Gaining Work Experience

We cannot emphasise enough how important it is to gain work experience. With thousands of graduates leaving university annually, a degree is not enough to secure a graduate job. Therefore, you will hear whilst at university how pertinent work experience is and why it is the path to employability. Thus you will need work experience. The question is, what is it and why is it that work experience is so important?

Work experience is something that gives you an insight into the world of work. It allows to develop your skills, strengths, and knowledge. It also allows you to study your weak points, by giving you an opportunity to polish those areas or at least recognise that they exist. Work experience can at times be unpaid, or only expenses covered. However, generally, sandwich placements and some internships are paid, although you should keep an open mind that it could be unpaid. There are several different types of work experience placements. They include work placement which is part of the course, work shadowing, sandwich placements, summer placements, internships and volunteering. There is also another work experience which is after graduating.

All the above have their own unique benefits, but you should choose the one which suits you and your course of study as well as certain factors. Those factors include:

Purpose: Why do you want the placement? And what do you want to achieve?

Suitability: Is the placement suitable for you in terms of time and location?

Relevance: Is it relevant to your course?

Necessity: Do you actually need a placement after graduating?

Whichever category you fall under or choose, it is a norm now that in today’s day and age you need as many qualities and skills as you can acquire so that you can be competitive and in a stronger position than the other graduates.

How work experience can help you to stand out

It is really important that you have enough skills to be above the rest and that your employability skills are what the employers are looking for and this can be evidenced. Simply having a degree is not sufficient, work experience is as much important as holding a degree. There are many surveys which have shown that employers look for experience, and if that is missing, then the chances of landing a job are slim.

Evidence shows that employers prefer or rather see a huge difference between those who have work experience and those who don’t. Graduates with work experience are seen to be more employable than those who do not and it also shows that these graduates did not simply study and spent their time socialising, but have put in some time in preparing for their future, in other words, they have studied, worked and yet enjoyed it, all at the same time, showing their ability in time management to their possible employer. One in three of all entry-level jobs are filled by graduates who had work experience in that company or organisation. The reasoning behind this is that they would like to see the students who are capable of demonstrating essential skills which show that they are employable. Such skills are: business acumen, communications skills, professionalism, team interaction, team playing and loyalty.

The advantages to you

The advantages that you gain from work experience are huge and vast. The following are some of the areas that you can have an advantage ahead of others:

  • Exploring the environment in which you are likely to work in
  • Developing your skills
  • Making contacts
  • Possible entry into a permanent job
  • Understanding the culture, tradition, work politics, etc

All the above will help you decide and gain an understanding about your future job, as well as help you in terms of the direction you are heading. Additionally, you will be able to assess your current situation and what trajectory you should be looking towards.

Applying to graduate jobs

Whilst being at university you are involved in an array of student activities which can include part-time jobs, parties, sports events, and other events including meeting assignment deadlines and, of course, mastering your subject of study for which reason you were at university. However, it should be taken very seriously that whatever you did at university, did not prepare you for the perplexing world of employment which is plastered with buzzwords and phrases that can puzzle even the most qualified graduates, so deciphering what these adverts really mean can be a tough time.

We have simplified some of these terms and phrases so that they could be easily understood.

  1. Excellent communication skills: This phrase is somewhat ambiguous and has several meanings within itself. What this means is that as much as you are someone who speaks clearly and accurately, potential employers use this phrase as a means of saying that you will need to have sound “social skills” too, which includes the ability to be able to communicate not only with colleagues but also with customers and the wider community with whom you are likely to be in contact. The question that may arise here is how you will be able to demonstrate that you possess these skills, and for that you just need to be prepared to give examples of how you gave a public talk, presentation, group discussion, and debates or any other example which shows that you are able to communicate to anyone and everyone.
  2. Project management:This is one of the most important aspect/characteristic sought after by employers, this involves taking the lead in responsibility planning a project and seeing it through its completion. This could involve a project that you led individually or in a group. Once again you may be asking how you will demonstrate this, and the best advice is to take a walk down memory lane and think about projects that you have been involved in and take the opportunity to explain the aims and objectives, your role, and how you overcame challenges and difficulties including issues with colleagues or collecting data, etc.
  3. Team player: Almost in all jobs, being part of a team is inevitable. You may have individual responsibilities but it is highly likely that you will be part of a team. Therefore, you will need to keep in mind that being a team player is very important and required by employers. It is essential that you understand the culture of the company and be ready co-operate on tasks that are not necessarily part of your job role, but in order to achieve the ultimate goal you may need to support other colleagues with tasks outside your area. Using examples from your student days such as group presentations, or group tasks along with possible team work during an occasion or organising an event would also be helpful.
  4. Flexible: This simply means that you are willing to step in at any point to help and support colleagues or projects at any given time. You are willing to adapt to meet the needs of the company or objective and you are also willing to roll up your sleeves and muck in to help. You are that person your colleagues can depend on at the time of need. Showing energy, passion and enthusiasm during your interview demonstrates that you are a person that can be depended upon. It is also important to draw examples and also by drawing examples from your time at university or any other occasion whereby you were ready to step in at a time of extreme need.
  5. Dynamic and Motivated: This means that someone is not only confident in what they are doing or given to do, but they are also very motivated by their work and are able to take on new tasks. Furthermore, they are also intelligent and can generate new ideas to solve new problems, and do not take ‘no’ for an answer. Now, you can perhaps draw some examples from your university days such as being able to solve an assignment which others were finding difficult or your dissertation topic whereby you were challenged to find solutions. Alternatively, you can state examples wherever you were asked by a study group to step in at last minute for a presentation when someone else couldn’t make it for some reason. So, in such situations you were under pressure, with little time and also fewer members, but you were able to pull through.
  6. Forward-thinking: Forward thinking is when someone who has a positive outlook, aspiring approach to their work and is able to see the bigger picture in relation to their input and how that makes a difference as oppose to someone who may simply lament on the situation and not move on from there and create a negative atmosphere which will spread amongst others. Examples that could be mentioned here are not giving up on finding a job and being determined as well as being bugged down with assignments and dissertations and remaining steadfast and positive in looking forward to the new challenges of life after university. All these qualities accumulated will pay off at the end with a job which you have dreamt of, therefore, being positive and resilient.

