career options. Similar to internships, you can apply for an apprenticeship online, and the UCAS website has plenty of resources to help you find the right apprenticeship. 

Shadowing

Shadowing involves following someone as they do their job, sitting in on meetings, and maybe even helping them directly yourself, although the latter is quite rare. You will only be asked to help yourself if you are deemed competent enough, although if you do help directly it will look very good on your CV, as it shows you have already displayed the ability to work under pressure. It may even lead to you being offered a permanent position, although this will depend on whether the company you are shadowing at is hiring at that time. The advantage of shadowing is that you can witness first hand what the person you are shadowing does on a daily basis, instead of simply reading about it, and ask them questions if you are confused at any point. It is also important to stay connected with professionals you met during internships or placements so that when you are applying for roles within the same company/industry they can potentially recommend you for the job. You can also speak to your family and friends to ask if they know anyone who could accept you for a shadowing period, as a personal connection will greatly increase your chances of being given this opportunity. 

Work placements

Work placements usually last one year and are done as part of a university degree, but can also be done while you are still in school. They are intended to give you practical experience as part of your education, something that makes you more employable than if you had just spent your entire time studying and gained little or no practical experience. You will most likely be assigned a placement or be asked to choose one from a number of options provided by your university. But if you aren’t given any by your university, it is a good idea to ask your university’s career service for help, as they will have plenty of resources and connections of their own to help you find a suitable placement. You can even be given the opportunity to do your work placement abroad, giving you the chance to learn a new language, further enhancing your CV. It is also possible to ask for a work placement by emailing the company you want to do the placement at directly, but your chances will be largely dependent on if the company you want to work for is recruiting at the time of your application. 

Community activities

Another way you can gain work experience is by actively participating in community activities, such as joining a society at university. While this may not be direct work experience, it will still provide you with the skills that employers are looking for, such as the ability to work with others on a task and to organise meetings. If you become a senior member of your society, you can also become more skilled at leadership roles, thus proving that you have the respect of your peers. Joining a society will also provide you with anecdotes of times you were faced with a challenging situation, which will be very useful in interviews when you will be asked questions to demonstrate your competency in a number of areas. For more information, read this article on the benefits of joining a student society.

Set up your own business

Arguably the most proactive way of gaining work experience is to set up your own business, a method most relevant to those either studying business as a degree or who want to go into business themselves. This does not need to be overly complicated, as you can simply either make things to sell or buy whatever is in demand, then sell it on for a higher price. One unique aspect of setting up your own business provides is that you get to make the decisions, whereas in an internship or part-time job you will be in a very junior role. 

Help a family member with their business

You can also ask family members or friends if you can help with their business. This is easier than getting work experience elsewhere as your family member or friend will already know and trust you, as opposed to an interviewer to whom you are a complete stranger. 

Do you get paid for work experience?

Whether you get paid during your work experience can vary. Part-time jobs will be paid, but internships can be both paid and unpaid. Volunteer work is always unpaid, while helping at the business of a family member or friend will depend on what you agree with them before you start. While all the above ways of gaining work experience are valid and will look good on your CV, it can also be a good opportunity to build up some savings at the same time.

Conclusion

Overall, there are numerous ways to gain work experience, aimed at many types of people, so you can find one that works for you whatever your situation. Each one will give you the skills and experiences that employers will be looking for, and will give you an advantage over those who don’t.

Featured photo by Artem Podrez from Pexels

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