Final thoughts

When you have understood the job advert and the requirements, you will then be able to design or tailor the CV according to the needs of the job. You will be able to identify the skills and qualities that the employer is looking for. You can then add them to the CV with your qualifications allowing you to present your CV with a high chance of success.

Finding graduate employers

Getting a job immediately after graduation is not simply about how good your degree is or the qualifications hold, rather it is about the skills and qualities that you possess and have developed though out the years of study. These attributes that you have acquired hold significant value, which may have come as a result of work experience, being part of societies and other activities we listed before. Therefore, you must keep in mind that the supply outdoes the demand, so how can you stand out from the rest in the job market as the competition is quite brutal and it is about you selling yourself in order for the employers to take you on as an employee?

Having a degree does not necessarily guarantee a job as it was the case, but it is certainly a requirement, nowadays employers look for more in a candidate than just a degree and look beyond that, therefore, assuming that a degree is a passport to a job would be puerile. Below we try to give you an insight into what employers are looking for and how you can be the shining candidate amongst others.

It’s not all in the degree… 

Employers tend to cherry pick the candidates that are available in the market. With thousands of graduates leaving universities each year and jobs or positions being limited, employers are spoilt for choice. What does that mean for you? Well, it just means that you need to show the employers that you are worthy of being employed and in order to do that, you will need to show that you are competent, skilled and have exactly what the employers are looking for.

Suppose you are a finance and accounting graduate and would like to get a job in the city. We know that this area is an important organ of the system, therefore the completion would be fierce, so, what would the employers be looking for? Well, apart from having the qualification, they would also like to see that you are aware of the environment, which includes the political affairs, current affairs, as well as being economically conscious of the changes in the market. Additionally, you should be able to demonstrate that you have an avid interest in the financial market and can translate the trend well and apply that to your role. In order to show that you are what you say you are, you can or should be reading news articles, journals, etc, to keep in line with the financial market.

Likewise, if your interest is in journalism and communication, the same rule will apply. Not only a degree is sufficient but your future employer may be looking for attributes you possess outside the confines of the university lecture rooms or theatres. You may have been involved in the Students Union magazine writing articles, or produced a documentary for a project, or have shadowed a journalist from a mainstream outlet for experience. All this shows that you can think outside the box and have the passion to go beyond what university offers.

A cultural fit?

It is also important to bear in mind that employers are not only looking for people with strong academic credentials and skills which are specific to the position advertised but they are also interested in someone who is an all-rounder and is able to fit in well within the organisation and will be an asset for the whole organisation and not just to a specific area.

Companies look for recruits who are strategic thinkers, passionate, able to work in a team and if it is customer based, then customer-focused. And these features are at times overlooked by candidates who perhaps have too much hope pinned on their degree.

It is important to be able to amalgamate both your academic and non-academic credentials. If you are able to grasp how your subject-specific skills and general competences complement each other, and you are also able to demonstrate that to employers, then you will have a very good chance of securing a job and also have an upper hand.

Always keep in mind not to get too despondent about not being able to show that you have any experience, do not feel low or weak as a result. You are effectively showing your potential, and is that is what the employer is seeking to find in a graduate recruit. Stay positive and let life take its course, as a long as you have put in the work that is needed.